Menzies Campbell: Can we justify leaving our troops there?

We now face the possibility of Iraq soon becoming a failed state
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The Independent Online

General Sir Richard Dannatt has given the Government a wake-up call. In saying that our troops should withdraw from Iraq soon, the head of the British army has pointed us to a last and fleeting chance for a new strategy.

The British and American governments seem to be in denial following an invasion launched on a flawed prospectus. There was a catastrophic failure to plan for postwar Iraq followed by misjudgment and incompetence.

This has been overlaid by a disproportionate use of military force, including gross human rights abuses. Failures and misjudgements have perpetuated the insurgency, increased corruption and criminality, and inhibited improvements to the lives of Iraqis.

We now face the possibility that Iraq could become a failed state. That would have devastating economic and security consequences for the region, and would risk taking the current humanitarian disaster to a new level.

The last time the British government allotted parliamentary time for a full debate on Iraq was 20 July 2004. Where is the critical evaluation? To continue as it has is not a credible option. The British and US governments require a coherent stabilisation and exit strategy.

Its foundation needs to be a fresh initiative led by the United Nations to accelerate national reconciliation and to promote the internationalisation of support for Iraq. The problems of internecine conflict within Iraq have regional and international dimensions. So too must the solutions.

Only an international effort can shore up the legitimacy and effectiveness of Iraq's government, improve the delivery of essential services and facilitate the end of the militarisation. Every further association with the US and the UK taints the Iraqi administration.

What should that solution contain? First, establishing a regional contact group would strengthen the engagement of Iraq's neighbours, and require them to play a constructive role. A contact group could play a significant role in talking to insurgent groups, improving border controls and promoting economic stability.

Second, enhanced measures to train, equip and professionalise Iraqi security forces are needed to depoliticise them and improve security.

Third, a comprehensive, UN-led disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration strategy is necessary to make a reality of the Iraqi prime minister's policy that the militias must merge with the national security forces.

Fourth, there should be an end to systematic indefinite detentions by Iraqi and US forces, and full access should be granted to UN human rights monitors and the Red Cross.

Fifth, the reconstruction process must be expedited and legitimised; 60 per cent of Iraqis believe the UN should have the lead role. Donors must deliver on their aid pledges.

Sixth, Iraq needs a programme for phased security transfer and withdrawal of coalition troops. The Iraqis view them as occupiers and their large and indefinite presence is undermining stability. A transparent agreement with the Iraqi administration would help to counter the perception of occupation and illegitimacy.

Without tangible progress, it will become impossible to justify the presence of British forces in Iraq. With distressing regularity, the Commons pays tribute to the brave men and women who have lost their lives in Iraq. There is a last and fleeting chance for a new strategy. For the sake of the Iraqi people and our troops, we must seize it.

Sir Menzies Campbell is leader of the Liberal Democrats