|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
7 Apr 2003 : Column 29continued
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): The Secretary of State referred to the use of minimum force and the need to minimise Iraqi civilian casualties. Does not the continued use of cluster bombs make that more difficult, and in due course will it not make the huge task of reconstruction much more difficult and dangerous?
Mr. Hoon: As I have said on previous occasions when that issue has arisen, the use of all weapons involves striking a balance. All weapons are capable of damaging the civilian population as well as those against whom they are targeted. It is necessary to strike a balance between not only the risk to civilians, but equally the protection of coalition forces. In relation to the use of cluster bombs, I am confident that the right balance has been struck.
Colin Burgon (Elmet): What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the residual strength of the Ba'ath party and the level of support that it will command? In particular, what are the implications for any future democratic regime or Government in Iraq?
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): In his most welcome statement, the Secretary of State paid tribute to the successes of our armed forces. Is it not particularly noteworthy that as well as being highly effective at prosecuting the war, they have already shown themselves to be extremely skilled at peacekeeping; and should we not note the experience that they have already brought to bear in, for example, differentiating between paramilitaries and civilians?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is right. As I said a few moments ago, it is a particular characteristic of Britain's armed forces that they can move very quickly from intense war-fighting toif I can put it this wayintense peacekeeping. Not least because of their long years of experience in Northern Ireland, they are well used to mixing in with the local population, talking to people on the ground and treating people with the respect to which they are entitled after a conflict has come to an end. That is why they are already proving so successful in southern Iraq, and I anticipate that they will continue to be so.
Mr. Hoon: No one is suggesting that we win over the hearts and minds of Iraqi civilians by using cluster bombs other than in this sense: it is necessary to succeed in the military conflict in order to win over those hearts and minds. We will not succeed in the military conflict if we prevent our armed forces from protecting themselves when they are confronted by a determined and often ruthless opposition. I invite my hon. Friend to weigh that in the balance. Is she really prepared to put the lives of our forces at risk in order to prolong the conflict, and thereby make it more difficult, in the longer term, to win the hearts and minds necessary to rebuild Iraq?
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): Does the right hon. Gentleman share our respect for those who have expressed hesitation about and, indeed, opposition to the armed conflict? No one wanted the war, hard decisions had to be taken and we must respect those who expressed their opposition. Based on briefings at the United Nations two weeks ago and on meetings of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly over the weekend, two things are clear. First, our armed forces have won a new reputation for courage and skill, which is based, as the right hon. Gentleman said, on their experience in Northern Ireland. Their international standing has never been higher. Secondlywe should all unite
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's observations about the skill of Britain's armed forces, but I would not want him to overlook the remarkable skill at arms that has been displayed by US forces. I anticipate that their advance from the south of Iraq to Baghdad will be lectured on for years to come in staff colleges throughout the world. I am told by those who know, that it is one of the most remarkable armoured advances ever seen in modern warfare.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's second point. It is necessary to try to bring the conflict to a speedy conclusion, and that has always been our ambition. At the same time, consistent with observations of right hon. and hon. Members on these occasions, it is necessary to do so in a cautious and practical way while minimising risk to Iraqi civilians and safeguarding our forces. The operation in and around Basra that has been conducted by British forces is absolutely characteristic of that approach.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): While welcoming very much the military successes in Basra and Baghdad reported by the Secretary of State, will he tell us a little more about the conflict elsewhere? Will he confirm reports that I have received from the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which I reported to his private office late on Friday afternoon and this morning, about four bombing raids on the military camps of the People's Mujaheddin of Iran? The group is dedicated to overthrowing the Iranian Government and notified the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in writing, through the foreign affairs chairman of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, that it would not get involved in the war at all. Why were the four raids carried out, during which three women were killed and four were wounded, and what evidence do we have about them?
Mr. Hoon: I thank my hon. Friend for the assistance that he has provided and I assure him that his observations have been followed up. The border areas, especially where Iraq shares a border with Iran, contain groups with shifting alliances, if I may put it that way. Some groups are regarded as terrorists, depending on the side of the border from which they operate. I assure my hon. Friend that we have regard to the different alliances as we prosecute the campaign.
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): The Secretary of State spoke of the need for Iraqis to take control of their own affairs as soon as possible, and I am sure that everyone agrees with that. However, there is a timing issue. Do the Government feel that the opposition parties that exist, plus the exiles to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) referred, form a cohesive unit that is ready to be put into play to form a Government? If not, what are this Government doing to ensure that that will happen?
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): It has been reported that tanker drivers are collecting water from the military in the areas that we control and then selling it to a thirsty population. If that is true, does the Secretary of State agree that it is hardly the way to win hearts and minds, and will he look into the matter and get it stopped?
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): The Secretary of State may have seen the interview on television last night with a couple of Arab fighters from southern Lebanon, who I presume were from Hezbollah. Does the Secretary of State have a feeling for how large a problem that involvement now is in Iraq? What part does he feel such people might play in the battle for Baghdad?
Mr. Hoon: As I said in response to questions last Thursday, people have been willing to come into Iraq and offer themselves for various operations. We are addressing that issue, which we take seriously. However, I hope that, as the regime shows signs of collapse right across Iraq, we will be able to deal with the issue effectively.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): I want to return to the issue of high-level defections from the Iraqi military. How many approaches have been made to the United Kingdom Government and what inducements, if any, are being offered to those senior military people to encourage them to defect?