Independent July 30 2004
'A battleground for al-Qa'ida': MPs deliver damning verdict on Iraq war and aftermath
By Ben Russell Political Correspondent
30 July 2004
Iraq risks becoming a "failed state" which could destabilise the Middle East, a powerful committee of MPs warned yesterday as they delivered a damning verdict on the war on international terrorism.
Members of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said Iraq had become a "battleground for al-Qa'ida" as they lambasted the US-led coalition for allowing criminal gangs, Saddam loyalists and Islamic extremists to fill the post-war power vacuum.
They warned: "The alternative to a positive outcome in Iraq may be a failed state and regional instability."
MPs said the risk of terrorism may have been increased by the war to topple Saddam, with al-Qa'ida now known to be active in the former dictatorship. Donald Anderson, the Labour chairman of the committee, said: "It would be difficult to resist the argument that the threat has increased."
Their scathing 70,000-word report warned there were insufficient troops to provide security on the ground in Iraq, and said Britain's credibility in the country was being damaged by the failure to restore basic services to the Iraqi people.
MPs said there had been an "alarming increase" in attacks in the run-up to the handover of sovereignty, and warned that the power vacuum created by the break-up of the Iraqi army and the removal of former Baath party officials from government was "contributing to instability and insecurity".
They said: "The violence in Iraq stems from a number of sources, including members of the former regime, local Islamists, criminal gangs and al-Qa'ida. Iraq has become a battleground for al-Qa'ida with appalling consequences for the Iraqi people.
"We also conclude that the coalition's failure to bring law and order to parts of Iraq created a vacuum into which criminal elements and militias have stepped."
They criticised the international community for failing to contribute troops to bolster the American-led coalition.
The report also warned of the dangers of failing to improve the lot of ordinary Iraqis. It said: 'The provision of basic services in Iraq is not yet satisfactory, and the failure to meet Iraqi expectations, whether realistic or not, risks damaging the credibility of the United Kingdom in Iraq and Iraqi goodwill towards it."
They warned that there was "uncertainty over the degree of sovereignty to be vested in the new Iraqi government", and called on the US-led coalition to make it clear that the new Baghdad administration was sovereign "in reality as well as name".
In a highly critical verdict on the war on international terrorism, MPs also called on Britain to be more vocal about Russian policy towards Chechnya. They said Chechen rebels were linked to terrorist networks affiliated to al-Qa'ida, and warned that the rebel republic "has great importance as a rallying cry of Islamist insurgency throughout the Muslim world".
MPs said Moscow's support for Iran's nuclear programme could contribute to the spread of weapons of mass destruction. They said that Tehran's nuclear ambitions "continue to pose an intense challenge for the international community".
"The continued exertion of diplomatic pressure by the European troika, the US and the Russian Federation is essential to its resolution."
The report pointed to failures in communication in the Foreign Office over the infamous claim that Saddam could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes, and the fact that Red Cross allegations of prisoner abuse by British troops were withheld from ministers and senior officials.
It said Foreign Office officials in Iraq attended a meeting with the International Committee of the Red Cross in February to be presented with the interim findings of their inquiry into detainee mistreatment. But ministers received copies only on 10 May, after reports about the findings emerged in the press.
The committee said: "We are very concerned that key information on intelligence and on alleged human rights violations by British personnel was withheld from senior Foreign Office officials and from ministers. The report praised the Government for supporting developments within the European Union to improve co-operation against terrorism. But it added: "Further significant steps are required for EU anti-terrorism action to be effective."
MPs also said there was "a clear need for reform throughout the Arab world".
Sir John Stanley, a Conservative member of the committee, criticised the Government over its response to threats to domestic security from chemical, biological and nuclear terrorism after 11 September. He said: "The British Government was singularly slow off the mark in building up our civil defence capabilities to deal with this new type of terrorist threat [It] has speeded up to a degree, but there are considerable grounds for anxiety."
THE MAIN POINTS
* "The alternative to a positive outcome in Iraq may be a failed state and regional instability. It is of utmost importance that current problems are resolved in favour of the forces of order."
*"Iraq has become a battleground for al-Qa'ida, with appaling consequences for the Iraqi people."
*"The insufficient number of troops in Iraq has contributed to the deterioration in security ... the failure of countries other than the US and UK to send significant numbers of troops has had serious and regrettable consequences."
*"The provision of basic services in Iraq is not satisfactory and the failure to meet Iraqi expectations, whether realistic or not, risks damaging the credibility of the United Kingdom in Iraq and Iraqi goodwill towards it."
*"We agree with President Karzai that the need for more resources for Isaf [the Nato led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan] is urgent. There is a real danger if these resources are not provided soon that Afghanistan, a fragile state in one of the most sensitive and volatile regions of the world, could implode, with terrible consequences."
BBC report July 29 8 pm 2004
Iraq 'is al-Qaeda battleground'Iraq has become a "battleground" for al-Qaeda, MPs have warned in a report on the war on terrorism.
The Commons foreign affairs committee says there are too few foreign troops in Iraq and Muslim states should be encouraged to send forces.
The MPs say Iraqi forces are still a long way from being able to ensure security in their country.
The report also says Afghanistan could implode with "terrible consequences" without more foreign troops.
Donald Anderson, the committee's Labour chairman, said the Iraq war might well have increased the terror threat in the short term, although it was too early to assess its long term impact.
The wide-ranging findings are the latest instalment in the MPs' long-running investigation into the war against terrorism.
Among the other findings are:
- The MPs are "very concerned" key information on intelligence and alleged human rights abuses by British troops was withheld from ministers and senior government officials
- The credibility of the UK in Iraq has been damaged by the failure to meet Iraqi expectations on the provision of basic services, such as water and electricity
- People from the UK have been named in documents about alleged corruption in the Oil-for-Food programme in Iraq
- Russian support for Iran's nuclear activities "could risk contributing to the spread of weapons of mass destruction capabilities in the Middle East"
Wednesday's suicide bombing in Iraq, which killed 68 people, underlined the continued security problems in Iraq.
The MPs blame the violence on a range of groups, including former members of Saddam Hussein's regime, local Islamists, criminal gangs and al-Qaeda.
"Iraq has become a 'battleground' for al-Qaeda, with appalling consequences for the Iraqi people.
The Iraqi police and army remain a long way from being able to maintain security."
Foreign affairs committee
"However, we also conclude that the coalition's failure to bring law and order to parts of Iraq created a vacuum into which criminal elements and militias have stepped."
The report says the failure of countries other than the US and UK to send significant numbers of troops to Iraq has brought "serious and regrettable consequences".
Mr Anderson said involving more troops from Muslim countries would answer conspiracy theorists who believed the Iraq war was over oil.
He highlighted Saudi Arabia's proposal for a new military force drawn exclusively from Muslim countries.
"The fact is if there were not that support to help the Iraqi government in terms of security, in the short term there is a real danger of Iraq becoming a failed state that would be a danger not only to its own fragmented groups... but to the countries in the region," he said.
A couple of rockets landed at night, there are periodic warnings of kidnappings and curfews in most cities
Paul Barker, CARE International
The MPs praise the UK government for helping in the formation of Iraq security forces.
But they continue: "We conclude that the Iraqi police and army remain a long way from being able to maintain security."
The Foreign Office acknowledges people sympathetic with al-Qaeda are behind some of the Iraq violence but say it would be wrong to think the terror network would have withered away if there had been no war.
Tony Blair recently denied suggestions that Afghanistan had become a "forgotten" country amid complaints from some of the MPs on the committee who visited the country.
The MPs back Afghan President Hamid Karzai's call for Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to be given more resources.
Conservative committee member Sir John Stanley told reporters that security in Afghanistan was "on a knife edge".Nato must answer President Karzai's call for more help, he said, warning of the consequences of failure.
"We could end up with a situation that everything we have tried to achieve could be set back almost to square one," added Sir John.
The MPs say there are no signs the war against Afghan opium production is being won - in fact, in the short term, things appear to be getting worse.
Committee chairman Donald Anderson said the problem was a clear example of how foreign policy could impact on British streets, where 90% of heroin came from Afghanistan.
The Foreign Office says it is working on the problem but stresses there are long-term social and economic factors which would not change overnight.