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17. Tony Cunningham (Workington): What discussions he has had with EU partners on allied support for the reconstruction of Iraq. [112231]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Now that decisive combat operations have been completed in Iraq, United Kingdom forces are concentrating on stabilisation and humanitarian tasks. In taking forward the wider political and economic reconstruction of Iraq, the coalition and, in due course, a new Iraqi Government, will need to draw on the expertise of the international community. Recent discussions with a number of countries, including European Union partners, have covered the possible contribution of numerous capabilities, including, but not limited to, infantry, medical personnel, engineers and logistic support.

Tony Cunningham : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Can he assure the House that his Department will draw on the experience of our EU partners, particularly in the Balkans and Afghanistan, to ensure that vital services are restored in Iraq as quickly as possible?

Mr. Hoon: I can assure my hon. Friend, as I said a moment ago, that we want to draw on the experience of a number of EU partners and, indeed, future EU partners. They have indicated their willingness to make military capabilities available, and we want to use them.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Surely, one of the lessons that we have learned from previous conflicts concerns our rather tardy approach to clearing up civilian areas post-conflict. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give the House that thousands of unexploded bomblets will be cleared from civilian areas first, rather than from those areas that our troops our entering?

Mr. Hoon: I indicated the priority that was given to the clean-up a few moments ago. Those efforts continue, and they do not discriminate between civilian and other areas. A determined effort is made to ensure the safety and security of both military and civilian personnel.

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3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about Iraq.

Last Friday, the United Kingdom, the United States and Spain informally circulated a draft resolution about Iraq's future to members of the United Nations Security Council. I have placed copies in the Library and the Vote Office. Our aim is to put Iraq in the hands of its people through an open and accountable process, in partnership with the emerging leaders of the new Iraq. The draft resolution sets out the United Nations' role in that process, and calls for the United Nations to

That reflects fully the undertakings given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush at their Hillsborough meeting on 8 April. I will set out for the House the main points of that draft resolution and, in the course of doing so, deal with a number of questions that have been asked about it. Before I do so, however, I shall report briefly on the situation in Iraq itself.

After almost a quarter of a century of brutal, authoritarian rule in Iraq, creating a free and secure society was always going to take time. Barely a month has passed since the regime fell. Today, the security situation varies in different parts of the country. The United Nations regards the south as safe enough for its agencies to operate, albeit with significant precautions. The situation is improving in the north. In other areas, including Baghdad, the situation is unsatisfactory, and there are still too many cases of violence and lawlessness. Establishing security within the rule of law is the coalition's first priority.

Let me now deal with the humanitarian situation. Supplies under the oil-for-food programme are getting through. The United Nations' World Food Programme has supplies in the pipeline until September and there are no reports of widespread food shortages. We are urgently tackling the lack of access to drinking water, a problem that has blighted the lives of Iraqis for many years. Urgent efforts are continuing to provide adequate medical supplies and equipment to Iraq's hospitals. The reports of 16 cases of cholera in Basra are obviously a matter of great concern, although fortunately there have been no reported deaths from the disease. To put that in perspective, cholera is endemic in southern Iraq at this time of year. Work is continuing to improve water and sanitation facilities, and the Department for International Development has positioned in Kuwait cholera kits for 11,000 cases, to be used by the World Health Organisation as required.

The coalition's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance will tackle the huge task of restoring civil administration in Iraq. Increasing numbers of Iraqi public servants are now returning to their jobs. However, results in the early weeks have not been as good as we had hoped. I therefore welcome the appointment of US ambassador Bremer to ORHA. Working alongside the United Kingdom's Major

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General Tim Cross and forty British secondees, he will bring fresh impetus to ORHA's efforts. On the political front, we have already seen evidence of the exercise of the new-found religious and political freedoms in Iraq. I welcome the peaceful return at the weekend of the Shi'a religious leader, Ayatollah Hakim to Iraq from Iran, and other religious and political leaders, none of whom could exercise any political or religious freedoms under Saddam's regime. The meetings of Iraqi representatives in Nasiriyah on 15 April and Baghdad on 28 April marked the start of a process of bringing together a national conference in which all Iraq's regions and ethnic and religious groups are represented in order to select an Iraqi interim authority.

This body, which will comprise both political figures and technocrats, will progressively take on responsibilities for the administration of Iraq as a whole, as operative paragraph 9 of the draft says,

It is our hope that the national conference can be held within the next few weeks. In order to assist the process, and as I told the House last Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has appointed a senior British diplomat, John Sawers, our ambassador to Cairo, as the Government's special representative to Iraq. His task is to work with US representatives and a wide range of Iraqi people to ensure an open process leading to a representative Iraqi interim authority. In the few days in which he has been in Baghdad, Mr. Sawers has already met a number of leading Iraqi political figures. In addition, as I told the House last week, we opened a British office in Baghdad, on the site of our former British embassy, headed by a British diplomat, Christopher Segar, who was deputy head of mission when the British embassy in Baghdad closed in 1991.

Let me now turn to the draft Security Council resolution. The United Kingdom and the United States fully accept our responsibilities under the fourth Geneva convention and the Hague regulations. That point is explicitly recognised in the draft resolution. Neither the Secretary-General nor members of the Security Council are proposing that the UN should run Iraq, but we are all concerned to ensure that the UN plays a vital post-conflict role. The draft resolution gives the UN the full opportunity to do just that. It does not deal with every issue; it concentrates on the main points that need to be settled now for the benefit of the people of Iraq. It sets out important principles for the future of Iraq, including those on territorial integrity and disarmament of its weapons of mass destruction. The resolution also provides, in operative paragraph 5, for member states to prohibit trade in, or transfer of, looted cultural artefacts.

The three key issues in the resolution are, first, the role of a UN special co-ordinator, and the associated political processes; secondly, the lifting of sanctions and the creation of a new Iraqi assistance fund to target resources on the reconstruction of Iraq; and thirdly, arrangements for the sale of oil and the handling of oil revenues. I shall deal with those in turn.

Operative paragraph 8 of the resolution sets out a substantial mandate for a UN special co-ordinator to be appointed by the UN Secretary-General and to play a full part in all aspects of post-conflict activity, from

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humanitarian efforts through economic reconstruction, human rights, rebuilding police capacity, promoting legal and judicial reform, and, crucially, the political process. On the latter point, the draft provides that the special co-ordinator should work with the occupying powers and those assisting them—defined collectively in the resolution as "the Authority"—for

Operative paragraph 9

Like all drafts, this one is open to improvement and we are discussing it constructively with our Security Council partners, but the mandate in the present draft will give the UN the scope it needs to play its full role in all aspects of post-conflict Iraq. One of the reasons why I would like to see the resolution passed quickly is to enable a special co-ordinator, appointed by the Secretary-General, to get cracking on the ground very soon.

The second of the three issues is the lifting of sanctions and the creation of a new Iraqi assistance fund. Economic sanctions relate to Iraq's past and now need to be removed, so operative paragraph 10 provides that all sanctions are lifted forthwith, with the sole exception of the arms embargo, which plainly has to remain in place until a permanent Government is established by the people of Iraq. Ending the economic sanctions regime requires new arrangements for dealing with Iraqi revenues. The wording in the resolution is designed to ensure that all funds from Iraqi oil revenues can be used quickly and effectively for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

The draft resolution gives the Secretary-General authority for a period of four months from its passage to ensure the delivery of priority civilian goods under contracts already approved and for which funding has been allocated.

Remaining funds in the existing escrow account, from what is known as the oil-for-food programme, will be transferred to the new Iraqi assistance fund. That will also receive funds from two other sources: revenues from the sale of oil, and funds of the former regime frozen by banks outside Iraq since 1990 under successive Security Council resolutions. The Iraqi assistance fund will therefore rapidly become the primary source of money for the development of Iraq. The funds will be disbursed by the authority in consultation with the Iraqi interim authority.

The resolution is specific about the purposes for which the money can be spent. Operative paragraph 13 spells out that

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The assistance fund will be subject to an international advisory board, including representatives of the UN Secretary-General, the IMF and the World Bank, and will be audited by independent public accountants, again chosen by the board, not by the coalition.

The third issue is the control of oil sales. Operative paragraph 18 requires that sales shall be made

that they too will be audited by independent public accountants reporting to the international advisory board, and that the funds will go to the Iraqi assistance fund, except for a proportion, which will go instead to the UN Compensation Commission for claims relating to the previous Gulf war.

On weapons of mass destruction, a letter to the Security Council annexed to the resolution stresses the obvious and clear importance of this objective. Dr. Blix himself has recognised that the situation is not right at present for UNMOVIC to return, a point that I was able to spell out in the statement that I made to the House just 13 days ago. Separate arrangements may therefore be needed to provide international validation, so the role of UNMOVIC in Iraq is not an issue that needs to be dealt with in this resolution, although we may need to address it in future resolutions.

In the interests of the people of Iraq, the sponsors of the resolution will be working for its early adoption, but it is not a take it or leave it text, and negotiations with our partners in the Security Council are already under way. However, from my discussions with Foreign Ministers of Security Council members, and other discussions undertaken by our permanent representative in New York, I find a strong political will to get the UN back into the business of helping to build a better future for Iraq. This draft resolution gives the UN that very important role.

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