Speaking in the House of Lords on Friday, Lord Bilimoria spoke cautiously in favour of the proposed use of military force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known various as ‘ISIS’, ‘ISIL’ and ‘IS’) upon the recent request of the Iraqi government and President Obama’s so-called ‘Coalition of the Willing.’
In his speech, Lord Bilimoria noted the slow pace at which the government proposed the military intervention, as well as critiquing the present state of the UK Armed Forces.
The debate ran co-currently with a debate in the House of Commons, which endorsed the principle of military intervention via airstrikes by 524 votes to 43.
My Lords, a year ago we were recalled and virtually every one of us who spoke in the debate said that we should not intervene in Syria. Today it is exactly the opposite way around, in that just about everybody is saying that we should intervene this time, and we have had the legal justification.
The question that I ask is: why are we doing this so late? Why are we doing this half-cocked? Sixty nations are already there, including 10 Arab nations. Five Arab nations have already taken part in the air attacks, and we are late to the party. We have had one of our citizens—as have the Americans—brutally murdered by ISIL. The whole world has watched while the innocent Yazidis were terrorised and fleeing for their lives. Why have we taken so long? As we have heard time and again, why are we restricting this to Iraq? The polls from the public have overwhelmingly supported intervention in Iraq, but they also show that the public would support us if we intervened in Syria right now, as the Americans are doing. After all, ISIL has completely erased the Sykes-Picot line. Will the Minister assure us that as soon as is required—not, as one noble Lord said, in three years’ time; I fear that it will be in a few months’ time, or even a few weeks’ time—we will consider intervening in Syria? We will probably need to.
Will the Government clarify that action will involve not just six Tornados from Cyprus but also the use of drones, ship-launched attacks, submarine-launched attacks and our best-of-the-best Special Forces? On the other hand, as I said last year, we have a Government who, in the 2010 SDSR, cut our defence capabilities. We still do not have aircraft carriers. We have a British Army that will not even fill Wembley Stadium. We are relying on reserves. Here we are, as we have been so many times since 2010, once again in a situation in which we need our brilliant Armed Forces—and we have been cutting them. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will stick to their commitment of a 2% of GDP spend on defence and nothing less, because we desperately need it?
The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and others spoke of the necessity to win this battle on the ground. Is it not sad that at the Battle of Mosul in June an Iraqi army of 20,000 was forced to flee by an ISIL force of 3,000? It was left to the Kurdish Peshmerga to hold the line. But we were there for so many years, supposedly training the Iraqi army. What went wrong? Did we not train it properly? My father was in the Indian army. I remember that when he was serving, the Indian army had a training team in Iraq for years, headed by a lieutenant-general. If we want to train, let us put our might behind training the Iraqis and the Peshmerga as well.
We need to invest in that capability because the ideology is dangerous. As the most reverend Primate said, it is deep. As His Holiness Pope Francis has said, we might be in the midst of a World War III. This is not going to go away. This is very serious. If we are going to do this, we need to be with our allies. We need to be completely effective; we need to push forward, because we cannot rely on the UN. Once again, the UN has shown itself to be completely ineffective. Will the Government use this as another reason for a desperately needed reform of the UN?
In conclusion, we may have been late to the party but after today we will be at the table and we must go out there with full force, with a mission and very clear strategy to liberate the ISIL-controlled areas of Iraq and Syria from the evil of ISIL. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, that ISIL is not Islamic; it is not a state. It is a group of medieval, barbaric monsters.