Thursday, 20 May 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Kitt): The most pressing issues of concern in Iraq at present are the ongoing violence, the abuse of prisoners, the effective transfer of sovereignty and the plight of the Iraqi people. I will deal with each of these issues in turn.
Violence in Iraq has reached a horrific level. Casualty figures are mounting with every passing day. In its May conclusions, the General Affairs and External Relations Council expressed its concern that the current campaign of terrorist violence is leading to significant loss of life, particularly among civilians, and is impeding the path to political progress and economic reconstruction in Iraq. In addition to the dreadful individual suffering, there is a clear threat to the welfare of the Iraqi people and the successful transfer of sovereignty.
I am deeply concerned at reports that at least 40 people were killed yesterday by US forces. I am aware that investigations are continuing into this incident. The loss of so many lives in this terrible tragedy underlines once again the urgent need to restore stability to this unfortunate country. I urge the United States to make every conceivable effort to avoid civilian casualties and to conduct operations in accordance with international humanitarian standards.
I am extremely concerned at the recent reports of abuse in detention centres in Iraq which have emerged. I categorically condemn such abuse and take this opportunity to reiterate the abhorrence expressed by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the abuse and degradation inflicted on Iraqi prisoners by members of the coalition military forces. The Government has publicly and strongly condemned the mistreatment and abuse of prisoners in Iraq by US and UK forces and made its concerns known directly to the US and UK authorities when the allegations first came to light.
In addition, shortly after the news first broke, the Government condemned these abuses in the conclusions on Iraq which issued following the Euro-Mediterranean ministerial conference in Dublin on 5 and 6 May. These conclusions, agreed jointly with our EU partners and colleagues from the Mediterranean region, which included eight Arab states, were posted on the Presidency website on 6 May.
The Government fully supports UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s insistence that all detainees should be fully protected in accordance with the provisions of international human rights law. It should also be noted that Security Council Resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003 calls upon all concerned to comply fully with their obligations under international law.
Both the UK and the US have obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law towards persons detained arising out of the conflict in Iraq. Both are parties to the four Geneva conventions on the laws of war of 1949, which reflect customary international law. The two conventions most relevant to detainees in Iraq are the third Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war and the fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war.
The treatment of prisoners of war is specifically covered by the third Geneva Convention. This convention contains detailed provisions on the duties of the contracting parties towards persons being detained, including an obligation to treat detainees humanely and a prohibition on acts of violence and intimidation, insults and making detainees objects of public curiosity. Further, no form of physical or mental coercion is permitted to obtain information from detained persons.
In line with this, both the Government and the European Union have condemned as contrary to international humanitarian law any incidents of abuse of prisoners in Iraq by occupying forces which have taken place. The UK Ministry of Defence has also stated that it had already commenced a trawl of its records last March in response to the Amnesty International report.
The Irish Presidency also ensured the inclusion of similar statements in the Presidency conclusions issued after the recent EuroMed ministerial meeting in Dublin and in the joint communiqué adopted at Monday’s meeting between the EU and the Gulf Co-operation Council. These meetings also allowed us the opportunity to discuss the issue with a number of Arab states and Iraq’s neighbours in the region and to hear their reactions and analysis of the implications.
It is clear from the extracts of the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, published in the media that some prisoners were subjected to severe ill-treatment. Whatever the precise legal definition of this, there can be no doubt that the appalling treatment meted out was contrary to international human rights norms and is totally unacceptable.
It is for the various investigations being carried out to determine the nature of this abuse and whether it was systematic, as has been suggested, and to discover at what level such abuse was sanctioned. It would not be correct for me to pre-empt the outcome of such investigations. Similarly, I am not aware that figures on the number of prisoners being held in Iraq have been issued by the authorities concerned or any authoritative body such as the ICRC.
Neither the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, nor I have officially received a copy of the ICRC report. The report in question is strictly confidential and intended only for the authorities to whom it is presented. The ICRC has been vocal in expressing its concern that this report was made public without its consent and the possible damage this might cause to its work in the future. Consequently, the ICRC would not be in a position to discuss the issue of prisoners’ welfare since the invasion of Iraq with any third party. Therefore, neither I nor my officials have had discussions with the ICRC on this issue.
It is clear that concerns in the ICRC interim report were brought to the attention of the relevant authorities prior to the presentation of the report in February. The ICRC director of operations has stated that the report represents the summary of concerns that were regularly brought to the attention of the coalition forces throughout 2003. The ICRC director of operations went on to explain that this is a routine part of the process through which the ICRC works.
As I stated, the Government has made our concerns known directly to the US and UK authorities. Both authorities have assured us that investigations are already under way and that those responsible will be brought to justice.
In addition to these inquiries into the specific allegations of abuse, an independent report on the human rights situation in Iraq is being prepared by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This report will look at the period between April 2003 and May 2004. It will cover, among other issues, the treatment of prisoners in detention.
Mr. Kitt: However, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is regarded as independent and preparation of its report is already under way. I eagerly await the publication of this report. In addition, the US and UK Governments are clearly now focusing on their own internal investigations. The Government will continue to work to reinforce the need for the entire international community to respect and maintain international law on the treatment of prisoners.
I also condemn the assassination earlier this week of the chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council, Mr. Abdul Zahra Othman Mohammad. I condemn all violence and terrorist attacks, including the kidnappings and brutal murder of hostages, in particular the horrible and savage execution of Mr. Nicholas Berg, an act of barbarity which deeply shocked all of us. The taking of hostages is to be deplored in all circumstances and I reiterate the European Union’s call on those responsible to desist from further such activity.
This current campaign of terrorist violence in Iraq is impeding the path to political progress and economic reconstruction in Iraq. This political process is crucial. It aims to restore Iraqi sovereignty and independence, preserve its unity and make the Iraqi people truly masters of their own destiny, with the political system of their choice and control over their natural resources. While this process will not solve the security problems, it will be a powerful contributing factor. The UN involvement in the process is also vital, as it would lend a strong sense of legitimacy to the process.
A strong UN role is an essential element for the success of reconstruction efforts in Iraq. We are pleased the Iraqi Governing Council has invited the UN to help with the transfer of sovereignty at the end of June and future national elections and that the Secretary General of the UN has accepted this invitation. His special adviser, Lakhdar Brahimi, said the UN is confident an Iraqi caretaker government can be formed ahead of the transfer of power at the end of June to guide the country until free and fair elections are held in January 2005. We welcome the provisional ideas which special adviser Brahimi has submitted as a basis for the formation of an interim Iraqi government.
There are three strands to his proposals. He proposes the establishment of a caretaker government with a president, prime minister and two vice presidents. Continuing with the Iraqi Governing Council in its present form or with some adjustment is not an option, as the transitional administrative law calls for dissolution. The UN can help by consulting widely and identifying points where consensus can be forged. Brahimi proposes that a national conference of at least 1,000 people should be convened to forge a national consensus on the challenges ahead. The conference would appoint a consultative council which would be available to advise the government. Finally, he stresses the necessity of confidence-building measures by the coalition provisional authority to improve and stabilise the situation and thus facilitate the other steps in the process.
Mr. Brahimi is in Iraq conducting a further phase of consultations to consolidate consensus around the ideas he outlined in his briefing to the Security Council on 27 April, and to make the necessary adjustments. Once broad support for the framework is evident, the mission will proceed to help facilitate an Iraqi consensus on the composition of the caretaker government, as well as of the preparatory committee for the national conference. We support the continuing efforts of the special adviser and his team.
Informal consultations have commenced in the United Nations Security Council on a new resolution on the powers of the interim Iraqi government. Key issues include control of Iraqi police and army units and control of detention centres. We look forward to the UN playing a vital and growing role endorsed by the UN Security Council in the run-up to transition and beyond.
As holder of the Presidency of the EU, the Government recently had exchanges with the UN Secretary General and his special adviser, former Iraqi Human Rights Minister, Abdelbaset Saaed, and United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, senior figures in the Governments of other permanent members of the UN Security Council, the Secretary General of the Arab League and Governments of the region as well as NGOs. We stressed our key positions in these bilateral contacts, which are that we support as rapid a transfer of power as possible to a democratically elected Iraqi government and that the UN should play a strong and vital role in the transition process. We also continue to raise the issues involved with EU partners and seek to achieve consensus on the situation and the way forward.
The European Council in October 2003 requested the High Representative and the Commission to work on a medium-term strategy for the EU’s relationship in Iraq. The recent spring European Council recalled this invitation and noted the EU’s determination to assist the Iraqi people. This strategy, which will give us a framework in which to fulfil this commitment, is due to be presented to the European Council in June.
It is important not to lose sight of the current plight of the ordinary Iraqi people on the ground. The EU is contributing substantially to reconstruction activities in Iraq. Humanitarian assistance is particularly important. The operational environment in Iraq remains difficult for humanitarian and development agencies. Many organisations have had to cease operating within Iraq until such time as the security of personnel can be safeguarded. Agencies such as UNICEF’s world food programme, WFP, the Red Cross-Red Crescent family and others continue to operate on the ground with the assistance of Iraqi nationals. Once again I pay tribute to those who continue to take risks for humanitarian purposes, especially the many Iraqis working for humanitarian agencies, who risk their lives on a daily basis.
Although the situation in Iraq remains of grave concern, there is positive news. Food availability is not a major problem, according to the WFP. A little more than 12 months ago when I addressed the House, Iraq was facing severe food shortages. The UN, through the WFP, played a vital role in the delivery of enormous volumes of food to those in need. This was one of the largest operations of its kind. At the beginning of the current conflict, 60% of the Iraqi population — 16 million people — were dependent on food rations. The latest reports to hand indicate that food distribution under the public distribution system is working and effective. The April monthly distribution was delayed only in Falluja, owing to the conflict there. This resumed in early May.
However, the development needs of Iraq remain enormous. The needs assessment conducted by the UN and World Bank depicts a country in distress. The social and economic indicators symbolise a country whose economic and social fabric is near collapse. The health care system is in a state of disrepair. The water and sanitation systems have been degraded. Iraq had one of the best education systems in the Middle East in the 1980s. Expenditure per pupil was a little more than $600 in 1988. This decreased rapidly to approximately $47 ten years later.
The children of Iraq are particularly vulnerable. Almost half of Iraq’s population is under 18. One in eight children die before their fifth birthday. Some of these statistics approach those of sub-Saharan Africa. A clear picture has not yet emerged of the impact of the ongoing violence on children and on social indicators generally. However, it must be assumed that humanitarian needs in crisis areas are increasing.
Emergency operations, no matter how effective, are designed to meet the immediate needs and relieve the suffering of the most vulnerable. However, all of us passionately interested in the establishment of a peaceful, open, democratic and prosperous Iraq must look to the future. We must engage in recovery and reconstruction. We must examine rebuilding the livelihoods of the people and facilitating an environment in which the tremendous potential of the Iraqi people can be realised. We need to examine the optimal way in which this recovery and reconstruction can take place.
Ireland participated in the donor conference on Iraq which took place in Madrid last October. More than 70 countries and 20 international organisations pledged their support for the reconstruction of Iraq. Loans and grants pledged at the Madrid conference amounted to approximately $32 billion. This is an extraordinary amount pledged to one country for reconstruction purposes and is indicative of a strong commitment by the international community to assist the recovery of Iraq and its people.
I welcome this desire to help rebuild a new Iraq. As Minister of State with responsibility for development co-operation, and in the context of the need to achieve the millennium development goals, or MDGs, I can only hope that the same commitment can also be demonstrated by the international community in sub-Saharan Africa as well. Ireland pledged up to €3 million in additional funding for Ira at the conference. We have fully delivered on our initial pledge of €5 million for humanitarian activities. These funds were delivered through partnerships with NGOs, UN agencies and the Red Cross-Red Crescent family and they were utilised to meet basic needs in the sectors of water, sanitation, education and health. The new funding will continue to be targeted at poverty reduction, with an emphasis on the education sector and the requirements of vulnerable women and children.
The Madrid conference agreed that, to maximise donor co-ordination, an international reconstruction fund facility for Iraq should be established into which contributions by the international community may be channelled. This facility is being administered by the World Bank and the UN, in close co-ordination with the Iraqi authorities and donors. The establishment of the facility is to ensure donor concerns in relation to transparency, accountability, monitoring and implementation are met and that activities are carried out in a way that meets the benchmarks of best development practice. Ireland, in its role as holder of the Presidency of the EU, participated in the deliberations leading to the establishment of fund.
I have continually stressed and we made clear once again in Madrid that it is essential that the recovery and reconstruction process must be owned by the Iraqi people and that high levels of international engagement need to be sustained for many years. In particular, the UN should be at the heart of the recovery process. Its experience, capacity and credibility are essential ingredients in carrying forward the recovery of Iraq.
The ability to address humanitarian, recovery and reconstruction activities in an effective manner is, of course, a function of a secure and stable environment. The fact that experienced and able development agencies from the UN system and international NGOs cannot operate on the ground undermines the recovery effort. All our experience suggests that success depends not only on the availability of resources but on the security environment. The UN Secretary General stated at the Madrid conference that security will be the major constraint into the future. I fully share and support this view.
The situation in Iraq is very bad. Nevertheless, there is a way forward. We continue to support as rapid a transfer of sovereignty as possibly to a democratically elected Iraqi government. We welcome the provisional ideas which the UN Secretary General’s special adviser, Lakhdar Brahimi, has submitted as a basis for the formation of an interim Iraqi government. We support the continuing efforts of the special adviser and his team. We look forward to the UN playing a growing role endorsed by the Security Council in the run-up to the transfer of sovereignty and beyond. A new Security Council resolution would be helpful in gathering broad international support which could assist in stabilising the new government. We look forward to the day when a sovereign, independent, democratic and peaceful Iraq, whose territorial sovereignty is preserved, is reintegrated into the international community.
Mr. Noonan: I thank the Minister of State for setting out in a sober fashion the background to these statements. The conflict in Iraq is an appalling tragedy for the people of Iraq, especially the children, for the moral authority of the United States and Great Britain, and for the United Nations which has been so ineffective in the lead-up to the war, apart from some interventions of a beneficial nature on the humanitarian front. The United Nations is still an ineffective force in solving the conflict in Iraq. In a wider sense, the conflict represents a tragedy for all of us in western democracies because we are now seen on the Arab street as imperialists who do not understand Islamic culture and whose values are despised and deplored, even by the intellectuals in Arab countries.
It is difficult at times to understand how we, the coalition forces in particular, got into such an appalling mess so quickly. One of the great moral dilemmas has always been whether it is permissible to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. In this case, the dilemma is associated with the fact that the coalition forces frequently saw themselves doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.
As the insurrection continues in Iraq and involves not only the traditional supporters of the Ba’athist regime but also the wider Sunni community and many in the Shiite community, and as the coalition forces react even more strongly to suppress the insurrection by force of arms, the situation simply gets worse. We have witnessed breaches of the Geneva Convention by the United States and Great Britain and appalling numbers of civilian casualties, and we have heard reports of the killing of 40 people at a wedding party as late as yesterday. As day follows day, the moral basis of the intervention, to which there was never a legal basis, falls into decline. It is an appalling tragedy.
I mentioned that wrong things are being done for the best of reasons. I stated at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs that a thumbnail history of the 20th century would present it as a conflict between fascism, Marxism and democracy. After the First World War and the subsequent events in Spain and Portugal, fascism became a defeated force. Thereafter, there were two competing systems, Marxism and democracy. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the freeing and democratisation of eastern Europe, there has been only one system. That system, liberal democracy, is admired and supported by all. The countries in which it obtains have liberal economic policies and strong civic societies independent of the state.
However, a small intellectual elite of idealistic, intelligent, well-researched but often naive people on the conservative side of the spectrum in the United States has decided that democracy was on the back foot in the 20th century and that it must be spread and become a worldwide system in the 21st century. This elite is prepared to use the force of the greatest power the world has ever seen to do so. This approach is naive, although I recognise its idealism.
We all deplore the time when the United States, through the CIA, was prepared to support any dictator anywhere in the world provided that dictator supported American interests. The new philosophy and ideology, of the United States is such that it is prepared to topple dictators by intervention and replace them with democratic regimes. However, the ways and means of doing so have not been thought out and those who propagate the theory are not able to implement it in practice. They have neither the knowledge, skill, information, world view familiarity with other people’s cultures, ambitions, desires or domestic programmes to allow them do so. Thus, they enter a quagmire that is sucking them down.
I notice the Minister of State was brave in trying to bring forward solutions but, at present, there is none. The conflict just gets worse by the day. One of the greatest problems is that there is no legal basis for new developments in the world. We all know there is a threat of terrorism internationally and that this threat is seriously magnified if terrorists have weapons of mass destruction. The ultimate fear is the well-organised terrorist cell with an atomic weapon in a western European or North American city. Certain countries feel they must protect themselves by intervening in other sovereign states if those states are harbouring terrorist groups. That presents us with a considerable dilemma because, under the UN Charter and international law arising therefrom, there is no legal basis for such intervention. That is the key factor that makes the United Nations so weak in this respect. Of the permanent members of the Security Council, at least three have intervened against international law and the UN Charter which they are obliged to support.
The United States has intervened quite frequently, as has Britain. Russia has intervened in Georgia, and Israel, which is not a member of the Security Council, has also intervened. While one can justify their interventions on pragmatic grounds and on grounds of self-defence or domestic policy, they have no mandate under the UN Charter or international law. If circumstances have changed since the charter was introduced, as they have, then it behoves all departments of foreign affairs in all countries to contribute to a new debate to establish a new legal basis. Without a legal basis, the hands of the United Nations are tied.
I agree with the Minister of State that power in Iraq should be transferred as quickly as possible to some form of domestic regime. It is not a natural entity. As the insurrection continues, the very concept of a united, federal Iraq is put at risk. However, if the country splits up, I cannot see how neighbouring states, particularly Turkey, will allow an autonomous Kurdish state to emerge in northern Iraq. I cannot see how Iran will not seek to dominate a Shi’ite state in southern Iraq or how all sides in Iraq would not be suspicious of a resurgent Sunni regime in the centre of the country with the former leadership core of the Ba’athist regime back in charge.
I agree with the Minister of State that power must be transferred immediately. The United States, Great Britain and other coalition allies must see it through, but they will do so at an enormous price. The United Nations must get involved again and try provide a real legal basis for the occupation of Iraq. Without it, we are going nowhere.
It is an enormous tragedy that a group of intellectuals formulating a new ideology, trying to create a new world order with the best of intentions and promoting a type of democracy with which many of us could agree has got itself into such a mess. It is also tragic that it has argued its case using such simplistic slogans which we have heard so often such that it believes God is on the side of the democrats and that the war is between good and evil. Furthermore, as the coalition’s occupation continues, it is undermining the very democratic values it seeks to propagate and bring to other people.
How can one argue for western democracy in Iraq after the breaches of the Geneva Convention and the incidents of torture in the detention centres? How can one tell people whose children have been killed at a wedding party that democracy will bring them benefits? Then one hears the recital of conditions on the ground such as hunger, lack of education, the degradation of water, sewerage and electricity systems and the destruction of a society which was well educated and modern as late as the early 1980s. It is an appalling tragedy.
Mr. Durkan: We are now facing a truly awful mess. A situation that was bad for the people of Iraq before and during the reign of Saddam Hussein is now even worse. Atrocities take place daily on one side or the other which are equal to the worst atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein on his people. Scarcely a day goes by that the public is not shocked at the depths to which human beings are prepared to go to achieve their aim.
Many years ago, before becoming a Member of this House, I was involved in a campaign of disobedience. For my sins, it was deemed correct that I serve a term in prison. What I learned during that era was that being a prisoner means one is dependent on the whims of those who surround one. On my first evening in prison I recalled a book I had read, “Darkness at Noon” by Arthur Koestler. I believe it was published in the early 1960s. I vividly recalled his words, when I was placed in that situation, about total dependence on those who surround one. One is under their complete control.
What was shocking to the worldwide community was that what appeared to have been, and still is in many ways, the great democracy of America, for some unknown reason seemed to condone the most appalling atrocities committed on prisoners who were, in effect, prisoners of war. All international precepts were abandoned and the basest degradation was descended into by great powers. The approval of the rest of the free world was sought for what appeared to be a good and justifiable cause. It was, effectively, a holy war and we have heard a great deal about those in times gone by.
What astounds me is that people who were trained, or were supposed to be trained, to look after prisoners so easily slipped down into the abyss of horror and the sordid mess of torturing prisoners, stripping people of their dignity, grinding them into the ground and treating them worse than they would treat animals. Animals would not be treated that way. By their actions they bring into disrepute the democracies they purport to represent. The way we comment on this and allow things to happen in our name without any interference is a sad reflection on our society today.
I am aware that the Government has remonstrated with the United States but I do not know the strength or extent of those remonstrations. To what extent were the views of the people here represented to the US Administration? The people of the United States are secretly, and lately more publicly, deeply embarrassed by what has happened. It is a huge embarrassment. It is appalling to imagine that people in custody could be treated in that fashion. We have accused Saddam Hussein and his ilk of doing the same things to people in the same situation. We condemned and criticised it, and rightly so. Now we see our friends appear to do the same things in the name of democracy. That is a sad reflection on our society.
It proves we have obviously learned nothing, regardless of how many wars we have experienced over the past 50 or 100 years and how many times we have plumbed new depths in the tyranny to which we can descend in an attempt to teach other people what we see as a lesson. I cannot understand how these things happened without intervention, even in a prison or an internment camp. Prisons are peculiar places and I speak as somebody with some knowledge of the subject. Notwithstanding that, how is it possible that these actions could take place without detection? I cannot understand it.
War brutalises people. Prison also brutalises people. One treats people as one is being treated and one reacts accordingly. Each intrusion into an individual’s narrow space brings a reaction from the individual. That is understandable. When one is a prisoner and dependent on the surrounding authorities, one tends automatically to resent and resist any intrusion into one’s personal space.
That leads us to the morality of a war that has reached this juncture. It is becoming more sordid, messy and indecent as each day passes. It started as what appeared to be a justifiable intervention, albeit without the approval of the United Nations. It was an intervention in the old style, as it were, to help the great and good. It is not that anymore. It has slipped sadly into a morass and is now an embarrassment to all. I am not suggesting that there were serious atrocities committed previously in Iraq which would justify an intervention. However, the intervention brings itself into disrepute when one views recent events. There is a salutary lesson in this.
There is a salutary lesson for this country for two reasons. One is that Ireland is known to have friendly relations with the United States. That is true and the United States has been good to Ireland, as this country has been to the United States. One should always expect to hear good advice from one’s friends in times such as we have gone through in recent years but I am not sure that the advice the Government gave to the US authorities was correct. It might have been better to tell our friends that they should not do this.
That point was taken up by the Opposition parties in this House to a greater or lesser extent, according to their viewpoint. Deputy Gay Mitchell clearly set out the line to be followed by Fine Gael. It was that in the absence of the vital approval of the United Nations, the intervention was flawed. He was correct. Deputy Michael D. Higgins on behalf of the Labour Party and other Members of the House made the same point, to a greater or lesser extent. Each viewpoint had one thing in common, the lack of approval from the United Nations. Various reasons were put forward as to why that approval could not be achieved at the time.
I hope we have learnt something in the time since then. When dealing with the ongoing situation we obviously have not learnt anything either in this country or worldwide in terms of how to remain true to some code, honour and international concepts, trying to ensure that whenever an intervention such as that is made, it must be justified and approved. It must also carry with it recognition that any diminution from an international code of conduct such as the Geneva Convention will automatically be followed by a removal of the validity of the original cause, which may have been just.
I hope the Taoiseach as President of the European Union is now talking directly to the US authorities and telling them that we, as their friends, believe that what is now happening is totally unacceptable and that they should take heed.
Mr. M. Higgins: I am very happy to have the opportunity of participating in this discussion on the most recent and appalling developments in Iraq. I welcome the tone of the contributions so far from the Opposition Members even though they enable me to differ with them as well as with the statement of the Minister of State.
In the preface to his thoughtful speech, Deputy Noonan referred to the great intellectual movements and challenging movements of this century and the last in terms of fascism, Marxism and democracy. Unfortunately at the background of this appalling level to which we have fallen, there is another movement, the newly developed movement of unaccountable international capitalism. We must remember that it exists and has changed relationships. Social democracy might have saved capitalism from itself on occasions and equally on occasions the labour movement and trade unions might have softened the impact of transitions in economics. However the reality is that a new totally uncontrolled, unaccountable, capitalism — for example in the United States case driven by the oil industry — is at the root of this problem.
While I do not intend to delay on this preface, I want to make a point that will, I hope, make that connection. We should remember that those who questioned prisoners in a prison in Baghdad were recruited from private companies with no experience or commitment to any tenet of international law. Last night’s “Panorama” programme gave a list of the companies that contracted to interrogate prisoners. Why have the funds allocated under the Madrid pledge not been spent? They are not spent because not a single contract in that area has been given to a company outside the United States. These hucksters want to grab every cent that is going in restoring the devastation that was not accidental. It was not accidental because the Americans bombed the water system, sewers and reservoirs and insisted that only their companies and friends would have a contract to restore them.
This is an appalling and sad day. This is one of the very few places where we can use language to express what we feel morally and what we expect from the Government. I have given up hope of the Government answering honestly a question on Iraq. Whoever takes the opportunity now might do so. Why will the Government not answer the questions we ask it? Where does it stand on the principle that started this, the principle of pre-emptive strike? It has been said this was invented by the Project for the New American Century, the neo-conservative lobby, which suggested that if the country has spent the money on defence and has the capacity, it should be seen as powerful. What is the Government’s position, clearly and unequivocally, on the illegality of pre-emption?
Will the Government say what everyone knows, that the “war”— to use its word not mine — or rather the international co-operative movement against terrorism, which was discussed and agreed at the United Nations, was severely dislodged by the illegal invasion of Iraq? Not only was there no evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction, which is a tissue of lies, but there was no evidence of the existence of terrorist networks in Iraq. Al-Qaeda had made three attempts on the life of Saddam Hussein. The cliques were coming from Saudi Arabia, with which the United States was dining every other week. Where is the Government on that issue? There is and there was no connection between the invasion of Iraq and the international movement against terrorism.
The Americans then created the finest recruiting ground in the world for every kind of terrorist group that will see their cultures degraded, their citizens humiliated, their religious beliefs mocked and exploitations of gender relationships and cultures thousands of years old. Even in here every day I hear people tripping off their tongues in the same phrase “the war in Iraq and the war on international terrorism”. There was no connection and it was that group of bigots who when they were taking time off from supporting uncritically the Israeli attack on the Palestinian people decided to promote that agenda of invading Iraq.
We stayed silent and we were degraded and shamed. When we are quacking on about our outrage over the pictures we are still not in a position to say that some of the people involved, private or in the army, did not go through Shannon with the Government’s agreement. It is now time for questions to be answered. In the absence of other opportunities, we will have one great opportunity when the presiding officer of all these disgraceful developments in humanity will visit this country and be entertained by our Government. I will be protesting wherever I can and I hope people throughout the country will say in the streets morally what is not being said on their behalf by their Government. It will be the only chance we will have.
When I first stood for election a long time ago, in 1969, people in politics could be expected to speak out. At the time the concept of a press release did not exist. However people like Michael McInerney and Donal Foley wrote articles in the newspapers when The Irish Times was a newspaper of record. I now read articles in The Irish Times by somebody included for balance, Mark Steyn, who referred to what took place in Abu Ghraib in an interesting way. He referred to the bodies piled and manacled on top of each other as follows: “Making a homoerotic pyramid of young Iraqi men naked with their bottoms in the air is not my idea of a good time.” There was a time when that piece would not appear in The Irish Times. Repeatedly this column of bigotry, homophobia and racism that is presented every Monday contains attacks on what we call the basic decencies on some principle of balance. The editor of that newspaper would want to indicate to me what she is balancing when she produces material like that.
I worked on the McBride commission on prisoners. When we published the report and the Minister would not agree to discuss it with us, we could rely on The Irish Times to be interested in prison welfare. However instead of this we are supposed to take the notion that this is an arena of abuse. We are all being degraded. Ministers will not answer questions and will not state where they stand on the war. They will not say it is illegal. They will not say unequivocally the Geneva Convention is being broken and we condemn them for it. Why should I have to take it when the Minister of State says he is waiting for the four inquiries by the United States forces? What nonsense. His accountability is to us, the people, and not to the United States forces. He is not in a position in any event to deliver on it because many of the people questioning the prisoners were recruited from private companies. Others were reservists.
It is easy to blame a poor 21 year old female from a trailer park in West Virginia, but that is to forget the Taguba report. Why did the Minister of State not mention it? The Taguba report showed very clearly as did the “Panorama” programme that all along there was evidence of systematic abuse. Functions were handed over to interrogators which were not theirs and for which the Geneva Convention offers no protection. In one statement after another on Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and other matters, the Secretary of State of the United States said prisoners were being looked after in the spirit of the Geneva Conventions but not in compliance. Yesterday, I asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs to establish an independent international commission to answer any questions on compliance. The Minister of State is not in a position to say that he can implement anything as he has no commitment from his St. Patrick’s day friend that if the United States is found to be in breach of the Geneva Convention, it will comply with its provisions. The Minister of State has no control over the private contractors and he knows as well as me that many of those involved are reservists.
President Bush used the word “uncomfortable” to describe his feelings on looking at these pictures. While I can be positive about making suggestions as to where we go from here, I must note the degradation of journalism and discourse and the inadequate ability of people to discuss these matters on the basis of moral or philosophical principles. Language has been fixed up and statements spun. It is time for a speech from the Minister for Foreign Affairs in this Chamber on these issues and for people to have the courage to condemn the abuse as people should. We were told yesterday that when the four internal inquiries and the investigation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights are completed, the Government will arrive at an opinion. There was a time when this country had an opinion and Governments were not afraid to state where we stood on issues like this. No doubt, the Minister of State will say the recommendations of the reports are being implemented, but people will continue to have hoods placed over their heads.
I used the Geneva Convention to condemn the disgraceful treatment of US soldiers by Saddam Hussein’s regime. I have often referred to it. The beheading of a person in front of a camera is an appalling level to which to sink and condemnations of such an act should be unequivocal. I condemn Islamic extremism. How can one argue, as I have seen in various newspaper columns, that there is some kind of equivalence? In The Irish Times Mark Steyn said there had been more fuss about a man with woman’s underwear over his head than about a man who had no head at all. This is typical of the slick, degrading, immoral rubbish which is being propounded every Monday in that newspaper. It is an example of the degraded level to which we are falling and the loss of the moral capacity to debate these issue. The first reaction on many kept television stations around the world was to wonder how the pictures of abuse got out. It was suggested that it might have been a pity that they were released and that it might have been better if they had never been made public. This is in contrast to the substantive moral position of whether any person should be treated in this way.
It was claimed that the authorities had not had a chance to train its soldiers in the Geneva Convention. Does one need to have studied the Geneva Convention to treat another human being without degradation? Every subtle cue was invoked in terms of the gender relations between cultures and the fact that women were involved in abuse rather than men. Sexual abuse was used systematically. Every nuanced technique had been rehearsed in Afghanistan and, probably, Guantanamo Bay. Many isolation and hooding techniques were rehearsed earlier in Northern Ireland. There is no point in being a Parliament if we cannot speak without equivocation on matters like these. One does not hedge and say one is waiting for four internal inquiries to be completed and for the UN High Commissioner to publish his report and deliver it to Kofi Annan.
The next question involves what other options were available. The best model is probably the federal one suggested by former ambassadors to the region, including Dr. Galbraith. The possibility of a project to hold Iraq together as a federation and create some form of administration is becoming fragile. There is also the protectorate model of the United Nations, but I have never heard it advanced by the Government in the House. The protectorate model has the advantage of enabling the United Nations to go in with the support of the full force of a meaningful Security Council resolution. The United Nations cannot return to Iraq if substantive powers are not transferred to an interim authority on 30 June. How could it? What is on offer to Mr. Brahimi of the United Nations is an invitation to stay around and help prepare for the elections next spring, but he cannot accept it. He could accept the invitation if Iraq were declared in the interim a United Nations protectorate and that body could anticipate the support of a sufficiently strong Security Council resolution. The UN would then have control over Iraq’s oil resources, exports and imports and the running of its health services.
This process would require those who see material benefit in the reconstruction of Iraq to walk away from their illegal conflict. That is the difficulty. It would be a principled position to support this proposal. It would be interesting to hear Ireland make a suggestion of that sort occasionally. Instead, it crawls along and speaks from one side of its mouth to say it is doing its bit for the United States though it is tough. From the other side of its mouth, the Taoiseach makes a bilious attack and contends that he was against the war all along. In his final hallucination he says the 100,000 people who marched against the war supported him. Frankly, the great revisionist must revisit his morals. I rank these comments with all the other abuses of language.
The pronouncements from the Department of Foreign Affairs on this issue are dishonest. The Taoiseach sat where the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, is sitting now and indicated that everything had been proved by Colin Powell’s famous presentation to the Security Council. While poor Colin Powell, who has sacrificed his reputation on bogus information from an informant known as “curved ball”, is apologising for everything he said, the Taoiseach has never returned to the House to do so. It would be interesting to hear him say he is against the war and is sorry for ever facilitating anything which helped it to take place. He never will.
The public is considering the language being used. When language is debased in the press and Parliament and the Government attends international meetings to say nothing it creates an incredible political apathy. People’s moral instinct is for decency. People with whom I discussed the photographs of abuse did not need to have read the Geneva Convention to know they were appalling. They did not need to have read it to know the abuse should never have happened. They asked what the Dáil will say about it.
I do not contend that we should continuously issue strong statements condemning various things and that diplomacy does not matter. I have defended diplomacy, the writ of which had not been exhausted when this war was started. There were many possibilities. France had not said it would vote automatically against any Security Council resolution. Despite the clarification of that matter by the French ambassador for the Government, we have drifted along. Once the war had started, it was as if we could do nothing but take the money at Shannon Airport. As the Taoiseach said, if we did not take it, someone else would. That is the level to which we have descended. People, who want more from their politicians, are looking forward to them clarifying on the doorsteps where they stand on the war and President Bush’s re-election Irish roots visit. No doubt this will be atmospheric in Dromoland.
The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, knows I hold him in high personal regard. However, what he has accepted as inevitable on behalf of the Government makes him as guilty as the Government of complicity and evasion. By not answering the questions asked, the Government is keeping a comprehensive silence on important moral issues and is party to what is happening. It cannot say if any of these hirelings sent to torture in Baghdad and elsewhere travelled through Ireland.
Inevitably, I will be accused of anti-Americanism. I studied and taught in the US and I know the feelings of decent people there. Some of the finest intellectuals, to which Deputy Noonan referred, including Peter Galbraith’s father, have written humane and thoughtful documents on the war. In the US mid-west, there are many for whom George Bush’s little neo-conservative clique do not speak. I am not anti-American but I am against this poisonous policy that rolls on from one part of the world to another, trampling on cultures, democracies and people as it goes. It is incredible how easily old concerns are dismissed.
Respect for human rights led to agreements such as the Geneva Convention. The world was shocked after the gates of Dachau and the camps were opened. Never could humankind sink to this level again and, as a result, the finest moment for human rights emerged. Standards were set down for us to honour and below which we should never fall. The moral instinct of a common shared humanity and a discipline that both small and large countries would take upon themselves has now been shed for a set of pragmatic statements on interests.
For the past 20 years in this House, I have listened to Members argue that international affairs and foreign policy is about interests, not norms. That was the old abuse when moralists were considered old-fashioned and a bit of drag. What is the justification for the theory of interests and individualism that allows a private company to run a prison and women to abuse men from another culture? There are no weapons of mass destruction or terrorist networks and Iraq was not attacking its neighbours. It is now suggested the Iraqis are better off without Saddam, of which I have no doubt. Are we, however, better off that international law and moral principles have been cast aside?
We have seen the most degrading images of the abuse of the most vulnerable outside the context of war. Few war images equal them. Does the Government believe this was the abhorrent behaviour of a few people or is this the systematic abuse related to the ability to contract out the gathering of information for a political project in an illegal war to sadists? That is exactly what took place. Shame on the Government that it has not the courage to condemn it unequivocally. A statement was dragged out of it because of the EU Presidency. Only when it was asked questions did it condemn these images. That is not good enough. I am grateful to have the privilege to ask questions in this House. I will enjoy the other privilege of being on the streets at the end of June.
Mr. Gormley: It is now over a year since the beginning of the war in Iraq. Even the most staunch supporter of it must now acknowledge that it has been an unmitigated disaster not just for the USA and its allies, but for the Iraqi people, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose career is at an end. This counterproductive war has destabilised the Middle East and sowed the seeds for further terrorism, as was predicted at the time. It was not a war on terrorism, as no weapons of mass destruction were found, but a war for resources, particularly oil. As Deputy Michael D. Higgins said, it was stimulated by the neo-conservative lobby in the US. This was based on a lie propagated by Colin Powell at the UN Security Council when he claimed, as did Donald Rumsfeld, that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq.
We knew that the Government knew this was a lie from an article in The Independent of London, which I raised in the House. It has not been denied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Department. A high-ranking official in the Department of Foreign Affairs said to one of his British counterparts that it knew there were no weapons of mass destruction. The Government knew all along and its position has been shameful. We, alone of the neutral states, facilitated the American war effort in Iraq. No explanation has been given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, why the Government did so. One can only come to the conclusion that it was kow-towing to the US. In the run-up to the war, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said the Government would wait for a second UN resolution. Although it never came about, the US was told it could use Shannon Airport for its war effort.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs claims I have a fixation with Shannon Airport. I believe I have more of a fixation with truth and justice. To Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Members, I say the Government’s position is morally bankrupt. Aer Rianta statistics for the first quarter of 2004 show a dramatic increase in US troops stopping over at Shannon Airport -16,697 troops on 161 flights in March compared with 7,922 in January. In the first quarter, 35,926 troops went through Shannon Airport, down only 9% from the first quarter of 2003 when the US was gearing up for the Iraq war. This shows that we are not at the end of a war but in the middle of a worsening situation.
The Minister, as usual, claims this is a fixed arrangement with the US. However, a memorandum dated 16 December 2002 shows this not to be the case. This document revealed that what was occurring at Shannon was not normal but entirely exceptional. The text noted: “on an exceptional basis, a decision was taken to provide landing and refuelling facilities pursuant to the State’s obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1368” which requested states to work together after the events of 11 September 2001 to combat terrorism. That has been well documented. In fact, the war has led to further terrorism. In light of that knowledge, why does the Government not take a different position? Why does it not say to the Americans that circumstances have changed and they can no longer use Shannon Airport? It will not do that.
The position of the Government on Iraq has always been highly suspect. The Minister, Deputy Cowen, justified the war by saying that the aim was to remove a tyrant. However, for the Government, Saddam Hussein has not always been a tyrant. If we are to believe Liam Lawlor, the only problem in Iraq before this was that Ned O’Keeffe did not get up early enough in the morning to conclude the big deals.
Mr. Gormley: I wish the Minister of State would do so. I find it reprehensible that at a time when this tyrant was gassing his own people and was engaged in bloody wars, when the Government knew he was not a fit person to govern, it concluded business deals with him, only afterwards condemning him to justify this war. That is hypocrisy.
Mr. Gormley: It is total and utter hypocrisy. As a consequence of this, the Israelis can now use the fact that the coalition forces are combating terrorism in Baghdad, Falluja and Basra to justify their combating terrorism in Rafah. The problem is that the rule book was torn up at the beginning. The coalition ignored international law and adopted the doctrine of pre-emption, which means anything goes. Now we hear about abuse and torture in jails in Iraq, although we know that what happened in Guantanamo Bay was in contravention of the Geneva Convention. However, that was too close to the events of 11 September 2001 and there was heightened emotion. People could not condemn what was happening.
We have got ourselves into this mess. I say “we” because I am talking about the Government representing this country. When I look at the nauseating pictures of Lynndie England with an Iraqi prisoner on a leash, I wonder whether President Bush will bring a leash on his visit to Ireland and put it around the neck of the Taoiseach or the Minister, Deputy Cowen, because that would be a true symbol of the subservient nature of our relationship with the United States.
Mr. Gormley: It is not out of order. The Government’s support for the American war effort is out of order. That is the problem. It is a serious matter. Will we display real backbone and moral courage when the American President visits? What will the Government’s message be? Will it be another brown-nosing session, as has been the case for so long?
The Government’s stance is reprehensible and without substance of any kind. It is, as always, about money. As far as the Government is concerned, it always comes down to one thing. It is never a matter of morality. When talking about the peace process the other day, the Taoiseach said it was about getting business back up and running. It is not about improving the lives of people. People’s lives have been damaged immeasurably in Iraq and the entire region.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Government has scheduled statements on Iraq but has presented no motion to define its position in exact terms. This was done deliberately. In its usual fashion, it wants to have it both ways. I challenge the Government to table an amendment to the motion tabled by the Sinn Féin Deputies and published today and to use Government time to debate it instead of staging these statements which are nothing but a face-saving exercise for the discredited international policy of this Administration.
The Government is led by a Taoiseach who was content to repeat in the House the spurious justifications advanced by the US and British Governments for the illegal invasion of Iraq. He was content to allow Shannon Airport and Casement Aerodrome to become military bases for a belligerent power. The same Taoiseach then claimed that he agreed with the 100,000 people who marched on the streets of Dublin and Belfast to oppose his collaboration with the war and to demand that Irish neutrality be respected and sovereignty restored to our airports and territory.
The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs cannot now, with any credibility, issue verbal condemnations of any aspect of the brutal occupation of Iraq by Anglo-American forces, given that they facilitated the invasion and continue to facilitate the occupation. The millions who demonstrated throughout the world against the Anglo-American invasion correctly predicted that it would lead to a nightmare for the Iraqi people, thousands of whom would be killed. They warned that it would lead not to the Iraqi people liberating themselves from the brutal dictatorship but to a western military occupation which would create a vicious cycle of brutal repression and resistance. They warned that it would lead to human rights violations on a mass scale. Sadly, all these are now happening. Those who said “No” to the invasion and the war were right. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, along with the Irish Government, were clearly wrong.
Even before the invasion took place last year, the Anglo-American alliance had been discredited in the eyes of the world and exposed as exponents of falsehoods. The British Government’s so-called dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was proven to be a concoction thrown together to provide propaganda cover for the invasion. In a reply to a letter of protest from Sinn Féin TDs that I delivered to the then British ambassador in Dublin, Ivor Roberts, he relied upon the discredited dossier and claimed that Iraq had “continued to try to produce nuclear weapons”. What was presented as hard information from British intelligence had already been exposed as a sham well before the invasion took place. Since the invasion, not a shred of evidence has been found to support the wide claims about weapons of mass destruction. These were the very claims upon which the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs relied to justify their support for the invasion.
The news of torture of prisoners in Iraq by members of the British and US military forces should come as no surprise to anyone in this country. As mentioned by Deputy Michael D. Higgins, all the techniques of torture that have been exposed, including hooding, sensory deprivation, humiliation, beatings and attacking with dogs, were used by the British Army in the Six Counties in the wake of the introduction of internment without trial in 1971. Britain was convicted of inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners by the European Court of Human Rights in a case brought by the Irish Government. What we are seeing in Iraq is nothing new. These are the tried and tested methods of occupation used by the British in Aden, Cyprus, Malaya, Kenya and in our own country. We, above all nations, should be loudest in our opposition to the disastrous revival of Western military occupation and Western imperialism in the Middle East and the Gulf region.
How can the Government justify its support for the military occupation of Iraq which is imposing on the Iraqi people the colonial methods tried and tested in many countries by Britain and the USA? There is growing evidence that the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, ordered the use of these brutal methods on prisoners. It does not seem to concern this Government in the slightest that Donald Rumsfeld was so assured of his sense of ownership of Shannon Airport that he was photographed addressing his troops there as if he were in a US Air Force base in America. Who among those depicted in the released photographs that expose the degradation of Iraqi prisoners lined up on Irish tarmac before him?
The current political and military chaos in Iraq is happening not because the people of that ancient civilisation are unable to govern themselves, it is a direct result of this disastrous intervention by western powers. It will have immeasurable consequences throughout the region and throughout the world. We see the results in Palestine with the Bush Administration giving free reign to its main ally in the Middle East, the Israeli Government, to slaughter the Palestinian people with impunity. As our motion states, the only way forward for the people of Iraq and the region is a speedy end to the occupation and I urge all Members to adopt it.
Dr. Cowley: I do not know how President Bush sleeps in his bed at night. Last night on RTE News we saw the horrible sight of at least 40 Iraqis being killed in a remote Iraqi village. They were attending a family wedding. Of the 40 people killed, ten were women and 15 were children. Twenty-six of the people killed came from one family. These were people just trying to get on with their lives and this is what happened to them. If this is “friendly fire”, I would not like to see unfriendly fire. This is war.
We saw last night reports from Rafah in the Gaza Strip where an Israeli helicopter discharged four tank shells on a peaceful demonstration of 2,500 people, including children and teenagers, and the death toll was 40 people. What did the daddy of all this bloodshed in Iraq and elsewhere say? The leader of the so-called free world, President Bush, said that it is essential people respect innocent life. It is a pity he did not respect innocent life when he went into Iraq.
We should think back to Rwanda and man’s inhumanity to man. There is no need for this. We can see how war breeds injustice and brings out the worse in people. Saddam Hussein is supposed to have tortured people in Abu Ghraib prison, but it is happening again. It is a case of the kettle calling the pot black. I am sure it gave people a real feeling of déjà vu. Who is fooling who? Did we not know this would happen? We knew it would happen. There is no excuse for what is happening. We saw the lines of black bombers travelling through Shannon Airport to Iraq, courtesy of our so-called neutral Government. We knew they were going to create shock and awe and that innocent lives would be blown away — It was a case of blood for oil.
I spoke in this Chamber about the terror felt by those malnourished children we knew existed in a country that was so deprived because of sanctions by the western world. Imagine the terror felt by these young children and their mothers in their beds, waiting for these black bombers to arrive. These half starved children were blown into oblivion by another evil dictator replacing the one who went before. Those who survived, including their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, were probably tortured in the same prison.
It is difficult to have to say that the Government was told all of this, which it was. I recall standing in Parnell Square speaking to the thousands of people who marched. These people were not hardened political animals, they were people one would meet out on Sunday. Everyone knew the war was about blood for oil. The people sent a strong message to the Government at the time that what was happening was not acceptable, war was not inevitable and it should convey this message to President Bush. However, the Government did not listen. It was said that people were anti-American. I am not anti-American, nor are the people who marched. The people who were tortured are the ones who must bear the brunt of what is happening. Members of the House did not get an opportunity to vote on the use of Shannon, which was wrong.
I strongly urge the Government to ensure justice and fair play for all those unfortunate victims of human rights violations in Iraq. These long-suffering Iraqi people must be supported and not tortured or beaten further into the ground. The planes are still travelling through Shannon. We should support these people by not allowing the planes to travel through Shannon. The Government should put a stop to this. Given its Presidency of the EU, the Government should use its exalted position to make a strong case to stop these planes and draw up a powerful human rights initiative on Iraq. The innocent children who still survive deserve more than they are getting. What is happening is further compounding their misery and increasing their death rate.
This is breeding more inhumanity towards man and more terrorism. How can the Iraqi people think any differently when they see what America has done. America has done what Saddam Hussein said it would do. It took over their country and bombed and tortured them. The Americans will not be seen as any different from Saddam Hussein. What it is doing is plain for anyone to see. People spoke about good intentions, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. There is no point people crying crocodile tears about what happened. These people are still hungry and deprived. To continue to support the war effort is hypocrisy of the highest order and it should stop now.
The majority of people in the USA are now saying the war should not have happened. They are saying it was not worth it financially or because of all the people who died. It was an illegal war and an illegal act. My understanding is that anyone who is an accessory in a criminal act is to blame to a certain degree and subject to punishment. We have not heard a word of regret about the part played by the Government in all the lives lost and all the misery, and it is time we heard it.
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