I believe we all share revulsion at the brutality of ISIL, its love of gore, beheadings recorded for video distribution across the internet and the brutal persecution of religious minorities. People across the world agree they must be stopped but how that can be done is not so easy to agree on.
I spent the whole day on Friday listening to the debate in the chamber. I heard many powerful arguments and many heartfelt contributions yet I could not in all conscience support the motion.
I have to be honest, a part of me hoped that I would be convinced by listening to all the speeches, but in truth by the time the vote came at 5.00pm I was less convinced that military action was right than I was at 10.30am.
There were a number of reasons:
- It was clear that air attacks could not be targeted to only kill ISIL fighters. Civilians would die. I was told there is always collateral damage. No one could tell me what costs are we prepared to accept in terms of innocent casualties. I was just told that more people would die if we did not bomb than if we did. That’s just a guessing game and is not a proper strategy.
- I was totally unconvinced that a credible long-term strategy was in place to ensure the Iraqi army would be able to bring stability and security in their country.
- During the debate there were many many voices already saying they wanted to extend the proposed action to Syria. There were a large number of senior voices already talking about mission creep.
- It was admitted that this was not a one off response to a request by the Iraqi government but the start of a strategy that could last three or even 10 years.
- Amnesty International has publicly criticized the Iraqi army for gross violations of international law, including indiscriminate artillery shelling and air strikes by government forces against IS-controlled areas that have killed and injured civilians. This is the action we are being asked to assist with.
- There is no UN resolution.
Adam Holloway, MP for Gravesham, who served in the Gulf War said:
“There is no simple solution to any of this but the answer will not come from something military that is led by the west. It will come from something political that is led by people within the region”.
I could not agree more and I believe that there is no easy simple solution to the complex, long running, deep rooted problems of Iraq and the wider region.
But I do know that for military action to have any chance of working there needs to be a plan for what comes next. Yet despite listening to six and a half hours of debate I did not hear any word of what that plan might be.