Article for West Suffolk Mercury

Tuesday, 8 April, 2003

Winning the war has dominated my local postbag. Now it is all about winning the peace.

In our part of East Anglia- more than anywhere else in England- there is a long historical tradition of radical social conscience.

We saw it in the 'Stop the War' vigil during the recent tree planting ceremony in the Bury St Edmunds Abbey Gardens in memory of British and US terrorist victims. Some politicians attacked the protesters but it was a peaceful, local protest based on principled opposition to war.

We see the Suffolk local conscience in concern for humanitarian relief for Iraqi civilians. It is not just limited to our active and local campaigning church groups of ALL denominations, or Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children, and Amnesty International, to name but a few! I also hear it from young pupils in the schools I visit.

Images of desperate Iraqi civilians gathering around relief supply trucks has caught the attention. Food is being handed to the stronger, more able-bodied civilians who push to the front, leaving the more vulnerable apparently with nothing. Quite frankly, this has not raised confidence in the way some relief has been organised, though it is still early days.

Back in Westminster I see mixed messages on plans for a post-Saddam Iraq. Does the British Government support a US-led reconstruction process or a UN-led process? It is not clear.

But what is clear is widespread Arab anxiety that it could be a US takeover. I am a member of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding and I know that we must convince the Arab world of our good intentions. If we don't, we'll just be storing up more terrorist trouble down the road.

So what are Suffolk MPs like me doing about it on your behalf? I am arguing that the Iraqi people must be empowered in the reconstruction of their own country. We need a Multi-National Defence Force, preferably backed by UN endorsement and troops from UN countries. We need elections in a timely fashion. And crucially, it must be made crystal clear that the oil revenues remain the property of Iraq, not the US or any other country. There should be a trust fund to allay fears that the war was only about oil.

Iraq must be given back to the Iraqis. Not just because that is the moral thing to do, but because, in the end, it is the best way to secure peace in the world.

And there will be more vigorous and open local Suffolk debate about that, I know.