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21 Mar 2003 : Column 1210—continued

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement, for keeping the House so fully informed and for giving me sight of his statement in advance.

The news of casualties this morning is the news that we all feared most, but it is inevitable in any such conflict. Of course, there will be an inquiry following such an accident, but I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could reiterate the assurance that he has already given me privately that there are no concerns about the airworthiness of the American CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter. The whole House, of course, joins him in expressing our deepest sympathy to the families who have lost loved ones.

This must, however, do nothing but strengthen our resolve to disarm Saddam Hussein and liberate the people of Iraq. As we hear this morning of the regime in Baghdad ordering the armed forces of Iraq on suicide missions under pain of torture for their families, can there be any doubt that those men died for a noble cause?

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I have a few questions of which I have given the Secretary of State prior notice. First, a large number of oil wells have now been fired by the regime in southern Iraq. Is there any doubt that those are the desperate acts of a desperate regime? Does not that underline the need to capture the oil wells as quickly as possible, to preserve the ecology of Iraq and to enable the economic infrastructure to remain in place to enable the reconstruction of Iraq as soon as hostilities have ended?

Secondly, we hear continued speculation about yesterday's early raids on the regime, and this morning the Iraqi Information Minister has protested, "Saddam is safe". I wonder whether the Secretary of State is in a position to enlarge on the speculation that is taking place.

Thirdly, yesterday, I asked briefly about relations with Turkey, and the decision of the Turkish Parliament to enable the mobilisation of Turkish forces. It was welcome news that some Kurdish forces have been placed under coalition command. Will the Secretary of State say whether it is the objective to place Turkish forces, too, under coalition command, to enable stability to ensue?

Finally, I congratulate the Government on the steady progress that they are making with this action. We join the Secretary of State in wishing our forces well.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his observations and his support. Obviously, there will be a thorough investigation into the causes of this tragic crash, and I will report to the House in due course as to what we are able to establish. I have no doubts at present about the airworthiness of this particular aircraft.

As I made clear, the firing of oil wells is something that we anticipated and feared, and something that has driven the strategic objectives of the early phase of the military action. Clearly, those are the desperate attempts of the regime to destroy the wealth of Iraq, which should be benefiting Iraq's people. Clearly, our continuing operations in the south are designed to ensure that that wealth is preserved for the benefit of people in that country.

As regards the continuing speculation about Saddam Hussein, the only clear evidence of his continuing to be alive is in the form of a television broadcast. There seems to be a great deal of controversy as to whether it was Saddam Hussein in that broadcast, and analysis continues as to whether it was him or one of the many body doubles that we know that he has used in the past.

We are still having detailed discussions with Turkey, which are positive and encouraging. We believe that it will make an effective contribution to our campaign in northern Iraq.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): I, too, thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement and for returning to the House so soon after his statement yesterday; it is entirely right that he should do so.

The report that members of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, with US colleagues, have been killed in action is indeed news that chills us all. Does the Secretary of State agree that despite the best training and all the precautions, in war, accidents do happen? It was the House of Commons that authorised the action,

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and the families of those who have died, their comrades in arms, their commanders and the Secretary of State should know that our thoughts are with them today.

On the wider news overnight, I especially welcome the news that coalition forces are securing the oilfields to prevent Saddam's forces from setting them alight. We all hope that that will help to avert an environmental catastrophe of the sort we saw in Kuwait 10 years ago.

On Turkey, will the Secretary of State clarify the overflight rights? It was suggested this morning that the arrangements might have changed. Still on the subject of Turkey, will he reiterate the Government's commitment to the territorial integrity of Iraq's borders?

Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the missiles fired yesterday by Iraq at Kuwait were Scud or al-Samoud missiles? I am sure that we would like to know.

I, too, pay tribute to the courage of our armed forces in the Gulf. Our thoughts are with them and their families at home.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. I emphasise that of the hundreds of oil wells in southern Iraq, a relatively small number—about 30—have been set on fire to date. That emphasises the importance to us of securing that part of Iraq for the long-term benefit of the people of that country.

We are continuing to discuss with Turkey the nature of overflight rights. The Turkish authorities are being positive and helpful, which we welcome.

As set out in our military objectives, contained in a statement that I placed in the Library yesterday, we are absolutely committed to the territorial integrity of Iraq. We want Iraq to be quickly restored to its rightful place in the international community.

As for missile types, a number of different missiles were used. Analysis to determine their exact nature is continuing, not least because two were comprehensively destroyed by Patriot missiles.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, in so far as it is compatible with the attainment of military objectives, it is our policy to maintain as intact as possible the public utilities infrastructure in Iraq to avoid causing unnecessary hardship to the Iraqi population and so that, when hostilities are concluded, it will be easier to rebuild the lives of the people of Iraq?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making an excellent point, one that I sought to emphasise yesterday. I recognise that when they hear the number of munitions involved in bombing campaigns, many right hon. and hon. Members immediately think of the type of bombing campaign conducted in the second world war, in which utilities were targeted. This will be a very different type of campaign, aimed at regime targets in and around Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. Certainly, in our preparation of the campaign, we have had clear regard to the need to rebuild Iraq thereafter. I give my right hon. Friend the assurance that, wherever possible, we will avoid striking any target that is of long-term benefit to the people of Iraq.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): I associate myself with the expressions of deep condolence to the

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families of the Royal Marines who have lost their lives in what seems to have been a tragic helicopter accident, as well as the families of the United States aircrew who also lost their lives.

Can the Secretary of State tell us what Spanish forces are being deployed to the theatre? The press is suggesting that naval units and medical units are to be deployed to the Gulf and an air defence squadron to Turkey. Will he say what forces the Australians are committing? The press say that Australian forces are in action alongside those of the United States and the United Kingdom. Is it not the case that when the bullets begin to fly, we know who our true friends are?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the fact that the helicopter involved had both US and UK personnel on board, demonstrating the joint nature of the operations and how closely together our marine forces operate.

On Spain and its forces, discussions are under way and decisions are anticipated in Spain, but I do not think it is appropriate to comment further at this stage. However, I can confirm that Australian forces are engaged in military operations.

Mr. Shaun Woodward (St. Helens, South): It is being widely reported that, in yesterday's indiscriminate attacks on the population of Kuwait, Saddam's military used two Scud missiles. Given the UN resolution that clearly prohibits the use of Scud missiles, and given the fact that as recently as December the Iraqi regime was telling Hans Blix's people that it had no operational Scuds, can the Secretary of State confirm or deny whether Scuds were used and what the significance would be of finding that Scuds are still being used operationally by the Iraqi regime?

Mr. Hoon: As I indicated earlier, analysis to determine the exact nature of the missiles used by Iraqi forces against Kuwait is under way. Inevitably, there is little left of two of them, which is not assisting, but that work will continue to establish the point that I anticipate will be made and that my hon. Friend has made today. I have no doubt that, as events unfold, we will see just how dishonest the Iraqi regime has been with the international community.

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