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Not the time to cut and run

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The following was posted on to the blog on the Progress website, see




Iraq is at a crucial point and is faced with difficult choices, but there are no quick fixes. ?Getting Iraq right is key to the rest of the Middle East?. This is not a battle to be lost?.This is a war of ideas. ?. Tyranny, dictatorship and terrorism or democracy.”


Not the words of Tony Blair, though I’ve heard him express those views many times. The words of Barham Salih, Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, speaking to Labour MPs during a recent visit to the UK. As a member of a party affiliated to the Socialist International, alongside the Labour Party, he is a well known figure amongst Labour MPs. 


Hearing this articulate, Cardiff-educated Iraqi talk about the problems of Iraq turned upside down my usual perspective. It was the realisation that we spend our time discussing Iraq from a particular point of view - what it means to us, to our electoral popularity, what we could/should have done.


Whilst listening to him describe governing the country, it became clearer to me just how much Iraq is a country in transition, and that it continues to need our help and support. It was a dictatorship for 35 years, during which its political and social fabric was degraded completely. The current journey of transition cannot be anything but demanding and painful.


To those who call for the withdrawal of coalition forces, he says that this is not the time to cut and run. He wants more security to be handed over to Iraqis, but believes that the coalition needs to stay in support of government forces for a while longer. He added that by the end of the year over half the provinces will be under Iraqi security control.


For those who believe that democracy in the Middle East is nigh on impossible, he’ll tell you that they can do it, they did it. He was Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government from 2001 to mid-2004, governing part of the northern region of Iraq thanks to the Allied Coalition No Fly Zone.


Barham Salih holds no illusions about the difficult situation in Iraq - “it’s a tough neighbourhood”. The failure to establish a democratic Iraq will see the subjugation of the peoples of the region continue. It is precisely that subjugation that has led to the religious radicalisation that is behind so much of the terrorism we see today.


Some of his words echo those of democratic politicians all over the world. “The Government needs to deliver on the promises, we’ve achieved a great deal but not enough.”  The demands of different religious and ethnic groupings and the issues of federalism are added to the mix. Salih stressed that all the politicians in the Iraqi government carry both the expectations from their own constituencies, but they are also engaged in building a country.


The MP sitting next to me said that he wouldn’t be a politician in Iraq now for all the tea in China. Barham Salih is a politician who for half an hour one Monday evening helped us to look at Iraq from his vantage point. No-one could have failed to admire his fortitude and determination - how many of us could or would carry on under that constant pressure and personal danger. All those fighting for a democratic Iraq deserve our support.


The photo shows Anne Clwyd, Chair of Labour MPs and the Prime Ministers special representative to Iraq, with Barham Salih. 

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