IRAQ: COALITION AGAINST ISIL – 26 September 2014

Dr Julian Lewis: Among the many important comments made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) was her statement that ISIL likes to place itself at the head of the Sunni Muslim community. That is why it is so absolutely essential that the Sunni Muslim regional partners of this Government must be at the forefront of any military action against what can be interpreted as the Sunni Muslim states. A great deal of what organisations such as al-Qaeda and ISIL do is deliberately provocative. They wish to provoke actions that will enable them to represent the ensuing conflict as one of infidel crusaders invading Muslim lands, which is a trap that we must at all costs try to avoid.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Cheryl Gillan) observed in her excellent speech, some of us are now about to vote for the fourth time on intervention in the Middle East. The first time that I voted was in favour of war in Iraq, primarily because I believed what I was told about weapons of mass destruction. I must admit, however, that at the back of my mind was the thought that somewhere in Iraq were a great many moderate, democratic forces just waiting to be liberated from the oppressive rule of Saddam Hussein. I am afraid that experience taught me better, because, following the downfall of Saddam Hussein, the age-old enmity between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims came to the fore and we found ourselves in a strange triangular relationship with two forces, which in their most fundamentalist forms are highly unattractive and certainly no friends of democracy.

Indeed, the right hon. Member for Neath (Peter Hain) made the point well when he compared the situation to what happened in 1941, when the choice was made for us that the menace of Soviet Communism, which frightened the West during the inter-war years, ended up being our ally because of the Nazis’ invasion of Russia. The trouble with a triangular relationship with two types of force, neither of which is friendly to democracy, is that there are no good outcomes. One can only try to arrange for the least worst outcome. We know what happened with the Second World War and that it was the least worst outcome, but it still meant that half of Europe was enslaved under Communism for decades.

[Rory Stewart: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dr Julian Lewis: I am happy to give way.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman took seven minutes in speaking. If he wants to intervene, he should remember that other Members have not yet spoken.

Rory Stewart: I apologise.

Dr Julian Lewis: I shall proceed.]

Where are we with the current situation? When I was asked before this debate whether I would support the motion, I said that I would do so provided that the Government came forward with an integrated strategy in support of credible forces on the ground. I intervened on the Prime Minister earlier and I am glad that he is here to hear me make a point now. I asked him which Sunni forces would be on the ground for us to support. At the moment, he has only been able to come back to us with Iraqi and Kurdish forces. I must say to him that if our strategy is to get anywhere in the long term, the Arab League and the regional powers must step up and make their contribution. We cannot do it, because that would play into the hands of the Islamists.

I will be supporting the motion, with reluctance and a heavy heart, because I know that there are no good outcomes. It is a mistake to think that we can get rid of this organisation from places such as Syria and cosy up to Iran while thinking that we can pull down Assad. Those things are not compatible with each other. It is a bit of a George Orwell situation with three powers constantly shifting. The only answer to dealing with such things is the practical answer of the Balance of Power. We have to ensure that Sunnis cannot dominate Shi’as and that Shi’as cannot dominate Sunnis to excess.