In 2003, along with my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the House of Commons, I voted against the invasion of Iraq. We stood on our own in Parliament - with the exception of a handful of Labour and Conservative rebels - but we stood with the people outside. It was the right decision then and it is my firm belief that events since have served to reaffirm our view.
No one disagreed about the despicable nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime, but we were sceptical about the case being made for military action. There was no convincing case on moral grounds, and the 'evidence' from the intelligence services was far from compelling. It was also clear that diplomatic avenues had not been exhausted and that the UN weapons inspectors still had work to do.
The relentless march towards war appeared to be driven solely by the hawks within the Bush administration, backed by a Prime Minister in Britain who was too close to his American counterpart to change course.
Events since 2003 have shown that we were right to be sceptical. The Iraq War turned out to be the single biggest mistake the Blair government made, and given that we are still struggling to clear up the economic mess left by Labour, I do not say this lightly. The conflict led to the deaths of 179 members of our Armed Forces, while thousands more were left scarred with debilitating injuries, both physical and psychological. The human cost of going into Iraq is estimated to range between 100,000 and 650,000 civilian casualties. Whitehall figures from 2010 put the cost to the British taxpayer of funding the Iraq conflict at an astounding £9.24 billion. By taking Britain into a costly and illegal war, Labour and Conservative MPs also ensured that a golden opportunity to reset relationships within the international community was squandered.
I visited New York in December 2001 after the terrible attack on the Twin Towers as part of an all-party delegation of MPs visiting the UN. It was clear that the attack had galvanised the UN, uniting the world in the fight against terrorism, and building a strong case for constructively engaging in those failed states where extremism could thrive. The intervention in Afghanistan had all the virtues that the Iraq conflict lacked – UN backing, a wide military coalition of countries and clear evidence of it being a breeding ground for terrorism. However, Afghanistan was put on the back burner thanks to the action in Iraq, with disastrous consequences in terms of international will and military resources, leading to a far longer and more costly conflict.
9/11 also acted as a wake up call, bringing the opportunity for dialogue with nations in the Middle East and elsewhere who had previously been unsympathetic to the West. There was a chance to emphasise the importance of resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict through peaceful deliberation. All of this, the unity of purpose and the prospects for a safer world, was shattered by the decision to invade Iraq. We are left with a world which is less stable, and a more radicalised, volatile Middle East than we had previously faced.
The 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq provides an opportune moment to take a step back and remember those lives which were lost and to look, with the benefit of hindsight, at the lessons we can draw from this sorry episode in recent history. We must ensure it never happens again.
Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow, who was the Care Services Minister from 2010 until 2012, voted against the invasion of Iraq.