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Sir Menzies Campbell: I do not think anyone has suggested a blue beret force in the circumstances of Iraq.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Who is going to do it?

Sir Menzies Campbell: Exactly. As the hon. Gentleman says, who is going to do it? It is not possible to have a blue beret force, but we could have had a Security Council resolution in the same terms as that which was adopted for the first Gulf war, which provided that all necessary means should be used for the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait, which accepted that the United States would be in command, but which insisted that that force had to report back and be subject to the authority of the Security Council. That most certainly would have been a much more politically attractive solution than the one that was arrived at, of a self-generating coalition going in the circumstances that we now know and side-stepping the United Nations.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there are a number of countries with distinguished United Nations military service that have said that they would be happy to commit troops in a circumstance that was fully authorised by the United Nations—countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, which have a particular credibility in the Muslim world? Would that not be an attractive proposition, to try and get the maximalist United Nations mandate that is propounding, and help us move with international credibility to a new phase of peacekeeping?

Sir Menzies Campbell: There is no doubt that if such countries were to become part of a coalition authority, they would require a maximalist United Nations resolution, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that there is the possibility between now and 30 June, for example, of putting together a UN force with blue berets. In my judgment that is not practical. That is why I have referred not only on this occasion but on others to the advantage of an arrangement similar to that used in the first Gulf war.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I am touched by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's
 
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faith in United Nations resolutions. How would he answer constituents of mine, refugees from Iraq, who said that if one mistake was made, it was in the first Gulf war, when we stopped at the border in compliance with the UN resolution?

Sir Menzies Campbell: If I may say so, I do not think that the hon. Lady was in the House at that time. She would not have found much support for that view. She would not have found much support for that view from President Bush's father or from Mr. John Major, who was the Prime Minister at the time. The consequence of doing what she suggests is that the coalition that had been created for the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait would have broken up. In addition, the Iraqi forces at that time were much more effective than those we found when the military action took place last year and there would have been the risk of very substantial casualties. The arguments against going to Baghdad in 1991 were overwhelming at the time, and in my judgment have not been diminished in any way since.

Mr. Wareing: Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that if the occupation continues after 30 June, and all that the Iraqi people are being offered is another appointed Government—appointed by whoever—that will be viewed by the Iraqi resistance in rather the same way as the Vichy regime was viewed by the French resistance in wartime France?

Sir Menzies Campbell: But it is not practical to have elections between now and 30 June. That is the date of the agreed handover to a provisional Government. [Interruption.] It might meet the hon. Gentleman's point if there were a sufficient and detailed commitment to—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Allow the right hon. and learned Gentleman a hearing. It is unfair to him when there are so many conversations going on.

Sir Menzies Campbell: What would meet the hon. Gentleman's point would be if it was clear that the move towards elections was serious and was being undertaken; that there was voter registration and that the necessary institutions were being established. But I do not think that it is possible to achieve what he would like to achieve in the time available.

As soon as an Iraqi Government have been democratically elected, UK troops should begin a phased withdrawal. But in the meantime, I am firmly of the view that we should commit no further forces to Iraq unless at the request of British commanders on the ground; unless for the purpose of securing the safety of existing British forces in Iraq; unless for the purpose of fulfilling legal obligations incumbent upon us under international law, including, if necessary, a fresh resolution from the Security Council; unless any such troops remain under United Kingdom operational command; and unless any such troops are deployed within the area currently under United Kingdom control.

There should be no question of British forces extending their role and responsibility in Iraq. There should be no question of British forces providing a substitute for any forces that may have been withdrawn
 
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by other coalition members. We have made more than an adequate contribution. I suspect that many hon. Members think so; I am certain the whole country thinks so.

Operational command of such troops should remain with United Kingdom commanders. General Sir Michael Jackson, with characteristic frankness, a fortnight ago described differences in doctrine between ourselves and the United States and we have seen illustrations of those differences. We should not put our forces into a position in which they may have to choose between following an order or following their training and their instincts.

It is now commonplace for some to argue for immediate withdrawal. To those I say this: consider the consequences of that. Inevitably, terrorism and violence would flourish and instability could easily spread throughout the region. But more significantly, the United Nations' effort, which is the only political track presently available, would be fatally undermined.

To be against immediate withdrawal is not to be in favour of an open-ended commitment. The Iraqi people must be given the responsibility for themselves and their government as soon as possible. I commend the motion to the House.

3.52 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

On behalf of the Government, I should like to repeat our regret following the death this morning of Izzedine Saleem, president of the Iraq governing council. Our thoughts are with him and with his family at this terrible time, to whom we extend our condolences.

Izz al-Din Salim was a tireless advocate for Iraq and for its people. He was exiled from his home by Saddam Hussein and, until last year, lived in London, where he worked as a writer and activist in the service of his people. When the former regime fell, he returned to Iraq as head of the Islamic Dawa party in Basra, where he earned the respect of local people and the coalition.

Izz al-Din Salim's death is an enormous loss to Iraq. It is too early to say whether this morning's attack was specifically targeted at him. In any event, it is a further tragic demonstration of the callousness of the minority who seek to challenge the rule of law and undermine the establishment of a democratic, peaceful Iraq. It demonstrates why we are determined to deal with those who perpetrate these criminal acts of terrorism. It demonstrates that these attacks are against the Iraqi people themselves, just as much as against coalition forces. We are working with the Iraqi people, and together we will succeed.
 
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Izzedine Saleem's death also demonstrates why the coming months are critical for the future of Iraq.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I join my right hon. Friend in offering my condolences to the family of Mr. Salim. I spent half an hour talking to Mr. Salim last Thursday. He was a gentle scholar who had contributed a lot to the governing council and to the future of a democratic Iraq. It was said earlier that his death was a triumph for terrorism, but it is the complete opposite. It will be a triumph for terrorism unless we stay the course, and Mr. Salim and all the members of the governing council, and all those who are fighting for the future of a democratic Iraq, would, I think, feel exactly the same. We must stay the course.


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