Could someone explain why we are bombing Iraq?

We may in time witness the sight of British air crew dragged through the streets of Baghdad

THE ARMED forces of the United Kingdom and the United States are pursuing an undisclosed war against the regime in Iraq. A significant change has taken place to the rules of engagement within the "no fly zones", set up under the humanitarian clauses of United Nations Security Resolution 688. The two governments are pursuing an attritional campaign against Iraqi defence systems and military infrastructure that has gone far beyond the original purposes of the "no-fly zones".

Military force is a tool, it is not a policy. Its application is only justifiable in pursuit of a clearly stated political and strategic goal. As yet, no Government minister has come before Parliament to offer the people of Britain a coherent and plausible explanation as to why our air crews have been risking their lives. If luck runs out, it may be only a matter of time before we are forced to witness the sight of British aircrew dragged through the streets of Baghdad on our television screens .

Last December's Operation Desert Fox had clear tactical and strategic aims: to degrade Saddam's capacity to manufacture and deliver weapons of mass destruction, and to buy as much time as possible for the Allies to formulate a new strategy before Saddam was once again in a position to hold the Middle East to ransom. It had become apparent that the efforts of UN monitors to destroy Saddam's capacity to threaten his neighbours and repress his own people with weapons of mass destruction had become unsustainable. Desert Fox was a painful necessity and a last resort after all other means had failed.

This was an example of military force being used for a clear political purpose, with tightly defined tactics and a coherent long-term strategy. But for the repeated defiance and deception of Saddam Hussein, this four- day operation would not have been necessary.

The long-term strategy is still the right one: a satisfactory conclusion of the disarmament phase of the UN mission in Iraq; the prevention of any reconstitution of Saddam's capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction; and a more sustainable relationship with the Iraqi authorities based on respect for international law and full compliance with UN Security Council resolutions.

But the present operations over the north and south of Iraq seem to be taking place in a vacuum. The explanations of ministers have been less than satisfactory in both a political and strategic sense. They have made imprecise statements reserving the right of Allied forces to undertake "robust and appropriate defensive measures" against the "systematic attacks and threats to our aircraft" being launched by the Iraqi air force in the northern and southern no-fly zones.

Our Government's definition of what constitutes "robust and defensive measures" is, to say the least, an expansive one. Given recent Allied action, it would appear to encompass a sustained, even daily, pounding of Iraq's integrated air defence system and command, control and communications facilities. For "defensive", read "offensive". There is a substantial distinction to be drawn between a defensive response to the threat of attack and, as is now taking place, the systematic destruction of Iraq's air defence system.

Such has been the absence of information from the Government that it is impossible for those outside the upper echelons of the military hierarchy to be sure exactly what the present strategy is. Has the Cabinet discussed and approved it?

Although United States officials have been equally reluctant to elucidate, they have said sufficient to allow one to deduce two shifts in policy. First, that the present action is directly intended to disable, debilitate and then destroy Saddam. A senior US administration official is reported to have said: "We see Mr Saddam flailing. We are working towards a slow whittling-down of his power, his authority and his nerves".

Second, while the no-fly zones were initially established to protect the Iraqi Kurds in the north and the Shia Muslims in the south, for which the need still remains, recent comments by William Cohen, the US Defence Secretary, suggest that the primary mission is no longer the same as at their inception. He admitted as much on 7 March, when he stated that the main role of US warplanes serving in the no-fly zones was now "to protect the region from Saddam making any kind of an aggressive assault upon them".

These policy alterations appear subtle in isolation, but when coupled with the change in the rules of engagement, they amount to the waging of a "mini undisclosed war". According to the Ministry of Defence figures released on 9 March, the total tonnage of British bombs dropped subsequent to Desert Fox is 72 per cent of the amount dropped during Desert Fox.

This situation cannot endure indefinitely, and it is crucial that the present impasse is ended without further damage to Iraq's economic and civilian infrastructure and the continued suffering of its people.

The enforcement of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions has to remain the main focus, and that will require a new monitoring and inspection body. A preventative strategy of reformed sanctions and monitoring should be authorised through the UN, with clear, achievable objectives and backed by credible enforcement procedures. The threat of force should remain in the event of sustained non-compliance.

Changes must not be perceived as rewarding Saddam for his intransigence. The lifting of sanctions, for example on certain goods, should only be permitted once co-operation with the monitoring body is achieved and progress towards compliance is maintained.

It is now time for the Government to declare its Iraq plan. Parliament does not need to be told, indeed should not be told, the terms of the rules of engagement, but MPs and the country are surely entitled to know what the policy is and where it is leading. The present clandestine manoeuvring is damaging to parliamentary democracy and sets a precedent that future administrations could utilise.

If the thinking underpinning this continued offensive were not shrouded in secrecy, perhaps the deaths of at least 17 Iraqi civilians this year, due to stray Allied ordnance, could be explained. However, as the situation stands, this loss of life is a testament to the unexplained campaign now being waged.

Menzies Campbell MP is the Liberal Democrat spokesman for Foreign Affairs and Defence

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?