Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 25 May 2005

Vol. 180 No. 16

Foreign Conflicts: Statements.

I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on the situation in Iraq. I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the Seanad on recent developments in Iraq. I welcome the continuing interest of Senators in this important topic.

The future of Iraq is a foreign policy issue of first importance to the international community as a whole, to the European Union and to Ireland. That is not only because of the security and humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, which deeply concern us all, but because after over 20 years of the most brutal dictatorship in Iraq the international community has the opportunity — indeed the moral obligation — to assist the Iraqi people make a better life for themselves in the wake of the terrible tragedies that have afflicted them over that period.

The geographic location of Iraq, together with its natural resources and regional weight, mean that it will always be of importance to the wider world. Iraq has a large population, abundant water and agricultural land and very large oil and gas reserves, giving it advantages over some of its neighbours which the former regime was quick to abuse. Iraq lies close to very large oilfields in neighbouring countries and to the centres of conflict in the Middle East region. It straddles the divide between the Arab and non-Arab worlds and the borderlands of Sunni and Shia Islam and may well, in the foreseeable future, border the European Union itself.

Under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, Iraq was a force for instability in the region and a serial aggressor against its neighbours. It also engaged in gas and chemical warfare against its own people and against Iran, indiscriminate ballistic missile bombardments of cities, and ecological destruction intended to damage its perceived enemies.

The stated objective of the European Union is to help in the establishment of a free, sovereign and democratic Iraq which can play a positive role in the region and that wider regional dimension should not be lost on Senators or Deputies. Achieving stability in this region is a vital concern to all of us in the international community who claim to play a part in this and who claim internationalist aspirations in our conduct.

Recent developments in Iraq can be summed up as exhibiting two contradictory trends. On the one hand, there has been a period of unprecedented political activity, debate and movement. On the other however, there is no sign yet that the campaign of violence in some areas of Iraq is being brought under control. In some ways it seems to be worsening. It is in all our interests, and above all in the interests of the Iraqi people themselves, that the political process prevails over the cycle of violence. That imperative is the basis for the Government's policy on Iraq, which everyone can support regardless of the view they took of the war in Iraq. While the war caused major division in this House, the other House and throughout Ireland and Europe, those of us concerned with humanitarian issues and the geopolitical situation in that region in general now have an opportunity to unite in supporting Iraq so that stability can be re-established.

The route map for the political process in Iraq was laid down in UN Security Council Resolution 1546 of June 2004, which united the international community in their approach to Iraq after the divisions occasioned by the war in 2003. That process began with the transfer of sovereignty to the interim Government of Iraq.

For all of us, a particularly important milestone was reached with the elections held in January this year. For the first time ever Iraqis had the opportunity to freely choose their own rulers. Despite the violence in many parts of the country, the paucity of national media and the fact that almost all the political parties were newly established, the public across Iraq showed a keen interest in participating in the process. We saw many instances where voters had to brave real threats to their lives to exercise their vote and some voters, candidates and election workers were killed. No democrat could be indifferent to the sight of long queues of people braving these threats to cast their vote.

The election delivered a substantial victory to the Unified Iraqi Coalition while the religious-oriented Shia coalition, backed by Ayatollah Sistani, won just over half the seats. There was also substantial representation for the secular Shia list of outgoing interim Prime Minister Allawi and for the Kurdish parties.

Two factors of note are important for later developments. All of these blocs comprise coalitions of a large number of small and mostly new political parties. This has undoubtedly had an effect on political developments, in that a much larger number of players are involved in trying to reach consensus on key issues. The other crucial issue is that of Sunni representation. Due to violence concentrated in Sunni areas, and to a boycott of the elections by Sunni parties, the representation of the Sunni community in the transitional national assembly is very small, with only 17 seats where they might have gained 40 or 50 based on their percentage of the population, which is approximately 20%.

This has produced a political need to ensure that the Sunni community is adequately involved in the political process, in the new Iraqi Government and in the drafting of the new constitution, which is a function of the new assembly. The Government, in statements and in replies to Dáil questions on Iraq, and the EU Council of Ministers in its references to the subject, have highlighted the importance of Sunni involvement. How this is to be achieved is, of course, a matter for Iraqis themselves. Without an electoral mandate, the real authority of individual Sunni leaders is unproven.

Despite these difficulties, earlier this month we saw the transfer of power to the new transitional Government of Iraq under Mr. Jaafari. The advent of an elected Iraqi Government represents a real step forward. The new structures involve a sharing of the key posts. The Presidency Council includes a Kurdish President and Shia and Sunni Vice-Presidents. The Speaker of the Assembly is a Sunni, as are six Ministers, including the key post of defence.

The challenges facing the new Government are great. Power-sharing between so many groups and creating a constitution are difficult enough tasks on their own, but the Government also has to try to overcome the serious violence that plagues the country and to rebuild the administration, economy and infrastructure damaged by three wars and a decade of isolation and sanctions. It will need, and is entitled to expect, the support of the international community.

Many actors are involved in providing this support. The United Nations has been central to re-establishing international unity on how to proceed in Iraq. Its own involvement on the ground was greatly restricted following the attack in August 2003 on its Baghdad headquarters that killed many UN staff, including the Secretary General's special representative, Sergio de Mello. His successor, Ashraf Qazi, has been active in trying to involve Sunni groups in the political process.

The UN has concentrated its assistance on support for the elections and the constitutional process. Ireland has contributed €500,000 to a fund to establish a dedicated UN protection force, which it is hoped will provide the security which will allow the UN to step up its involvement in Iraq. In my first few weeks in the Department of Foreign Affairs this funding was granted in response to a request from Kofi Annan, who visited Ireland in September 2004 and expressed concern at his ability to protect UN personnel. That meeting was attended by my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and we agreed to assist in enhancing security around UN personnel in Iraq. This was in keeping with our commitment to support the central role played by the UN in all respects.

Ireland's principal engagement with Iraq is as a member the EU. The EU is not involved in the provision of security in Iraq, although some member states contribute troops to the multinational force. The EU is committed to supporting the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq. The November 2004 European Council adopted a declaration on Iraq setting out a range of measures to assist this process. The EU has provided very substantial resources for reconstruction, and has given assistance to the Iraqi electoral commission in organising the elections. During 2005 the EU will, inter alia, continue financial support for reconstruction, conduct a police and rule-of-law training mission in Europe, offer expert assistance on the process of drafting the constitution, and assist in the organisation of the constitutional referendum and subsequent elections.

The EU and the United States, at the request of the Iraqi Government, will host an international conference on Iraq in Brussels on 22 June. This will provide a further opportunity for the international community to demonstrate its support for the new Iraqi Government and for the tasks it faces. It will also enable Iraq to set out its priorities and plans for the work of reconstruction, as it is now for the Iraqi Government to take the lead role in directing these efforts. There is a Government in place, the fledgling democracy has taken root, and we must support that.

In addition to Ireland's contribution to the EU effort, the Government has been active in providing bilateral assistance to Iraq. In 2003 the Government pledged up to €3 million in humanitarian and recovery assistance to Iraq, to be disbursed as circumstances allow. That was disbursed directly from the budget of Development Co-operation Ireland for emergency aid. To date, €1.5 million of this pledge has been delivered. A sum of €1 million has been contributed through the international reconstruction facility for Iraq to support UNICEF's primary education programme. A sum of €500,000 has also been delivered to the NGO Assisting Marsh Arabs and Refugees, AMAR, for health care programmes to assist the marsh Arab population of southern Iraq, who suffered considerably under the former regime. I do not have to recount the plight of these people under Saddam Hussein.

The continuing security problems in Iraq have greatly slowed the pace of reconstruction projects there, and have curtailed the work of international bodies and NGOs, and hence the draw-down of pledged funding. We are ready to commit the balance of the pledged funding as suitable projects are identified.

Due to the insurgency and continued violent rebel activities, there is a practical issue of dispersing the assistance we have pledged. Ireland's international reputation for pledging overseas aid and funds and for following through on these pledges is extremely strong relative to other countries. While there are a number of somewhat more unscrupulous countries in the world that are quick to pledge at international conferences and gatherings but never deliver on them, Ireland's record is regarded as being among the best. In this case, however, there are practical issues concerning the insurgents that make it difficult for us to disperse the total amounts allocated.

There is no doubt that the continuing violence in Iraq has greatly hampered the efforts of the Iraqi people to rebuild the country. Infrastructural and other reconstruction projects are unable to proceed as contractors and their staff are attacked. As we have seen in the tragic case of Ms Margaret Hassan, even charity workers trying to improve the lives of the people can be targeted and murdered in a most horrible manner. In recent months, seemingly in response to the progress on the political front, the insurgency has demonstrated its continued ability to mount attacks in Baghdad and across a wide stretch of central Iraq.

Analysis of the groups is sketchy but they seem to involve disaffected elements of the old regime, Iraqi nationalists reacting to the presence of foreign forces and Islamic radicals, many of whom are from other countries. This is a particularly reprehensible feature of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. These various strands are by no means of one mind in their motivation or objectives. As the political process develops, it may prove possible to convince some of them to renounce violence and to isolate the more hardline elements from their support. To what extent this is possible remains to be seen.

In recent months, the insurgency has visibly changed focus from attacks on foreign forces to attacks on Iraqi people. This has included attacks on those trying to play a part in the rebuilding of their country through participation in the security forces or the administration. The aim of these attacks is clearly to prevent the Iraqi Government from establishing effective security forces of its own without the support of the multinational force currently in Iraq. Other attacks, notably massive bomb attacks on markets, mosques and other public places, seem clearly designed to cause maximum civilian casualties among the Shia and Kurdish communities to provoke them into a retaliation that may lead to intercommunal fighting and chaos. I unreservedly condemn those who perpetrate these types of attacks and who would seek to deny the right of the Iraqi people to decide their own destiny.

All of us here share a deep concern for what is happening in Iraq, when every day seems to bring news of more appalling attacks. However, the vast majority of the Iraqi people and their representatives are struggling hard to rebuild their country and to enjoy a freedom they have never known. They deserve this chance and I hope Ireland will continue to play positive financial, political, diplomatic and other roles through the good offices of this House and its Members to support the Iraqi people in what must be a most forbidding challenge, namely, the establishment of a democracy in an ethnically diverse and geostrategically important country. We should support them because Iraq above all other countries deserves much support after the horrible tyranny inflicted on it by Saddam Hussein over the years and the regional instability this induced.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his measured and constructive contribution. As he is aware, this House has held quite a number of discussions and debates over the past few years on Iraq before, during and after the war. We have not discussed the issue in great detail since the January elections and it is appropriate we would do so now.

I listened to the Minister of State's contribution with interest. As I have often said in this House, I was delighted to see the end of Saddam Hussein's regime. In the perfect world of ideal politics, the United Nations, other international agencies, the force of good or the force of politics in the region would have brought that cruel and inhumane regime to an end. Unfortunately, this was not to be and it took the invasion to bring to an end a regime that should have been ended two decades ago. We must recognise that politics and history move very quickly and we sometimes begin to forget who and what we were speaking about. Let us not forget that, since the time of Hitler and Stalin, only Pol Pot in Cambodia could compete with the awfulness of Saddam Hussein, a man who brought daily terror, fear, murder and mayhem to his country, people and neighbours. His regime used chemical weapons and slaughtered its own. We must agree that an Iraq free of Saddam Hussein is a good starting point.

We must also agree that today's Iraq is a chaotic, unsettled and difficult place. The coalition invasion not only brought political and military difficulties but, from the point of view of the United States, it has been a PR disaster. There has been a great divide in the European Union as well as in the broader world as a result of the invasion, which opened a gulf between the US and the EU and between Britain and countries such as France and Germany. Politically, it is important that we try to heal these divisions. The starting point of this debate and, more importantly, of the long-suffering people of Iraq must be the post-election situation. People both inside and outside this House must reflect on the election in Iraq. That approximately 60% of Iraqis decided to vote is amazing. All indications in advance of the election were that fear, daily bombings and efforts to interrupt the election would result in only a tiny minority voting. However, for the first time in several generations, the people of Iraq had an opportunity to vote in a fair and free election.

If we are to speak about trying to restore faith in the democratic process or politics, last January was a sign from Iraq that its people believe in politics and the political route. They overcame all sorts of obstacles to cast their ballots. There were attacks on election day. In Baghdad, a man with explosives strapped to his body killed six people in a queue at a polling station. Bombers killed four people at a voting centre in the Sadr City slums. A suicide bomber killed five people on a bus carrying voters south of Baghdad. The leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed he would kill any "infidel" who voted. This highlights the obstacles people faced and decided to overcome. We owe it to the people of Iraq who were so brave and courageous in casting their ballots to ensure their votes work and make a difference.

As the Minister of State said, the war and its aftermath have caused division in this House, in this country and in Europe. Where do we go from here? It is imperative that the UN and the EU play a hands-on role. I welcome what the Minister of State said about Irish participation in the political dialogue but it is important that there is a much greater level of UN and EU involvement. There was UN involvement and, to a lesser extent, EU involvement in the election process. The United Nations was a major player in helping to organise, conduct and oversee the election. It was difficult for personnel on the ground but perhaps it was the first sign that the UN was willing to play a more hands-on role in Iraq. In the run up to war, the position of the United States caused great difficulties at the United Nations and while those divisions will not be easily healed, we must go forward. If we can do anything to alleviate the daily suffering and chaos faced by the people of Iraq, we are morally obliged to do so. It is not enough to say that the situation is awful; we must ensure there is a political involvement by the European Union and the United Nations.

There is much repair work to be done at UN level. The United States must be willing to accept that its decision to go to war without a UN mandate has caused profound difficulties for the United Nations. The sooner that is acknowledged, the better. The United States should face up, openly and transparently, to the issue of human rights abuses in Iraq. I would be the first to admit that no matter how bad the American human rights record is in Iraq, it does not compare to that of Saddam Hussein's regime. That is not good enough, however; we expect certain standards from the United States, yet those standards have certainly not been applied in Iraq.

A report is due out today from Amnesty International, which will contain significant criticisms of the United States' human rights record, presumably in Iraq. We cannot avoid that issue. It is not good enough to see prisoners being mistreated, no matter what regime they represent or from what section they come. If we want to ensure that Iraq is not just a fair and free country but can also function as a democracy, we must set the highest possible standards. From what we know, the treatment of Iraqi prisoners of war and insurgents by the American authorities appears to have left much to be desired.

Ireland has a special relationship with the United States, so we should put firmly on the record our belief that the same level of human rights must apply to everybody, whether they are in New York, Baghdad or elsewhere. America may wish to foster a spirit of freedom and democracy worldwide, but that cannot be done without having human rights at the top of the agenda. I hope that in the coming months, the American Administration will take seriously the question of redressing human rights difficulties.

I doubt that.

All we can do in this House is to state our firm political view that the United States must improve its human rights record in Iraq. That is one side of the story, but the other side is the ongoing campaign of terror and warfare being conducted in Iraq. The Minister of State pointed out, quite rightly, that there are three different groups involved — the Iraqi nationalists, elements of the old regime, and Islamic radicals and fundamentalists.

The position of the Iraqi nationalists is understandable. They want a country devoid of foreign troops and foreign intervention at the earliest opportunity. The way to ensure that will happen is through the establishment of a proper political process in Iraq. We must all work towards that goal. The disaffected elements of the old regime have lost a lot and continue to have much more to lose. They hanker for the days of the old regime but they should understand that there will be no return to the past.

The Islamic radicals and fundamentalists, however, are the people who concentrate our minds most profoundly because their project does not concern Iraq alone. The route map of Islamic fundamentalism is not simply about freeing Iraq of American troops — it is about a much greater and more profound attack on any civilisation that does not share its militant Islamic view of the world.

It is important to state that there is no connection between Islamic fundamentalism and the millions of peace-loving, honourable, decent Muslims around the world. Many such Muslims in Europe have suffered greatly as a result of the attacks on 11 September 2001. To some extent, they have all fallen under a degree of suspicion, which is unfair. The vast majority of Muslims worldwide offers absolutely no support to the Islamic fundamentalist movement. The latter is as removed from the Muslim religion as extreme IRA elements are removed from the average Irish person.

Nonetheless, Islamic fundamentalism requires serious political attention because that group has a political ambition to bring an end to western civilisation as we know it. That might not sound politically correct, but——

It sounds hysterical.

Senator Bradford without interruption.

I am looking forward to Senator Norris's explanation as to what radical Islamic fundamentalism is about. My clear understanding is that radical Islamic fundamentalism, which is totally removed from average Muslim thinking, is designed to bring an end to Western civilisation as we know it. Unfortunately, the current mix in Iraq of nationalists, supporters of the former regime and Islamic fundamentalists, is making the situation very difficult on the ground.

The House has debated Iraq on quite a few occasions. That tragedy is unfolding before our eyes every day, but we must not allow it to disappear from the political radar screen. We have a responsibility to play a role in ensuring the maximum level of support for the new Iraqi Government through our international obligations to the European Union and the United Nations. When the House discussed Iraq over the past two years, it was in the context of support through the provision of food and medical supplies. Those needs have not abated and still require attention.

The Minister of State should ensure that the Government does whatever it can at EU and UN level, using whatever resources are available, to bring some degree of solace to the people of Iraq until such time as they are entirely self-governing. The requisite solution will not be achieved until Iraq is policed by its own police force, defended by its own army and led by its own politicians. Slowly but surely there are positive moves in that direction but violence across the country must come to an end. We must have no truck with terrorism but, on the other hand, American forces, including the US army and political advisers, must examine the manner in which they are conducting security and political issues in Iraq.

We expect high standards from the United States and we cannot accept lower standards of human rights being afforded to the people of Iraq. Over the course of the next few months, the American authorities must take human rights seriously and put them on the level that we expect in a western European country. The best way to showcase democracy is to ensure people in Iraq enjoy the same level of peace, security and human rights as we do. We must argue strongly with our friends in the United States that they must change the human rights regime in Iraq as soon as possible.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am aware of his commitment to foreign aid and much will be needed in this situation.

We face a sad situation in Iraq. At the time of the invasion, Senators Norris and O'Rourke and I spoke against it, saying the war was both immoral and illegal. I said that not because I did not believe in the bringing down of Saddam Hussein, who had visited so much pain on his own people, but because war always brings many civilian casualties, with the concomitant problem of the destruction of infrastructure. I read yesterday that the number of civilians killed by military intervention in Iraq is between 21,000 and 24,735, although I do not know how they arrived at that precise figure.

Iraq has suffered much. First it suffered under Saddam Hussein. We know what he did to his own people, particularly the Kurds. We also forget that the country was bombed almost daily for years after the Gulf war. Sanctions and misappropriations of funds resulted in the deaths of thousands of babies and young children. The invasion has caused thousands of civilian deaths and insurgent attacks are now multiplying. Daily we hear of the deaths of US soldiers and Iraqis as a result of car bombs, mortars and suicide bombs.

May 2005 has been one of the deadliest months since the invasion in March 2003. In Baghdad, four US soldiers died on Tuesday in two separate attacks. Three were killed in the centre of the capital, where a bomb exploded as their convoy drove by, the fourth was shot dead 30 minutes later by a gunman in a passing car at an observation post on a vehicle. Another four US soldiers were killed on Monday in a bombing in Haswa, about 50 km south of Baghdad. The bloodiest attack hit a Shiite Turkmen neighbourhood in the northern town of Tal Afar late on Monday evening, when two suicide bombers drove into a crowd, killing at least 35 people. The double attack took place a few minutes after mortar bombs were fired at two houses in the Muallimin district of Tal Afar. People gathered at the bombing sites and 25 more people were wounded.

Also on Monday, five people were killed and 19 wounded when the driver of a pick-up truck blew himself up outside the town hall in Tuz Kurmatu, near the northern oil centre of Kirkuk. South of the capital late on Monday, at least 11 people were killed, many of them children, when a car bomb exploded outside a Shiite prayer room in Mahmudiyah, inside the so called "triangle of death". Five civilians were shot dead in the same area on Tuesday near the Tigris valley town of Suwariyah. In Baghdad, 11 died and 100 were wounded on Monday as a mini-van packed with explosives was detonated outside a popular restaurant in a Shiite district. A parked car exploded near a police patrol on Tuesday, killing two and injuring eight.

The bombers appear to have increased their attacks on Shiite neighbourhoods amid continuing resentment among the Sunni Arab former elite against the majority community's new empowerment. This recent wave of attacks in Iraq appears indicative of a new stage in the insurgency. Attacks on police and army recruitment centres illustrate the way in which the insurgents are targeting the most critical function of the new government — its ability to provide security. Attacks had increased in the run up to the 30 January election but then appeared to fall back slightly, although they were still at the same level as a year ago. There are now 400 attacks a week — this figure includes everything from major bomb blasts to smaller incidents with no casualties. We should try to realise the implications of these figures.

A spate of attacks in the last two weeks, however, indicates that we may be encountering a new spike closely related to political manoeuvrings in Baghdad as insurgents try to destabilise the new government. We become inured to these figures after a while as they roll of the presses. We think of a car bomb where 30 people are killed and hope that it will eventually sort itself out. We must always remind ourselves of the tragedy, pain and suffering involved, with families ripped apart; it does not matter what nationality or religion they are.

The sophistication and scale of some of the attacks appears to be increasing, including the use of tandem bombs, where a second bomb is timed to go off just as rescuers arrive to help those injured in the first bomb. Military style assaults have also taken place, such as that on Abu Ghraib prison.

There is a continuing trend towards the targeting of ethnic communities, as witnessed by attacks on Kurds in Erbil and Tal Afar. This is a sign of the way in which politics and violence are closely intertwined in Iraq. While foreign fighters have often been the most visible of those involved in the insurgency due to their extreme methods, the bulk are thought to be former Ba'athists and from the Sunni community. The challenge now for Iraqis is to bring Sunnis, most of whom stayed away from the polls on 30 January, back into the political process.

The signs, however, are not good. The new government, with its Shiite Prime Minister and Kurdish President, has struggled to draw in Sunni figures. With talk of further "de-Ba'athification", there is further alienation of Sunnis and undermining of attempts to reach out to tribal leaders and other figures of influence who could try to persuade the insurgents to stem the violence in favour of politics.

The other key challenge for Iraq in trying to stymie the insurgency is to develop its own security forces. With a newly elected government at least partially in place, building up the ability of the new Iraqi forces remains the key determinant of how long the US and other coalition forces stay in Iraq. Establishing the real strength of these Iraqi forces is not easy, not least because the raw numbers are misleading. On 6 April 2005, the multinational command on Iraq reported that there were more than 150,000 men in the Iraqi military, security and police forces. Recently, however, the Pentagon had to lower its estimate for the number of Iraqi security forces because the US had been counting police and soldiers who were technically on the payroll rather than those who were reporting for duty and had been counting those who were not fully equipped.

The repeated attacks on recruitment centres are clearly an attempt to undermine morale and recruitment, as well as the ability of the security forces to combat the insurgency. Most of the national guard is still too lightly equipped and trained to perform more than limited security missions. Even if the numbers are at last picking up, the capabilities are a long way from matching those of the multinational coalition. The key point as people talk about early exit strategies and time lines for US withdrawal is that creating Iraqi forces does not make them combat effective or capable of ending crime.

The attacks may also increase pressure from the Kurdish and Shia communities to use their own well trained militias to put down the insurgency. The fear is that sending Kurdish troops into predominantly Sunni towns may further inflame sectarian tension. The January election was a success but the challenge was to build on it, establish the country in the long term and quell the insurgency. This challenge still remains. Several months since the election, many ministries have yet to be filled. The problem has been trying to strike an acceptable balance of power between the different national groupings.

Iraq's once dominant Sunni Arabs, who only constitute 20% of the population, largely boycotted the elections or were scared of voting. Now they have only 6% of seats in the new National Assembly. Shia Muslim and Kurdish parties have realised credible Sunni Arabs must be included in the new Government if the insurgency is to be undermined. It has been difficult to find Sunni candidates acceptable to all sides. For example, the Sunnis say they offered up to 22 candidates for the defence ministry but all were turned down. Shias and Kurds are reluctant to endorse candidates who served in the former regime and are suspected of having blood on their hands. Sunnis complain that the policy of "de-Ba'athification" risks turning into an all-out Sunni purge. Some argue that given Iraq's dark history of dictatorship and war, there were bound to be birthing pains in forming a representative government. However, those commentators will be disappointed that several months after the elections, problems still exist. Weeks of wrangling mean weeks of delay in confronting the large economic, security and political challenges facing Iraq. Political stagnation risks increasing the appeal of the resistance. Meanwhile the clock is ticking for the Iraqi Government to draft a permanent constitution.

The delays in forming the new government played into the hands of the insurgents, many of whom are clearly determined to destabilise it. The announcement of the new Cabinet on 28 April heralded a fresh wave of attacks. It is less clear that the formation of inclusive government can draw the sting from the insurgency. One element of the insurgency may be remnants of the former Ba'athist Government that may be placated by Sunni representation in the new Government. However, the insurgency is thought to be a loose collection of disparate forces including Islamists, Iraqi nationalists, foreign jihadists and left-wing groups. Supporters of these groups may be more difficult to win over.

Most of Iraq's neighbours have urged an end to the violence. However, some may have mixed feelings for the political process. While Shia-controlled Iran has been happy to see Iraq's natural Shia majority come to the fore, Turkey is anxious about the burgeoning Kurdish role and the risk that a war-torn state could break up leaving an independent Kurdish state on its borders. Saudi Arabia may be concerned by the effect the new potency Iraq's Shias could have on its mostly Shia eastern province.

The US claims its presence in Iraq is limited to leadership of the multinational peacekeeping force and its large embassy in Baghdad. However, few Iraqis believe that Washington has given up its political influence. The creation of the interim constitution now guiding the political process which maximises the clout of minority groupings in Iraq, including the more US-friendly Kurds, was done under the auspices of the US. Meanwhile, there is no sign of an agreed timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, although it was the second point in the United Arab Alliance's manifesto. This group was the winner of January's election. The US President, Mr. Bush, has indicated that US troops are in Iraq for the long haul and several permanent US military bases are under construction there.

In many areas of Iraq, reconstruction has stalled. The wars, the sanctions and the looting have left Iraq's infrastructure in ruins. In 2003, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the World Bank stated that Iraq required $36 billion for reconstruction. The US authorities in Baghdad added another $19 billion to the estimate to cover security and the oil industry. International donors pledged to contribute €32 billion to reconstruction, with over half pledged by the US. By September 2004, only $2.5 billion had been released, largely because the security situation did not allow rebuilding work to proceed. Over half of the $1.2 billion released by the US was spent on security-related measures. The reconstruction effort has been hit by allegations of mismanagement and Iraqi oil revenue unaccounted for.

An Internet website gives the cost of the war in Iraq. While it is changed every few seconds, the last time I checked it stood at $171,983,948. This would have funded anti-global hunger efforts for seven years. It would have funded a worldwide AIDS programme for 17 years. We could have ensured that every child in the world has basic immunisations for 57 years for the amount spent on this unnecessary war. The Vietnam war is known there as the "American war". Up to 3 million Vietnamese were killed and much of the country defoliated. With Iraq, we are now in another Vietnam.

Hear, hear.

We do not know how to disengage. The troops could be there for years only to suddenly pull out, leaving the country in a civil war situation. War, except in very limited circumstances, does not work, particularly when a people do not want a foreign army in their country. We could have ousted Saddam Hussein another way and left the Iraqi people to form their own destiny. I hope they will do so shortly.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan, and thank him for his introductory remarks. It is a pleasure to follow the civilised and humane contribution of Senator Lydon, who went straight to the heart of the matter of the impact on the lives of ordinary decent Iraqis. They are trying to live out their little lives, keep their families together, educate their children and feed themselves. The intervention of the US by its invasion and war of terror has been a catastrophe for them.

The Minister of State spoke of assisting the Iraqi people to make a better life for themselves. Electricity provision and water resources are worse than under Saddam Hussein. The civilian casualty rate is enormous. It has been estimated by a reputable American academic study that as a consequence of the war, there were over 100,000 direct and indirect military casualties. This figure is unchallengeable. One of the most sinister aspects of the American attitude to this is that it makes no attempt to report the number of casualties, especially civilian ones. We do not know what went on in Falluja.

The war was supposed to make matters better. Has it? The situation in Iraq is widely regarded by the most reputable international commentators as an economic catastrophe. Living standards are declining with an increase in poverty, child malnutrition and a 65% unemployment rate. The World Food Programme suggests that one in four Iraqis have to survive on food rations distributed by the ministry of trade, while 2.6 million Iraqis are estimated to be so poor that they regularly sell a portion of their rations to meet other needs. A newspaper reported last week that some Iraqis have resorted to selling their organs, such as kidneys, to survive. This is what we have inflicted on them.

I was one of the few people who protested against the Iran-Iraq war and objected to Ireland selling beef to Iraq at the time. I protested at the events at Halabja and when Mr. Rumsfeld was happy to give another hug to Saddam Hussein. Some companies close to the US Administration, such as Halliburton, have produced new water purification plants. However, they have handed them over to untrained Iraqi workers with the result that water purity standards have gone adrift.

The Minister of State was correct on Saddam Hussein's regime. It was an evil and dreadful regime which engaged in gas and chemical warfare, indiscriminate ballistic missile bombardment of cities and ecological destruction intended to damage its perceived enemies. Does that not sound a little like the American position? Is this not what they have done? Do Members recall the so-called "shock and awe" campaign, involving the obscene fireworks displays we were treated to every night on television? Mention was made of Vietnam. What about the defoliants possibly used in Iraq?

The Minister of State says that we all hope the political process will prevail over violence. Quite so, but the Americans tried to make sure that would not happen. There was an opportunity to negotiate and there were arms inspectors in Iraq, but the Americans planned the outcome. Vice President Cheney and his cronies in Halliburton were planning the attack on Iraq well before 11 September, 2001, which provided a sort of fig leaf. Elections were also held, but the Minister of State knows as well as I do that most people hold that elections held in an occupied territory by an invading army are always suspect.

Let us consider the man the Iraqi elections threw up as President, Mr. Talabani, who has revolved so often that he is the whirling dervish of Iraqi politics. He has been in every conceivable party. He was a Marxist-Leninist at one stage, and a member of the PLO under George Habash. He is a complete opportunist. He has certain things in common with Mr. Rumsfeld. There is a photograph in circulation of Mr. Talibani kissing Saddam Hussein after an agreement in 1991, not very long after the poison gas attack on Halabja. There are quite widespread suspicions about many of these people.

The Minister of State spoke of the international conference. I welcome that but the intention is to demonstrate support for the new Iraqi Government. I do not want something like that. Let us have a conference investigating the situation, one which lets us see what is going on in Iraq, and not a rubber stamp for American tyranny, which is what it is.

What is this bleating about democracy? When did America welcome democracy? It did not do so in Chile, where it bumped off Allende. It did not welcome democracy in Nicaragua, where America subverted a democratic government. America likes planting democracy where it will cause trouble for Russia. In selected states around the Russian borders, America promotes what it describes as democracy, but that is done as an aggressive tactic, rather than in the interests of the people.

I will quote some remarks by Halliburton executives and by people in the American Administration. "Iraq is the new Klondyke" is a very widely quoted phrase. "War is a growth opportunity" is a phrase which reflects the mentality, the psychology we are dealing with in the present American Administration.

The word "insurgency" was also used in the speech by the Minister of State. That word is being used to discredit people who resist. Those people are part of a resistance. I do not always like their tactics, and I deplore the attacks on markets and mosques, but only 4.5% of operations conducted by this resistance hit civilian targets. That fact has been concealed. More than 95% of the attacks are directed against military targets, including the Americans, but the latter control the information in this regard. I deplore everything that negatively affects the civilian population of Iraq.

Senator Bradford mentioned the Amnesty International report, which is important. I have a copy of the press release, though it was embargoed until 11 a.m. One of the main points it makes is that governments are betraying their human rights promises. It states:

A new agenda is in the making, with the language of freedom and justice being used to pursue policies of fear and insecurity. This includes cynical attempts to redefine and sanitise torture.

This is exactly what is happening under the American imperium.

The events of 11 September 2001 have been used as an excuse, an alibi, to erode human rights all over the world, particularly in the United States and Britain. I feel very ashamed that anyone can use words like "democracy" in the same context when introducing torture practices not seen since the Gestapo. One such practice is "waterboarding" where, with doctors present, a person is tied to a board and drowned to the point of the lungs being about to burst, and then revived. This is what the Americans are doing.

One must consider the use of language. In the run-up to the Nazi tyranny, the system of language went on the slide. That was done to prepare people for tyranny. The Amnesty International report tells of the attempts by the United States Administration to dilute the absolute ban on torture through new policies and quasi-management speak such as environmental manipulation, stress positions and sensory manipulation.

The report left out the term "extraordinary rendition", in which this country is implicated through the use of Shannon Airport. This is a policy under which the United States Government, through its agencies such as the CIA, feels perfectly entitled to snatch the citizens of other countries, either in their own countries or elsewhere, and refer them to third locations, notably, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Afghanistan where they can be tortured, sometimes to death, in the presence of the CIA. Amnesty International noted one case of a man snatched in this way who disappeared in Syria. Nothing has been heard of him. I doubt very much if he is alive.

What kind of democracy is this? Does this undermine democracy? Even from a practical point of view, a large section of the CIA is opposed to this practice because the information it squeezes out of people using these brutal, Nazi-style tactics, is so unreliable. It leads the CIA off on wild goose chases. It is therefore counter-productive, though only in terms of information, because ultimately, this war is about money, power and oil. There is little doubt about that. The war is creating a huge cost, as several members have said, and has now cost as much as the Korean War.

While framed against a battleship, President Bush told us the Iraqi war was over. That must be almost a year ago. Fighting in Iraq has been prolonged and intense, so the costs have continued to rise. US Congressman John Spratt said that fighting in Iraq is lasting longer and is more intense than anyone expected, and the cost of keeping troops in the theatre of operations is greater than anyone anticipated. So far, $192 billion has been approved by Congress for the war. Where is it going? It is going into the pockets of Mr. Cheney's friends in Halliburton andKellogg, Brown and Root. For five years, Mr. Cheney was chief executive of Halliburton, the world's largest oil and gas company. He continues to receive deferred payments of $150,000 annually and holds shares in the company valued at $18 million, but there is no question of a conflict of interests. Under Mr. Cheney, in 2003 a secret task force in the Bush Administration picked Halliburton to receive a non-competitive contract for up to $7 billion to rebuild Iraq's oil operations. Why did Halliburton get special treatment? Could that have anything to do with Mr. Cheney?

In the course of buying and transporting oil from Kuwait, Halliburton overcharged the American Government by $61 million. I am sure that many people remember the celebrated occasion when Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root, overcharged the American Government $16 million for the feeding of the troops. Halliburton has become a sort of unofficial, unacknowledged arm of the American military establishment. This is exactly what a Republican American President, Eisenhower, warned against, namely, the intrusion of the military-industrial complex into the political arena. However, this is what has happened and it is very dangerous. Where does all of this come from? It is notable that Haliburton was one of the largest political contributors in the run-up to the elections in the United States. Naturally, it received a reward for this and views the opportunities in Iraq as a new Klondyke.

A search committee was set up, under Mr. Cheney, to find a new vice-president and it suggested that the best new vice-president would be Mr. Cheney himself. That is most extraordinary. I cannot put on the record of the House the language used by one of his former colleagues when this fact was discovered.

I am concerned about corruption and the level of inter-penetration between military and commercial enterprises. For example, a company called Free Market Global, an international company that trades in gas, petroleum and other resources, appointed General Tommy Franks, the US army commander, to its board last year. That should give cause for concern to anyone who poses as a democrat.

There are many reasons to be worried. Mr. Cheney formed an interesting group which, in February 2001, prior to September 11, was already planning a merger of interests, or a "melding" as they described it. Those interests planning to attack Iraq and create regime change were to be melded with those interested in the takeover of certain international oil fields. Nobody should doubt that this was all in the pipeline before September 11.

As far as September 11 is concerned, I agree it was a tragedy but one that needs to be kept in proportion. Approximately 3,000 people were killed and for those people and their families, it was dreadful. I will never forget the images of people falling out of skyscrapers, but what did they expect? The US cannot go around trampling on other people's rights, murdering half a million people in Kampuchea, devastating Vietnam, undermining every democratic regime that is viewed to be inimical to their interests and then expect people to do nothing.

I do not believe there is an Islamic threat. The belief that civilisation will be wiped out by Islamic fundamentalists is hysterical. Our civilisation is most in danger from what is happening under the so-called coalition forces.

We should look to George Galloway, who faced down the Senate inquiry. US Senators were using false documents and Mr. Galloway gave them their answer, beautifully, in the Senate. I was ashamed last Sunday to read an article by an ignorant, stupid reporter, who attacked Galloway and attempted to undermine him. She did not attack anything he said but rather his clothes, eating habits, sexual predilections and his sun tan. She did not contradict a single word he said.

I welcome the Minister and his officials. In comparison to three or six months ago, Iraq has drifted out of the headlines. Much of the news reporting now is of daily death tolls — 30 people were reported killed on Monday and 35 on Tuesday of this week. This is reminiscent of newscasts about Northern Ireland in the past. I welcome this discussion as an effort to ensure the same numbness does not develop towards casualties in Iraq as did towards those in Ireland.

A brief review of past news reports can reveal much about the current situation in Iraq. In May of 2003 and 2004, various newspaper headlines read: "Mass grave found near Baghdad — Could hold the remains of 10,000"; "Foreign Secretary concedes hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction might never be found in Iraq"; "Military police question soldiers about photographs of alleged ‘torture' of Iraqi prisoners of war"; and "America and Britain layout blueprint for post-war Iraq in a draft resolution to UN Security Council". The issues at the centre of these headlines are also at the centre of our statements today, namely, the atrocities carried out under Saddam Hussein's regime, the doubt about the justification for war and divisions at the United Nations, the abuse of prisoners in military prisons and planning for post-war Iraq. I wish to deal with each of these briefly in turn.

There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator who brought death and misery to thousands of people in Iraq. The world is better for the demise of his regime. Whatever about weapons of mass destruction, the evidence of his ruthlessness is available for all to behold. No dodgy dossier is needed to prove Saddam's sadism.

To try to conciliate or bribe a potential aggressor by making concessions, frequently with implication of sacrifice of principles is something of which Europe has recent and painful memories. It is known as appeasement and it ended in disaster. Whatever the differing views in this House, I suspect none of us wishes we had pursued a course of appeasement rather than the one that has led us to where we are today.

On the question of the justifications for war and division at the United Nations, I will make the following points. On 26 May 2004 we had a debate on the situation in the Middle East. When I spoke that day I recounted the words of Edmund Burke: "Never despair, but if you do, work in despair". The experience of the debacle surrounding Resolution 1441 led to despair, both in and with the United Nations. There was despair that UN resolutions, particularly those dealing with the Middle East, would no longer be taken seriously or, more important, be acted upon. In this regard, I welcome the confirmation from the United Nations that Syria has fully withdrawn its forces from Lebanon. This significant move follows a UN Security Council resolution passed last September and the assassination in Beirut, last February, of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. A United Nations verification team has concluded that Syrian troops and intelligence operatives have vacated all of Lebanon, including border areas. This is a very positive development for the region and for the United Nations.

As a result of the divisions evident over Resolution 1441, a spotlight has shone on how the United Nations functions, which is a good development. However, we cannot generalise about the United Nations. It is a very large organisation, with many functions and operations. It deals with women's and children's rights, trade conventions and Security Council resolutions. As is the case with international law in general, the UN and its conventions work well in thousands of ways every day, without a hint of controversy. However, when these break down, they do so spectacularly and in full glare of the world's media spotlight. Notwithstanding this, we must pay great attention to the recent report by the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, particularly where it refers to the Security Council. The pre-Iraq debates over Resolution 1441 demonstrated that reform is necessary. Kofi Annan has urged UN members to bring into the decision-making process countries more representative of the broader membership, especially developing countries.

That process should not impair the effectiveness of the Security Council but should increase its democratic and accountable nature. Kofi Annan has urged member states to consider two options, or any other viable proposals in terms of size and balance that have emerged in his review. The Secretary General's proposals include not just enlarging the Security Council, but also setting out rules on when it can authorise military force, and an agreed definition of terrorism.

Ireland should lend its voice to calls for member states to agree to take a decision on these important issues before the summit in September 2005. It would be preferable for member states to take this vital decision by consensus, but if they are unable to reach consensus, this must not become an excuse for postponing action. Ireland must be to the fore in driving this agenda and reform at the United Nations.

In this regard, I welcome the appointment by the UN Secretary General of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, as special envoy for UN reform. As the Minister has stated, the appointment is a measure of Ireland's long-standing commitment to the United Nations and of the esteem it enjoys in all sectors of the membership.

The third of the four areas I would like to discuss today concerns the treatment of prisoners. It is ironic that on this day last year mobile phones fitted with digital cameras were, reportedly, banned in US army installations in Iraq, on the orders of the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Quoting a Pentagon source, newspapers said that the US Defence Department believed that some of the damning photos of US soldiers abusing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were taken with mobile phones. One must question the thoroughness with which this type of measure is applied by the US as only last week we saw the publication in a British tabloid newspaper of photographs showing Saddam Hussein in a less than flattering situation. The newspaper in question said the pictures were handed over by US sources who wanted to deal a body blow to the Iraqi resistance.

Whatever the motives for the release of these photographs, we must question any contravention of the rights of prisoners and any violation of the Geneva Convention. No matter who the prisoner may be, it is a question of responsibility. In taking action, the United States, Britain and other so-called coalition forces, must live up to their responsibilities. Their major responsibility concerns planning for peace. Whatever doubts have been expressed about how the US planned for the war, there can be no misjudgment in the planning of the peace.

A Balkanised Iraq at war with itself is in the interests of no-one, least of all the Iraqi people. Having taken on the responsibility of ousting Saddam Hussein, the US must now shoulder the responsibility for handing over sovereign power to the Iraqi people. Each step on that journey must be a step closer to that ultimate goal. In this the United States and its allies need our continued encouragement and support. January saw significant progress on that journey when 8.5 million Iraqis voted in elections to select the National Assembly. However, progress since has been painfully slow. Lest we forget, this is Iraq's first true experiment with a fully representative democracy.

Just how representative the transitional Government is can be seen in the ethnic origins of its senior members. Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites are all represented, but it is to its Shia Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, that the Iraqi people and the international community will look for signs that a truly inclusive democracy is developing in Iraq. He needs and deserves our support and recognition. Never has that need been greater. Despite, or most likely because of, the success of the January election, the militants have stepped up their campaign, brutally killing some 620 people since Mr. al-Jaafari assumed office on 28 April.

The militants realise with greater clarity than those of us cosseted thousands of miles away, that we have reached the endgame. On one side there is a prosperous united Iraq, a beacon of democracy in a region unfamiliar with that concept, and on the other there is an abyss into which the hopes, dreams and aspirations of ordinary, decent Iraqi men, women and children will plunge.

I have seen in the Lebanon, and we have all seen in the Balkans, the results of the kind of civil war into which the militants are now trying to plunge Iraq. Sunni will fight Shiite, Kurd will fight Sunni and pro and anti-Government factions of all religions and creeds will fight each other. If coalition forces despair and withdraw from this spiralling violence, we will witness the break-up of Iraq with all that entails, namely, massacres, ethnic cleansing, refugees and starvation. All that will remain of a once proud nation will be a training ground and sanctuary for international terrorism. All the international community could do in such circumstances would be to throw a cordon sanitaire around the country and hope the cancer does not leach into surrounding countries.

What can the Government and people of Ireland do to prevent this appalling vista? For a start, we must remind Britain and the United States of their international obligations. We must remind them that they cannot walk away until Iraq can properly support and protect itself and its citizens. We must also do what we can to see movement towards United Nations involvement in Iraq. Currently, this is clearly not possible. However, it would be beneficial if the British and Americans indicated and updated a timescale for moves towards such UN involvement.

I would like, however, to sound a word of caution about UN deployment in Iraq. Whatever approach Ireland takes, we must support only phased and planned UN operations in Iraq. This is critical. We must not allow a situation where troops in blue helmets are left helpless in the face of atrocity. There must not be another Rwanda nor Srebrenica. Britain and America should urgently consult the United Nations about a timetable for UN involvement, but this should not mean that UN forces are deployed before the ground is suitably prepared for the task set. That is the only fair approach for the UN and for Iraq.

The terrorist bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003 forced the UN to wrestle with fundamental questions regarding security. The UN still plays an advisory and technical role and has reiterated its commitment to play a full part in the next stages of the transition to full self rule and democracy, including a referendum on a new constitution.

We must continue to support the United Nations and the Secretary General on both reform of the UN and moves towards UN peacekeeping and peace enforcement in Iraq. It is only through such an approach that this country will usefully continue its proud history of promoting peace and security on the international stage. There is too much at stake for the international community, the Middle East and the Iraqi people to allow narrow arguments about the rights or wrongs of the 2003 invasion to cloud our judgment. We must do all we can to support the United Nations, the coalition and the transitional Government in their efforts to bring about a brighter future for the people of Iraq.

It is obvious that I do not have the same insight into this issue as Senator Minihan. As it is not in my brief, I am not as informed about this matter as I would like to be when speaking in a debate of this nature. I agree with the request made during a previous debate for Members to be briefed in advance of debates of this kind. When I examined the website of the Scottish Parliament, I learned that MSPs are given briefing papers on legislation and other matters under debate. We need to examine that idea.

I would like to make comments and ask some questions on foot of the Minister of State's speech and the contributions of other Senators. The conflict in Iraq is no longer at the centre of the media agenda. I welcome this debate, which has been requested by many Senators, because it is important that this issue be kept to the forefront. Events in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole are key to the peace of the entire world. I did not agree with the war in Iraq. It is not right for the Governments in the UK and the US to decide to change the regimes of other countries. It is important that they do not carry out such actions again in other parts of the world, but it is more likely that they will do so if the issue of Iraq fades into the background. In such circumstances, a new war may be upon us before we can do anything about it.

It is important that countries like Ireland, on their own as well as at EU and UN levels, forcefully state they do not accept the recent behaviour of the UK and the US. We should demand that certain action is taken. Members will be aware from previous debates that my Labour Party colleagues and I did not agree with the war in Iraq. The war was started on a dishonest basis. I am unhappy with the UK's role in the war, especially the part played by its Prime Minister, Mr. Blair. He persistently said the war was necessary for reasons of disarmament, even though he knew it was being pursued to bring about regime change in Iraq. It is wrong for a democracy to set such an example as it conducts its business. The UK Administration debated whether it should do certain things, while at the same time being untruthful about why such actions were to be taken. It is totally unsatisfactory that such an example was set by a country that purports to want to deliver democracy to other parts of the world.

Ireland should not have a subservient role in its dealings with the UK and the US. While Ireland should support such countries as best it can as a friend, it should make its feelings known when such countries are acting wrongly. It is an understatement to suggest that the Government should review the approach it is taking at Shannon Airport. I refer, for example, to the money it is spending to allow the US to use Irish airspace to carry out the kinds of activities which are being carried out in Iraq and other parts of the world.

I did not agree with the war, as I thought the countries involved should have acted differently. They continue to act wrongly in respect of human rights. Having said that, we need to work on the basis of what has happened. Everything we do should be done because we want Iraq to succeed. Our goal should be to ensure that Iraq is democratic and peaceful. We should try to spread peace and democracy throughout the region as a whole, but not by acting as the UK and the US have acted to date. The UK and the US should undo the damage they have done. We need to demand they approach human rights issues in Iraq in a certain manner. I refer to the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, for example.

The conditions in the Middle East as a whole are relevant to this debate. It is obvious that the behaviour of the UK and the US in Iraq will have a knock-on effect on the delivery of peace in other parts of the Middle East. Similarly, the development of the peace process in Palestine and Israel is important when considering the future of Iraq. Ireland should act as an honest broker in the peace process in Israel and Palestine. Just as Israel has acted badly in respect of the Palestinians, the Palestinians have acted badly in respect of Israel. We have to work with both sides. We should be forceful in our demands as we try to secure an appropriate outcome in the form of a two-state solution.

The UK Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, has not delivered what he thought he could deliver in Palestine and Israel. Progress has been made as a consequence of work on the ground in Palestine, rather than as a result of the actions of the UK and the US. The people of Palestine showed when they elected Mahmoud Abbas that they are looking for a peaceful solution. I think the Israelis want a peaceful solution as well. I do not necessarily agree with many of the actions of the Israeli Government, but I believe most Israelis would like to live in peace and to see the Palestinians treated better. We need to continue to put pressure on Mr. Blair and the US President, Mr. Bush, to deliver what needs to be delivered if Israel and Palestine are to be brought to the table and if there is to be a positive and progressive outcome.

The Minister of State spoke about the recent elections in Iraq. I have heard little about the monitoring of the elections, particularly from an Irish point of view. What did Ireland do to help the implementation of the elections? Was the outcome of the elections representative of the way people voted? It is clear that the holding of elections represented progress, but this is not enough. We need to ascertain whether gaps still exist. What can be done to bring more people on board in Iraq in the future? Ireland must play a bigger role. Much more publicity was given to Ireland's role in elections which were held in other countries after wars in those countries had finished. I do not think the Minister of State gave much information about what Ireland did to ensure that the elections in Iraq were democratic, as far as possible. If the elections were not democratic, what can this country do to deliver more democracy and better election outcomes in Iraq in the future? We should ensure elections are held in more areas and more people get a chance to vote.

There has not been a great deal of discussion of Ireland's role in UN peacekeeping missions in Iraq. I appreciate Senator Minihan's argument that the Army should not get involved in Iraq if it does not know what it is getting into and what it can achieve. It is obvious that the safety of our troops should be paramount. We have had many debates on this issue, but little information has emerged about the discussions with various interested parties about Ireland's peacekeeping role. I have asked whether Ireland is offering any policing expertise in the region. We have a great deal of experience of giving advice about improvements in policing as part of our peacekeeping operations. Will we take any such action in this instance? I do not suggest that we should jump in straight away, but I am worried that very little information has been supplied. I have not been told what stage we are at in terms of those issues.

I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to answer the questions I have asked in his response. I agree that the problems in Iraq should be kept on the agenda. Our ultimate goal should be a positive outcome. While it is right that we are critical, we should also try to make progress and work with everyone involved to improve the circumstances in Iraq and retrieve what can be retrieved. We do not want similar actions to those taken by the UK and the US to be taken in the future. Any future intervention in the affairs of another country should be done with the co-operation of the UN and the EU. The UK and the US cannot be allowed to behave as they have done in the past. Ireland should be strong and forceful in that regard.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Having listened to the debate for the past hour and a half, my mind is whirling in regard to how I feel about the points raised. The more one debates a subject, the more one can get confused. The question is how to get clarity from all the statements made.

There has been no debate on Iraq in the House since the formation of the transitional Iraqi Government in January. Since then, I have asked myself what started this process. It started from the point at which there was a statement that we must invade Iraq to overthrow a sadist dictator and try to bring some form of democracy to that country. I absolutely agreed with that. When reading of what that dictator did in terms of gas and chemical warfare and putting fear into the citizens of Iraq through his treatment of them, one could only agree that he had to be taken out. I thought the only way to take him out was through the actions of the United States, which was the only country that could do that.

However, since the invasion, I have come full circle in my thinking. While I agreed with the overthrow, I have since asked myself which was the better of two evils, given the current chaos in Iraq. The aggressors had a mindset which presumed all they had to do was go into Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi people would swoon around them. Perhaps there was an element of this in the initial phase, but the United States troops destroyed themselves in the process because they did not have a clue how to handle people. They had no proper training, only the example of the might and the power of a President who said: "We can do this. Go in there, take him out." However, they forgot they were dealing with a resilient nation, which is fundamental to the breakdown of the whole process.

I have been shocked by the atrocities shown on television, including prisoners being decapitated and assassinated. The memory of those events rests with me. It must be asked why we, as human beings, have allowed ourselves to go that far. I blame the Americans, although it is awful to have to say this because I want to see democracy and stability in Iraq, as well as the reconstruction of infrastructure and health promotion programmes and the elimination of sanctions. I do not see any sign of these developments. Instead, I saw how soldiers treated Iraqi prisoners. How could that instill confidence in any European?

I welcome that a transitional Government is now in place and that there is an attempt to bring the Sunnis onside and isolate the radicals, although I do not know whether this attempt will be successful. There is a need to bring in an international body and to exclude the Americans. The Americans should not be in charge of anything that involves the psychological dimension of how to bring people on board. They are too isolationist and aggressive. We should include the United Nations, which left Iraq after August 2003 when many of its officials were killed. It took a lot for the United Nations to re-enter the field of negotiations.

An international body of people must come together on this issue, and Ireland should promote such a development. The Americans should not be involved in regard to any key area because they do not know how to handle such matters. They have alienated the Iraqis. There is no confidence in them and the result is chaos in Iraq. If such thinking could be brought to bear during the international conference that is supposed to begin in June, Ireland's role should be to help bring about a consensus.

The Iraqi people are like the rest of us. I have seen many BBC programmes involving fine intellectuals, even Sunnis, radicals and fundamentalists who are not absolute isolationists, who are able to sit around the table and discuss the issues. There is a possibility for progress, but this requires getting the right people to negotiate in order to reflect Iraq as a body of people, not as groups of Sunnis, Shiites and fundamentalists. That remains a problem, despite the belief of the United States Government that all it had to do was snap its fingers and it would take over Iraq.

Another issue that undermined confidence is whether the United States had another agenda, namely, the capture of Iraq's oil and gas fields rather than the attainment of freedom. If one begins to think like that, one will think that the almighty power is taking over.

My short contribution is based on my thinking as an ordinary person, reflecting a dinner table discussion as to how we should move forward. In focusing clearly on the personalities who deal with Iraq, I plead with the Minister to get the Americans out of the negotiations. They will not get this right.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. We first debated this matter in May of last year and we should continue to do so to keep up-to-date, focus and undertake research in this area.

CNN and Fox News broadcast a simplified version of the Iraq war as a war on terror whereas Senator Norris believes the war was about oil and money. An in-depth examination of any war will reveal multiple root causes rather than one simplistic cause; the same is the case for the war in Iraq. It is easy for organisations like CNN and Fox News to come up with a simplified focus because they want to ingrain a message in the subconscious of their audience, which they seem to have achieved in regard to the vast majority of the population in the United States.

The multiple causes of war include ethnic-cultural, ideological, economic, territorial and environmental factors. We must keep an open mind as to what caused this war, as well as examining all the causes involved. This is especially so given the experience of war in this country. We should be mindful of the important point raised by Senator Minihan, namely, how numb we have become in regard to the news reports of war.

Living in Donegal, I am often subjected to BBC and UTV news reports. On a daily basis throughout the 1980s, I was subjected to news reports about booby-trap bombs, incendiary devices and Protestants, Catholics and British soldiers being killed. To be honest, one develops an immunity to that type of news. There is a probably an explanation for this, although I do not know whether it is a natural human condition. As Senator Minihan explained, one becomes numb to certain news which is what happened to us in Ireland with regard to people being killed, bombed and shot. We took it for granted that this was a way of life and what we had to deal with. The same has happened with regard to the situation in Iraq in that it is no longer news. The entire world media was located in Iraq this time last year and right through the summer. Subsequently it focused on the US for the elections there, and then on the countries affected by the tsunami. The current media reports from Iraq are minimal and concerned with British and American soldiers being killed there. The coverage is maintained as low-key. It is important that we as legislators and politicians keep the debate going because we will not get transparent viewpoints if we rely on the world media.

The Iraq war cannot be considered in isolation. We must look at the conflict in Afghanistan and the motivation of the US in that regard, which relates to Afghanistan's centrality. It is a strategic and central location of which the US is very mindful in terms of access to oil and gas reserves. I am not saying this on a whim, because evidence exists to support this assertion. In 1999 the US National Security Council noted:

The United States will continue to have a vital interest in ensuring access to foreign oil supplies . . . we must continue to be mindful of the need for regional stability and security in key producing areas to ensure our access to, and the free flow of, these resources.

Afghanistan is also part of the Iraqi debate. It posits the territorial argument as a cause of war and a fundamental part of the overall debate regarding the Middle and Far East. There is vital economic interest in respect of US companies building gas pipelines in Afghanistan. Legitimate trade is taking place in the central location of Afghanistan in terms of oil and gas supplies. However, Americans focus on the issue of illegitimate trade of narcotics and arms of which we must also be conscious.

The situation in Iraq has generated much interest. The outcome of the American elections proves that Americans are divided on the issue. The same was proven in respect of the UK elections which showed the British are also divided. We are mature enough in that the debate has evolved and we are neither pro nor anti-American because America is split down the middle in terms of its opinion on Iraq. We meet US citizens all over the world and here in our own country. I have considerable contact with quite a number of Americans through politics and also with those who have come to live here. A large percentage of Americans are nomadic in nature. Many of those I meet are embarrassed by the situation in Iraq and by President George W. Bush. They refer to him as an idiot. On the other hand, there are people sitting in houses in Ohio who think he is a great man and world leader. This divided opinion was reflected in the votes.

On the matter of oil reserves, in 1980 former US President Jimmy Carter declared that any attempt by hostile powers to cut off Persian Gulf oil supplies would be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the US. This relates to the environmental needs in respect of gas and oil supplies.

On a point of order, does the Senator wish to reconsider his use of the word "idiot"?

The word was used by people I met on the tour circuit. I was quoting US citizens who imparted their opinion that the US President was an idiot.

On reflection, is the Senator happy to keep it on the record?

I am transferring, through the political process, the opinion of others.

It may not be appropriate, but it is the Senator's choice.

Does the Chair wish me to withdraw the reference?

My job is to be neutral. Does the Senator feel it is appropriate to use the term?

The Chair has much more experience than I.

The term is unparliamentary.

I will withdraw it.

I appreciate that. I am not taking away from the depth of feeling contained in the Senator's contribution. That is not my job.

I was simply passing on the message from people I have met who would be of a Democratic Party disposition.

I thank the Senator for his co-operation.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his intervention. I appreciate that he has much more experience than I in this regard. The situation in Iraq is serious, as is that in Northern Ireland. We have tried everything and are faced with a grave problem in Iraq. A solution will not be found overnight or in the short or medium term. We must weigh up every aspect and angle, including UN intervention. At the outset of this debate one year ago, my ambition was for the UN to be sent in and not the US. However, that might not have worked and the Iraqi people might have regarded the UN as an imperial power. We might have faced the same democratic deficit and war as is currently the case. Should we look at a UN composition of Muslims or one that reflects a broad range of Sunni and Shia Muslims and Kurds? We should consider every possible aspect in order to move the situation forward.

Returning to the issue of Northern Ireland, we cannot get the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the UUP to sit around a table and form a power-sharing executive. However, we would regard ourselves in Northern Ireland as a more civilised environment than Iraq. The situation will not be resolved overnight and requires further debate and whatever intervention is necessary.

We are currently faced with a capital imperialism, a contradictory fusion of the politics of state and empire and the molecular processes of capital accumulation in space and time. Many people advocate a debate on the major environmental and territorial causes of war. It is not a simple war on terror or one regarding oil and gas. Rather it is a question of resources. Michael T. Klare argues: "As shortages of critical materials rise in frequency and severity, the competition for access to the remaining supplies of these commodities will grow more intense". That is something on which the Minister of State might dwell.

Population increase and economic development in different parts of the world mean that demand for resources is expanding at a faster rate than nature can accommodate. It is estimated that two thirds of the world's known petroleum reserves will be consumed in the next 20 years. The result will be temporary or chronic shortages in different parts of the world.

War is not just about money or making a simplistic connection in terms of 11 September, Iraq and al-Qaeda. The causes are ethnic, cultural, ideological, environmental and economic. This is a major debate and I welcome the opportunity to speak on it. Long may the debate continue.

I thank the Senator for his co-operation.

There was never more truth in the saying attributed to an Irish countryman who was asked by a visitor for directions: "I wouldn't be starting from here". We must reflect on what has led us into this situation, even as we strive to get out of what can only be described as a mess. As time gives more perspective, I have a great deal of respect for President Bush Snr. during the first Iraq war when the objective was to get Iraq out of Kuwait, which it had unjustly invaded. He gave the United Nations full play, was seen to be very reluctant to go into Kuwait until the last possible moment and when he did go in, the troops stopped at a certain point.

The Duke of Wellington once said that the art of life as well as of soldiering was to guess what was on the other side of the hill. In 1991, the Americans were very concerned about what would be on the other side of the hill if they went too far. Post-11 September, there was proper UN sanction for the Afghanistan situation. The Afghan Government was given various ultimatums. It did not abide by them but the international community accepted the justice of what was being done.

Unfortunately, the invasion of Iraq fell into a different category. It was clear to thinking people at the time that, in terms of first principles, there was not an adequate justification for it. The case that Iraq was some imminent threat to the region and the world was faulty and defective, as we can see with complete clarity now. It was taken for reasons of geo-strategic thinking. I was sorry to see that it was invested in by Britain and presented as some kind of moral idealistic crusade. I do not believe there was much morality about it. It was simply a question of sticking with the Americans regardless of what happened.

While the campaign over a few weeks was a complete success in military terms, what has existed since has been extraordinarily messy. That includes the deplorable lapse in standards in terms of treatment and keeping of prisoners, although one has to raise one's eyebrows more than a little that the only people seemingly being prosecuted and convicted of human rights abuse are women soldiers. Most of us would think they were very subordinate instruments, particularly when consideration is given to the Guantanamo Bay situation, which partly related to 11 September. People must follow principles of human rights and international law and not create extra legal zones. There is an attitude in America that if one has power, one should use it but the limitations of that approach have been very clear.

The International Institute of Strategic Studies issued a report yesterday which stated that it will take at least five years before Iraqi forces are strong enough to impose law and order and that they were not even close to matching the insurgency. Our position in terms of principle are clear in that we have subscribed, along with other countries, to Resolution 1546 of the United Nations Security Council of 8 June 2005. Paragraph 15 of that resolution requests member states and international regional organisations to contribute assistance to the multinational force, including military forces, as agreed with the Government of Iraq, to help meet the needs of the Iraqi people for security and stability and humanitarian and reconstruction assistance.

I do not understand the reason there is still an argument about the use of Shannon Airport in the light of that resolution. Whatever the argument prior to June 2004, it is clear that the UN, which is supposed to be our lone star as far as the conduct of international relations are concerned, asked us to give every assistance and we do not have any choice but to do that. We must recognise, however, that because of the intervention, on such dubious grounds, of the Americans and British in particular, any regime established by them, even though democratically elected, will have a difficult job establishing legitimacy, particularly as the Sunnis who were in dictatorial power for so many decades are now in a minority. One of the problems in that and many other parts of the world is that it is very difficult to get communities where there are majorities and minorities to agree to live under the one government. The fear of majority rule is intense.

As far as Ireland is concerned, we have no choice, as the Minister of State outlined, but to play a constructive role through the European Union and the UN in trying to bring about a greater degree of stability. It is unlikely that this will be achieved by purely military means. There is a temptation to think that military power is a solution to all problems. It is not a solution to all problems, indeed it is not a solution to many problems. Long, patient political work is required.

I hope one of the lessons we will learn from the past three years is that the western world does not get itself into this type of situation again. Of course tyrannies are unsatisfactory but if it were just a question of tyranny presumably the Americans would be making preparations to remove the governments in Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe and North Korea, but they are not doing so. The lesson is that the international community must work together. If a country's vital defence and national interest are at stake, as they were for the United States after the attack on 11 September, one can understand it may have to act in self-defence regardless of whether there is international support.

That was not the situation in Iraq. The move into Iraq was discretionary and not essential or indispensable. Arguments are made about international law but it is not an exact science and people will argue until the end of time on whether the intervention was compatible with international law but what can be said with some certainty is that it was extremely dubious.

We must use the little influence we have to ensure this type of approach is not adopted again because it creates a large mess. We must be as constructive as we can in trying to solve it and while I accept positives elements exist in principle, as if one could achieve democracy, stability and prosperity one will eventually attain a better world, I am afraid we are a long way from doing so.

I welcome the distinguished visitors from County Clare.

I support the Minister of State's words on what Ireland can do to alleviate the situation in Iraq. It is not for me to go into the detail of what happened but it is well-established that action had to be taken to rid Iraq of SaddamHussein's tyranny. The action taken was justified and has been successful up to a point. It is important the international community finds ways to support the new Government so that law and order can be restored as quickly as possible. The situation is presently out of control and unless serious action is taken it is likely to drift into civil war.

I will briefly refer to the issue of American planes going through Shannon Airport. I condemn the attacks made on the airport by a small minority of people who do not represent the views of the people of the Shannon region. This small minority engaged in criminality, breaking down perimeter fences, damaging planes and causing general mayhem in the vicinity of the airport. They had no local or national support. The successful policy on Shannon has been followed by successive Governments over a long number of years.

The American authorities have nothing to fear from inspections on flights going through Shannon. American planes apply for permission through the diplomatic service to use the airport and in my opinion its position would be strengthened if it allowed the Irish airport authorities to inspect planes, especially in light of unsubstantiated claims made that prisoners were transported through the airport. It is important that American authorities take note of that and work with the Irish authorities to ensure that confidence is maintained in the airport.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this matter. Senator Daly clearly outlined the position on Shannon Airport and its role in this debate. For many years the Government has accommodated military aircraft from all jurisdictions, including the Russian Federation.

Is the Senator referring to Mr. Yeltsin?

Notwithstanding that, a group of people have attempted to rewrite history and suggest the actions of the Government in recent years amounts to a departure from a long-standing policy. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a well-recognised fact that the Government has always allowed foreign military aircraft to pass through Irish airspace without compromising the military neutrality that still forms part of Government policy.

It is disappointing that a few individuals have attempted to besmirch the good name of Shannon, particularly so for those of us from County Clare who must suffer an ongoing negative campaign around Shannon Airport. A perception exists outside of Ireland that some type of military operation occurs there daily. One would be forgiven for believing that a camp similar to that in Cuba is in place, which is not the case. It is damaging to the airport and it is important that we put on the record the assurance that Shannon Airport remains a commercial airport and operates on the basis of long-established Government policy.

I thank Senators for their contributions and I am particularly grateful for the contributions from the two Senators from County Clare, not least because one of the contributors, Senator Daly, is a former Cabinet member. He set out roundly and fairly the position on Shannon and there is no requirement for me to say anything further, other than that Shannon Airport will continue to remain open for business and open to US military traffic.

On the issue of transport of prisoners, the United States recently reassured us that prisoners are not transported through Shannon Airport. The suggestion that prisoners going to or from Guantanamo Bay are transiting through Shannon is untrue. It is important we state that because the international media has repeated that rumour and it is not true.

As many Government spokespersons and Members of this House stated at the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq, the Government has not changed its policy on Shannon Airport in 40 years. Sometimes one is criticised for not changing policy for 40 years but the policy on Shannon is clear and has been continued by many Governments of different ideological complexions. We facilitate the passage of our friends from America through Shannon in military, commercial or civilian aircraft and there is no difficulty with that. It would not be wise to stop it. Germany and France were foremost opponents of the war in Iraq but they allowed flights through their airspace and airports. I thank the Senators from County Clare for their positive and helpful contributions on that matter.

Senator Bradford opened this debate by discussing the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, and although other Senators differed and argued with him he is correct because it does pose a significant global challenge and threat. I had the occasion to visit the Darfur region in Sudan recently and one need only examine the situation there to see the effect of Islamic fundamentalism. The leading ideological and spiritual exponent of Islamic fundamentalism, Hassan al-Turabi, is under house arrest because he convinced the Government he led during the 1990s to host Osama bin Laden. We can all see the enormous consequences of that action for the Sudan, the Middle East and Iraq. Deputy Bradford encountered some hostility when he made that statement but he is correct and there is no point in pretending otherwise.

Islamic fundamentalism also poses a threat and a challenge to many progressive Arab states and, in desperation, some have a process of prosecution and execution on conviction of fundamentalists. I do not agree with that. It causes a serious problem in the world in which we live.

I admired the pacifism of Senator Lydon's contribution and Senator Norris referred to Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison. As the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for overseas development and human rights I reassure the House that I have raised these issues. The Government's position on Guantanamo Bay has been consistent, namely, that the Geneva Convention entitlements should be accorded to prisoners held there. The Government has expressed this in every international forum at which Ireland has been represented.

We have seen graphic images of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib thanks to a particular female soldier who took photographs and the Taoiseach has made clear to President Bush our discomfort and annoyance at what is taking place. On the many occasions they have met, the Taoiseach has introduced the issue to their discussions and the position of the Government is clear where there is an abuse of human rights. In my capacity as Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for overseas development and human rights I have had discussions with the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dr. Kellenberger, in recent months.

Senator Norris and other speakers raised the matter of ghost detention centres, some of which are thought to be in Jordan, Afghanistan and Syria. I have expressed grave concern at these centres, which are allegedly used for robust interrogation or torture. Although I raised the matter with Dr. Kellenberger, many of the discussions with the International Committee of the Red Cross are confidential, as is proper. Dr.Kellenberger had strong discussions with members of the US Administration, including the President, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney and informs me there have been positive developments on Guantanamo Bay. The International Committee of the Red Cross is the only international organisation that can get access to these facilities and it does so on the basis of confidentiality. Only on rare occasions does it enter the public sphere, unlike other NGOs. It honours and respects confidentiality in return for being granted access. Through my discussions in Geneva I am told the situation has improved somewhat and that the Red Cross is happy with the levels of co-operation and assistance received from the United States. That is of some reassurance on the matter, although it is not enough.

Senator Minihan spoke of UN deployment in Iraq and although this sounds great the logistics of getting such a force must be examined. People should be aware that the US force currently in Iraq is a UN-mandated one. In a real sense it is not the same force that was there until recently. The UN mandate extends to the end of this year even though the force is not under the control of the UN. The US troops are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi Government, so it is a matter for that Government to decide whether the troops should be replaced by a UN force. It is questionable whether the UN could put together a force of sufficient size and magnitude to control a place like Iraq. This is neither practical nor possible; the UN only becomes involved if peacekeeping is needed. From the accounts of many Senators here and from the international media, robust enforcement is needed rather than peacekeeping.

Senator Tuffy referred to election monitoring. Ireland is very active in funding election monitoring on a proactive basis and my Department funds this work. At the moment we have monitors in Lebanon and Ethiopia, and we have monitored elections in Mozambique in the past. Members are welcome to apply to monitor elections. We want to be more proactive in that area but we could not go to Iraq because there were no volunteers. It was too dangerous to monitor the elections there. At EU level we contributed by helping the electoral commission to conduct elections. That took place at a central level as it was far too dangerous to entertain the idea of people being active in the field. The jury is out on how reliable the election was but it succeeded in restoring some semblance of democracy.

In conclusion I thank Senators Mansergh and McHugh for their contribution. I point out to Senator McHugh, a new, young Senator, that George Bush is not a man of low intelligence.

Hear, hear.

Although he has difficulties in personal communication one could not become President of the United States on two successive occasions if one was of low intelligence. I think the Senator should take what visiting Americans say with a pinch of salt.

Sitting suspended at 1.35 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.