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Evans: Building a civil society and creating a democratic state in Iraq

172 troops - 34 British and 138 Americans - gave their lives for the cause of Iraq's freedom during the war. Today, my colleagues and I salute what they and all the coalition forces did to ensure that Iraq could be free.

Throughout the debates we have had on the Iraqi crisis, I have made it clear that, for us, war was always a last resort. If only the nations of the world had spoken from the outset in a united and determined way, then Saddam could have been dealt with without the need for war .

Now that the conflict is over, the emphasis is rightly on the stabilisation of Iraq, the building of civil society, on creating the conditions for a democratic state that can live in peace with its neighbours, and on restoring the Iraqi economy in the interests of the Iraqi people. Of course, there are great hurdles to overcome - that is not in dispute. However, we should be in no doubt that only the removal of Saddam has made these things possible.

The second great task that can now be taken forward is progress towards a durable settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. The 'Road Map to Peace', sponsored by the Quartet, offers a solid basis for a resolution of this most difficult of issues in the Middle East. The United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations have provided the parties and the wider region with a blueprint for lasting peace; a secure Israel whose right to exist is recognised by the Arab world, and a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in harmony and peace.

There is much work to be done on both these great projects, but the opportunity is now there for real and lasting peace to be forged in this vitally important region of the world.

As for the wider world, the crisis has raised real questions over the United Nations and its ability to implement its own declared intentions. NATO has suffered internal divisions of a kind never before experienced. The European Union demonstrated that it is incapable of speaking with a single voice, while some Member States are more interested in creating a counter-weight to the United States rather than rebuilding a genuine transatlantic partnership based on common values. It is time for straight talking.

The actions of the 'Gang of Four' at their Brussels summit last month clearly shows the strategic error they are making in trying to divide the transatlantic alliance. Whatever soft words they say, this summit was a calculated attempt to foment division between Europe and the United States. If we have learnt anything from the events of recent months, it is that Europe and America must stand together to deal with threats to our collective security. New structures and new military headquarters in competition with the United States would fracture an Alliance that has served us well in Europe. I am glad that the majority of European nations understand this, and have been prepared to say so.

If Europe is serious about defence and security, then it needs to provide the financial resources. New and divisive structures are not needed. We need increased capability. I hope that Europe has learned a lesson from this crisis. NATO and the transatlantic alliance must remain the bedrock of Europe's defence.


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