Who decides when we leave Iraq? Not us
The Queen's Speech on 15 November 2006 announcing the government's intentions for the next parliamentary session contained little that was surprising or even interesting, apart perhaps from the note of irony (presumably unintended) in the first sentence of the brief passage on the middle east:
My Government remains committed to peace in the Middle East. It will continue to work to find a lasting settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, to support the new Iraqi Government in its efforts to build an enduring constitutional settlement, and to assist the Government of Afghanistan.
The British government's enthusiastic participation in the illegal and fraudulently represented attack on and occupation of Iraq in 2003 might be thought a curious manifestation of its continuing commitment to 'peace in the Middle East'. Still, better late than never.
More worrying, though, is a striking sentence in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office 'briefing paper' on "Iraq Policy" [pdf], one of a series of briefs published on the prime minister's website as background to each section of the Queen's speech:
Prime Minister Maliki’s government has been in power for less than six months and it faces immense security, political and economic challenges. We will support the government and people of Iraq over the long term. Our aim is to give them every assistance to build democratic structures, build up their own security forces and develop their economy. On the security front, the UK will continue to provide troops for as long as the Iraqi Government wants us to remain. UN Security Council Resolution 1637 authorises our presence. This Resolution expires at the end of December 2006 when we expect a simple rollover will take place. We have no desire to stay in Iraq for longer than is necessary; but nor will we leave before the job is done. [My emphasis — BLB]
So the decision on when British troops are to be withdrawn from Iraq will depend, not on any judgement by the British government, but on the wishes (and fears) of the ramshackle and deeply divided government of Iraq, whose collapse under the weight of the chaos and anarchy now afflicting the country could well occur at any moment. Rarely can such a momentous decision, literally a life-and-death issue for our country, have been surrendered to the government of a foreign country whose interests are in many respects diametrically opposed to ours.
It's true that a few days earlier, in her speech to the Royal United Services Institute on 9 November (quoted in an earlier item on this blog), the Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary, Margaret Beckett, had spoken in similar terms:
We will leave when they [the Iraqi government] are confident that they can take the role of security in the country on their own shoulders.
[My emphasis — BLB]
This might just possibly have been forgiven as sloppy drafting — I understand that Mrs Beckett rarely speaks off the cuff — but the same can't, obviously, be said of a formal briefing paper prepared to assist interpretation of the Queen's Speech and published on the prime minister's website. How strange that the media seem to have failed to notice this disgraceful abrogation of our government's solemn responsibilities!