UK Politics

Libya not another Iraq, Lord Hague tells MPs

William Hague

The UK did not repeat the mistakes of the Iraq war with its intervention in Libya, former foreign secretary Lord Hague has said.

It was "different" because there was no lack of planning following the ousting of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011.

"We had plenty of planning but no power to implement the plans," he told the foreign affairs committee.

He said Colonel Gaddafi was to blame for the "sorry state" state of the country now.

"The responsibility for the state of Libya today rests with Colonel Gaddafi - in power for 40 years, with hollowed out institutions and no proper system of government under a tyrannical dictatorship," he told the committee.

"The longer that went on the longer there was going to be an explosion - if he was still there today then next year or the year after there would be the revolution."

'Some parallels'

He said the UK and its allies had tried to leave Libyans to sort out things out on their own, but should perhaps have taken a "more prescriptive approach".

Libya's new leaders wanted elections "as soon as they could" but should have been persuaded to take longer over the transition to democracy, suggested the former foreign secretary.

The UK led international efforts, with France, to get a UN resolution backing anti- Gaddafi forces and attempted to support the building of a stable democracy after the dictator had been ousted.

But the country rapidly descended into violence and instability, with two rival governments and the formation of hundreds of militias, some allied to so-called Islamic State.

Image caption Liam Fox says he was not given advance notice of French air strikes

Mr Hague told the MPs: "I think we have to be careful to think it's another Iraq. The problems are different to Iraq. The problem here is not that a lot of people didn't think about the post-conflict at the time.

"It was that, unlike in Iraq, they didn't have the power to implement what was decided, or what was planned, after the conflict."

Mr Hague said there was "some parallel" with Iraq because of the "hostility to Gaddafi era figures" being involved in the new government.

But they did need "some of those people" because "in a country with a small population they were the only people who had run any aspect of government in the previous 40 years".

Committee chairman, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, asked if it was a "terrible misappreciation" to believe that "a country with no democracy, no politicians, and no civil society" could become a functioning democracy in nine months.

Lord Hague said "if it was a misappreciation then it was one that was shared with the Libyan leaders". He says that from his recollection the push for democracy came from within Libya rather than from the West.

French air strikes

Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi said she voted against military action in Libya at the time "because I foresaw exactly what would happen".

Ms Qureshi said "we just don't understand the Middle East and we should not be intervening militarily in these countries".

Lord Hague said he respected that viewpoint but "if you think slaughter is about to take place and you have the capability to do something then you should".

Speaking earlier to the same committee, Liam Fox, who sat alongside Lord Hague in the cabinet as defence secretary at the time of the conflict, said the main momentum for the intervention came from Paris rather than from London or Washington.

He said there was "no real appetite" among British military leaders to get involved in another conflict, as the UK was already involved in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time.

He had not been given advance warning of French air strikes, launched on 19 March 2011, hours after the UN resolution authorising them had been passed, he told the committee.

His own view was the the French were keen to show they were "serious players" in Nato again, given the "reticence" of the US government to get involved in Libya.

As for post-conflict planning, he said there had been concerns about a power vacuum developing and potential problems with guerrilla groups.

"There was a view that there was such a disparate grouping of rebels that some groups would have extremist elements, but I have no memory of any specific group being identified at the time."

He said the UK had offered the Libyan transitional government help with taking central control of militia groups but "nothing ever came of it".

There should have been more thought about what a "good outcome" for Libya would look like and to what extent the UK should be involved in delivering it, adding: "experience does add a great deal".

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