Back to war in Iraq? Letter to an MP

Explosion in Iraq08/10/2014 Update: reply received – see below.

26/09/2014. Dear Sir,

I have thought quite hard about this issue of going back to war in Iraq. My first reaction is that surely we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of 2003, which lead (I believe) ultimately to the departure of Tony Blair as well as the present instability in the Middle East.

At the same time I travel regularly to and from Brussels, and I’m aware of the worsening problem at the Channel port of Calais, where this year especially I have seen groups (hundreds) of North African men milling around queues of approaching traffic, trying to jump aboard the larger vehicles. It is apparent that the mayor of Calais and the French police cannot control the problem and don’t know what to do.

This situation is the direct result of the chaos all along the Mediterranean coast of Africa and the Middle East. The whole of Europe, not just the UK, has a huge and growing migrant problem, driven by instability in the North African region.

I have wondered therefore if bombing ISIS would stop this instability. But I believe that ultimately, it cannot. It will only fuel a further growth in Middle Eastern guerilla warfare and martyrdom.

The second Iraq war came about because governments realised that bombing alone would not remove Saddam Hussein. ‘Boots on the ground’ were necessary for that. But I don’t think that this country is ready for such direct involvement again.

Would bombing ISIS help? Ultimately, I think it would serve no good purpose. Such bombing campaigns are largely symbolic – and all they will achieve is further resentment and potential terrorism among already disenchanted Moslems in this country and elsewhere. In the process they also help to build a whole new generation of fanatics who believe that dying for their religion is the only choice possible in a hostile world.

Israel’s never-ending problems with the Palestinians are caused by a view that only military aggression and permanent oppression can ensure its continuation. Such narrow views only ensure that that country’s difficulties continue.

I think that this country’s politicians should be able to do better. The proposed Caliphate is an unregenerated medievial fiefdom that will eventually implode from its own weaknesses. I don’t think that symbolic bombing campaigns (just 6 Tornado aircraft!) will stop it, and therefore I think there is no useful gain to be had from such limited action.

Rather, the British government should be asking itself how to really counter growing instability within the country and on its borders. Foreign military adventures are not the answer. I do not know what is, but working out that solution is what governments are there for.

I would ask that you vote against the government proposal.

Thank you and regards,

Philip Hunt
Reply from House of Commons

Dear Philip Hunt,

Thanks for getting in touch about the government’s decision to launch air strikes in support of Iraqi action against ISIL. I received a large number of representations from constituents both against, and in favour of, the proposed action.

A very serious family medical situation prevented my going to the Commons to vote, so the record of my vote on the issue is an abstention.

On the substance of the issue, I believe we have to proceed very carefully in what is a very complex and sensitive situation. No-one can fail to be moved by the cries of Kurdish refugees and others pleading for the outside world to help them in their hour of need against truly horrific crimes being inflicted by the advancing ISIL forces. I strongly support humanitarian aid, and better support for the refugees.

On the legality of military action, the Iraqi government is elected and has a right to ask for our help, and I think it is legitimate for the UK government to provide it. It is a different situation in Syria, and before the UK could take action there, it would need another vote in the Commons, and I think that would need to be preceded by a UN resolution. Last year I voted against military action in Syria, in large part because I was not convinced such action would make the situation better rather than worse.

In relation to the current action and likely air strikes in support of Iraqi and Kurdish forces, I think we need to apply the same test of whether we are making things better rather than worse. I think we also need to be very careful that western forces are not drawn into a trap of ISIL’s making. The more western forces are seen to be taking a leading role, the easier it is for ISIL to portray this as a war against Islam, which it is not, but which they want it to be seen as in order to sustain their ideology and the motivation and morale of their supporters. It would be better therefore if countries from the region, including Turkey, were to take a more prominent role.

There is also the very difficult issue of forces on the ground. If ISIL are to be forced back and defeated, it will need to be by ground forces, followed and backed up by political action which command confidence and wins hearts and minds. That cannot be done from the air. The question of whether Iraqi ground forces can be trained and supported effectively to do this seems to remain in doubt, and yet without it there is no exit strategy. There also needs to be firmer evidence of action by the Iraqi government than we have seen in the past to reach out, to be more inclusive of all communities and to address the issues aggravating Shia/Sunni tensions.

In order to try and secure the best outcome from all of this, I would like to see a firmer lead from the UN (which will require the political engagement and acceptance if not more active support of Russian and China), more of a regional input into the defence of people from the ISIL onslaught, increased humanitarian aid, and recognition that there cannot solely be a military solution, so that sustainable peace will involve a political and diplomatic settlement, which is likely to involve at some point talking to some present supporters of ISIL, unlikely and probably impossible though that is at the moment.

It is clearly also vital that the religious and ideological argument within the Muslim communities is won by those who reject and condemn the horrors of the ISIL regime, and that young people in Britain are not attracted to their cause. I believe that justice for the Palestinian people has an important role to play in this, as it is the prism through which many in the Muslim communities view the positions of the west, including our own government. I shall continue to press for a viable Palestinian state and an end to the illegal occupation.

With best wishes,


Rt Hon Andrew Smith MP (Oxford East)

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