Bangla Mirror Article - The Terrible Choice

When I became an MP, I knew the job involved hard choices. I never imagined it could be as hard as the choice to take military action against Saddam Hussein. I accept that military action inevitably kills innocent civilians. But if you disagree with military action, you too must accept that inaction also kills innocent civilians. That is not in doubt. Our inaction has allowed Saddam Hussein to kill more Muslims than any other leader alive today - he is responsible for over one million deaths. What about justice for those Muslims? And what about those who are praying to escape his regime? As one Muslim asked my colleague who visited Iraq, 'why don't our bretheren in the UK support us in our struggle to escape tyranny? Why don't they support military action against Saddam?'

There is a good answer to this question: George W Bush. His hypocrisy is astonishing. As I said in parliament, he is in the pocket of the oil industry. He has protected Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister who continues to slaughter Palestinians. He is the king of double standards. He failed to win a free and fair election. He wants oil for the American economy. And he wants to finish his father's business. He has all the wrong motives. But the fact is, only force will disarm Saddam Hussein and liberate Iraqis from tyranny. It is deeply depressing that it is mainly American force. But it is not as depressing as many more Iraqis dying under Saddam, and certainly not as depressing as trying to deal with Saddam when he eventually gets his hands on a nuclear bomb, or when others get their hands on his anthrax and VS nerve agent.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Saddam Hussein disarm within 15 days. For 12 years Saddam has refused to comply. The UN Security Council passed its 17th resolution on this subject in November last year, resolution 1441, which gave Saddam one 'final opportunity' to 'fully co-operate' with UN Weapons Inspectors. The UN Weapons Inspectors - Dr Blix & Dr El-Baradei - have said that Saddam Hussein has not 'fully co-operated' with them. They say, for example, that he has 10,000 litres of Anthrax (which they verified in 1998), which he refuses to account for. One cup of anthrax can kill half a million people. Saddam has 'lost' 10,000 litres. No one, not a single member of the Security Council (including France, Russia, Germany or China) claims that Saddam has 'fully co-operated'. He hasn't. The question is, what to do about it. The resolutions say that if he doesn't comply he will face 'serious consequences' (resolution 1441), and 'all possible means' will be used to disarm him (eg military action - resolution 678). So what shall we do? Pass an 18th, 19th, 20th, or 100th resolution? Or act on the resolutions we have already passed? I cannot apologise for feeling that we should act.

In my view we are doing the right thing (disarming Saddam Hussein) the wrong way (without a broader international coalition). But it is better than doing the wrong thing (letting Saddam get away with murder, leaving him with chemical and biological weapons, and signalling that UN resolutions will not be enforced) the right way (with a broader coalition). I am sick of the UN not working. I am sick of UN resolutions meaning nothing. It is the world's poorest and most opressed people who pay the price. I will never forget stepping over the mutiliated bodies of 10,000 murdered civilians at a genocide site in Rwanda - one million people died because that Government's brutal regime knew UN resolutions on genocide prevention were worthless.

Passions are running high on both sides of this debate. Whether you are for or against military action, you must accept that your choice causes the deaths of innocent people. Whichever view you take, you inadvertently help reprehensible men. On one side you inadvertently help George Bush (who, within the boundaries of democracy, is at one extreme). On the other side you inadvertently help Saddam Hussein (who, within the parameters of brutal dictatorship is at another extreme). People must take the view they believe to be right, even if it divides them from their friends and family. In my view, the right thing to do is to disarm Saddam Hussein, help Iraqis escape oppression, set up a UN trust to administer oil profits for the Iraqi people, to prevent the US getting its hands on the oil, and get the US to stop protecting Ariel Sharon. If that happens we have a chance to secure justice for Palestinians, another cause I have long argued for in Parliament.

Some people say to me, 'you mustn't have your own view, you must have our view'. But it is my conscience I must live with, not yours. If you were my MP, you would have to vote with your conscience, not mine. Other people try and draw parallels between now and the Second World War. They argue that anti-war protestors are like appeasers of Hitler. That is absolute rubbish. There is only one comparison I would make, and it is not on the merits of the argument itself. It is this: before the Second World War a petition of 9 million signatures was gathered from constituents, begging politicians not to go to war. The 9 million people who signed the petition genuinely believed that military action was wrong. The fact is, if politicians had made their judgements based on what those 9 million people asked, they would have been very popular in the short-term - but they would have caused ruin, destruction, and greater loss of life in the long-term.

Furthermore, what message do we send other dictators if, 12 years after the UN demanded 'full disarmament', Saddam isn't forced to comply? Are we joking when we ask Saddam to disarm himself of chemical and biological weapons? Do we not take seriously the fact that he gassed his own people - 5,000 on one day? I have always taken these issues seriously. Myself and 4 other MPs secured a parliamentary inquiry into the effect of sanctions on Iraqi civilians in 1999 - two years before September 11th 2001. Yes, there are terrible double standards. But does the fact that Sharon gets away with murder today, mean we should let Saddam get away with murder tomorrow? I have always wanted Saddam to be disarmed, but when asked to vote on this issue with the Government 5 years ago, I refused. I said we hadn't given Saddam enough time; with more time he might disarm. I was wrong. In those intervening 5 years many thousands of Muslims were murdered by Saddam. In some respects I have their deaths on my conscience. As I said, it is my conscience. It is a terrible choice. But I could not make the same mistake again. That is why this time, with a dark shadow over my heart, I voted for military action.