Why I voted in favour of airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq
A number of constituents have contacted me about today’s debate on whether the UK should participate in airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq, with roughly even numbers in favour and opposed to our participation.
Those who are opposed worry that we are repeating the mistake we made back in 2003 when we participated in the American-led invasion of Iraq. I can understand their concern - not only were we misled about Saddam Hussein’s regime possessing weapons of mass destruction, but the failure to think about what would replace Saddam’s regime led to a bloody and prolonged civil war which acted as a recruiting sergeant for extremists.
But if there is a danger of repeating old mistakes, there is also a danger that our desire not to do so leads us to make new ones.
And there are clear differences between the current situation and 2003. On that occasion, we were invading another country. This time, we are being asked to assist by the legitimate Iraqi Government. There is therefore no question about the legality of what the Government is proposing.
A few constituents have suggested to me that violence never achieves anything. I cannot agree with that. It is certainly true that we often resort to violence too quickly, but there are occasions when we have no choice but to fight to defend our values, the Second World War being a good example.
The motion the House considered today related solely to the use of airstrikes - it does not permit the deployment of ground troops - and to Iraq, not Syria where both the situation on the ground and the legal position is more complicated.
There is indisputably a moral case for intervention. In addition to the brutal murder of two American and one British hostages, the UN and others have reported appalling atrocities in the areas of Iraq and Syria under ISIL control - murder, rape, desecration, forced conversions and kidnapping. But there are plenty of other parts of the world where terrible abuses of human rights take place. We cannot intervene everywhere.
For me, there are three key questions.
Does ISIL pose a threat to our national security? I believe that it does. It clearly threatens the territorial integrity of Iraq, but if it is left unchecked it is liable to spread throughout the region. The first ISIL-inspired terrorist attacks in Europe have already taken place in Brussels, earlier this year. If we don’t act, the threat will only increase.
Second, is there a broad coalition, not just us and the Americans? Yes there is and it crucially includes countries from the region such as Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Third, is military action part of a wider strategy to tackle this problem? The Prime Minister provided reassurance on this point in the House today. The new Iraqi Government is much more inclusive, reflecting the interests of Shia, Sunni, Kurds and other groups and is working hard to reform the security forces and judiciary and tackle corruption. The Government is also supplying military equipment to the Kurdistan Regional Government so that with the support of coalition airstrikes they can take on ISIL on the ground.
It was for these reasons that I voted for the motion. In the event, it was approved by 524 votes to 43 with a majority of MPs from all three major parties voting in favour.