A question of war

February 28, 2003 ,

WAR and peace have been the dominant themes of a dramatic week.

It started with a visit to Belfast with a Commons Northern Ireland Committee, ended with the debate on Iraq, and in between I had Number 2 at Prime Minister's questions where I raised both issues.

But I'll leave the Belfast visit for another occasion, and reflect on the Iraq debate which dominated parliamentary proceedings and national debate.

How to vote was a very difficult decision, but after listening to the debate, and some very careful consideration, I decided to support the government on this occasion.

I did so after an assurance from Tony Blair, and a personal meeting with the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. They pledged that there would be a further opportunity to vote before any final decision on British military action is taken.

I have made it clear that that unless military action is authorised by a resolution of the United Nations, that I could not support it. The United Nations has placed a clear obligation on Iraq to disarm, and it should be the United Nations which decides if Iraq has complied, and whether military action to ensure compliance is necessary.

That is not a decision for George W Bush. If the Government decided to join America in military action without that UN vote, it would not have my support.

The votes this week were not specifically about that point of decision. That is why I felt this was not the time to risk any comfort to the Iraqi regime by taking off the diplomatic pressure.

As a trade unionist I believe you back your negotiating team until the point of decision.

In the debate, my colleague, Cynon Valley MP Ann Clywd, who is no warmonger, made a powerful speech, calling for members to vote with the Government.

She has just returned from Northern Iraq and brought back an horrific account of the brutal suppression of the Kurdish people by Saddam Hussein's regime.

Ann has campaigned for over 20 years against the Iraqi regime, since she first came across Iraqi students in Cardiff and Swansea who were being intimidated and beaten by thugs from Saddam's Baath Party posing as legitimate students.

Now in Iraq, Kurds are told they must take Arab names and identities or be evicted from their houses and forced to flee.

What gives Ann's views a powerful resonance is her equally strong campaigning on behalf of the plight of the Palestinian people, and Israel's failure to comply with its UN obligations. No long term peace will be established in the Middle East without justice for the Palestinians.

Now we await the further reports from the UN weapons inspectors on whether Iraq is truly disarming. It is on the basis of these reports, not any American timetable for war, that the UN should take its decision.