Parliament must be allowed to debate the troops issue

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The United States talks up an impending attack and raises the bombing rate on Fallujah. The insurgents respond with one of the most devastating bombs so far around Baghdad, this time on the headquarters of the Iraqi national guard. The civilian losses in all these attacks rise to several hundred in the past week alone. And into this maelstrom the US is now inviting British troops.

The United States talks up an impending attack and raises the bombing rate on Fallujah. The insurgents respond with one of the most devastating bombs so far around Baghdad, this time on the headquarters of the Iraqi national guard. The civilian losses in all these attacks rise to several hundred in the past week alone. And into this maelstrom the US is now inviting British troops.

To pretend that the escalating pace of violence in Iraq has nothing to do with the timing of the US election would be as idle as to pretend that all is going according to plan in the occupied country. Yet, this is the line pursued by the Defence Secretary, Geoffrey Hoon, in the House of Commons on Monday and by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, yesterday.

This is merely a military matter, they say, which will be decided by the advice of the soldiers on the ground, after a reconnoitring of the ground today. This is arrant nonsense. Whether or not the request for British troops to plug the US line as it prepares for an all-out assault on Fallujah is a subtle plot to entangle the British in President Bush's electoral campaign may be debatable. What is almost indisputable is that the build-up to the Fallujah attack is part of the US election debate and that any troops Britain may send to the US zone cannot be kept clear of those politics.

What is even more deceitful is for the Government to pretend that it has not already made the decision. On that matter at least, the hapless Hoon let the cat out of the bag on Monday when he replied to the question of whether we could refuse the US request: "We will have failed in our duty as an ally if we refuse the Americans." In which case, why this pretence of independent military advice?

And why not also come clean and give the Commons a chance to discuss just what is the US-led strategy for suppressing dissent in Iraq and securing it for elections and when we hope to get out thereafter. Not for the first time in this war, the Government has relied on evasion and dissembling to avoid open discussion of its plans and the options behind them. As we now enter a new and more violent phase, Parliament must not allow the Prime Minister to get away with it again.

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