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Why I opposed intervention in Iraq

PX*3924134The decision to engage UK armed forces in a foreign conflict is never easy. For the second time in a year David Cameron sought authorisation from parliament for military intervention in the Middle East.

While parliament rejected air strikes against the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad last year, on Friday MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of supporting an air campaign against ISIL in Iraq.

There are a number of key questions which must be addressed and applied when considering military intervention: Is it necessary, is there a basis in international law, do we have a credible exit strategy and what would constitute success?

Prior to Friday’s debate I understood that the Prime Minister would propose strategic and limited intervention against ISIL in support of the Iraqi Government and armed forces fighting ISIL on the ground.

There is no doubt that ISIL are responsible for barbaric atrocities, which I unreservedly condemn.  However, as the debate developed it became clear that the limited military intervention first proposed was in fact going to be a far more long term and open ended commitment.

The Prime Minister indicated that it would take at least three years to destroy and degrade ISIL. While the UK will initially participate in air strikes there was no definitive promise against UK troops being deployed on the ground, as the Prime Minister stated that nothing is ruled out.

It is estimated it will cost the UK taxpayer £1 billion a year to fight ISIL, provided there is no escalation from the currently planned operations. This is at a time of terrible cuts in vital public services at home.

However, I am also concerned about the human cost, to non-combatants and to our veterans who return from the frontline. Many do not receive the support and assistance they require to cope with issues such as physical injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This week I met a veteran injured in Iraq in 2006. Eight years on, he continues to battle with Government for the compensation and support he requires. This is no way to treat our injured veterans. We should not put them in harm’s way, if we cannot afford to look after them when they return home.

While the resolution agreed by Parliament does not commit to deploy British troops on the ground, if air strikes fail to turn the tide on ISIL, I fear the Prime Minister will seek further approval to extend our involvement.

If this level of commitment is required we should be open and honest with the British public and not become entangled in another Iraq War through piecemeal escalations.

It remains unclear what the objectives are, what would constitute success and how the West will eventually withdraw. If airstrikes are successful in Iraq it is likely ISIL will fall back into Syria, where there is no mandate for intervention.

At this point would the UK withdraw? Or is it more likely that military intervention would move into Syria where a civil war involving Bashar al-Assad, ISIL, and other jihadist factions, and the Syria Free Army continues to rage.

There are just too many unanswered questions, and no overarching strategy, whether political or military, to deal with ISIL. It is for this reason that I was unable to support military intervention.

I am in no doubt that ISIL is a murderous and brutal regime. However, my concern was that we risk exacerbating the problem and unwittingly promote ISIL’s toxic ideology to the wider region.

I believe the UK and the West need to take a more considered approach, and to be able to clearly define the strategy, know what our objectives are, and how they can be achieved. A credible exit plan and paralleled diplomatic and humanitarian policy strands are also essential.

It is clear that military action alone will not defeat ISIL. In addition to the international coalition’s military intervention a long term multinational political strategy involving key regional powers is needed for long term peace and stability in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

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