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Sir Menzies Campbell : If that was the inference that the right hon. Gentleman derived from what I said, let me say that I did not intend in any circumstances to give that impression. There is, however, a legitimate question as to whether we keep a count of the civilian casualties, because of their nature and because of the consequences for public opinion in Iraq and elsewhere in the middle east.

Mr. Hoon: The right hon. and learned Gentleman leapt to his feet in a passable display of indignation, but I wonder how he would, in practice, do what he suggests. It is all very well to make these suggestions, but somebody actually has to do it. I have said that we do our very best to make a reasonable estimate of the number of casualties, but when soldiers come under attack, they return fire. They cannot be expected to go back and count precisely how many people they have killed.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): If the Secretary of State were to instruct troops to go back to count the casualties, does he think that people would believe the numbers that were given?

Mr. Hoon: I think that we have probably dealt with this issue in sufficient detail, although I see that another hon. Member is anxious to intervene.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am rather disappointed that, in the debate so far, we have been so negative about the role that UK troops have played in Iraq. I believe that we have done a magnificent job. Will the Secretary of State advise the House of the role that he foresees over the next six weeks and beyond 30 June for British forces, who I believe are the finest in the world? We need to say that, to give them encouragement for the very difficult work that they are undertaking. I have a great belief in our forces.

Mr. Hoon: I entirely agree. I was rather allowing the facts of the engagement I mentioned to speak for themselves. British forces came under attack from an overwhelming force. They were ambushed and responded in kind, achieving a considerable military success, at a cost of two lightly wounded British casualties. That was a remarkable success. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman's other observations about the abilities of Britain's armed forces.
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This weekend, Basra and Nasiriyah saw a number of attacks against the coalition resulting in injury to three British soldiers and the loss of one Italian soldier. Right hon. and hon. Members may have seen reports over the weekend of a failed mortar attack against British forces in Basra that resulted in three Iraqi civilians being killed and three more wounded. This tragic incident highlights once again the indiscriminate nature of the attacks being carried out, not only against coalition forces but against the Iraqi people themselves.

The Falluja brigade has been formed from former Iraqi soldiers. It is a temporary organisation designed to provide security in the town, patrolling alongside US forces. Our objectives in Falluja remain unchanged: to ensure that armed groups can no longer intimidate local people and to confiscate heavy weapons from lawless insurgents. In Najaf, we should remind ourselves of what lies behind the recent tensions. Iraqi prosecutors investigating the murder of a senior cleric, Ayatollah Abdel Majid al-Khoei, have strong grounds for the arrest of a number of suspects linked to al-Sadr, including al-Sadr himself.

In the meantime, al-Sadr's illegal militia have been harassing local people in several cities, including Basra and al-Amarah, unlawfully occupying public buildings and terrorising women on the streets and in universities. We have attempted to disarm al-Sadr's militia peacefully and, when necessary, by force. Our efforts are having some success. We judge that al-Sadr's support, while vocal and violent, is indeed limited and may well be on the wane. In both Falluja and Najaf, we continue to seek political solutions where possible and will, of course, respect the nature of the holy sites.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): What care is being taken not to damage the great shrines at Najaf and Karbala? Apart from any cultural considerations, risking such damage really is playing with Shi'ite fire.

Mr. Hoon: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the sensitivity of the holy sites, which is why we are taking great care to respect them. This also seems relevant to the attitude of the Shi'a towards al-Sadr himself, because the overwhelming majority of them do not support or approve of his behaviour. In that disapproval lies the political solution that I have set out.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I listened with interest when the Secretary of State said that, in certain parts of Iraq, the Government and the Army will seek to find political solutions. To what extent are the Government determined to apply the lessons learned in Northern Ireland—some of which have been very useful and constructive—to the situation in Iraq? Or does he feel that there are no comparisons to be drawn?

Mr. Hoon: There are never exact comparisons, but I certainly believe that British troops on patrol in Iraq daily apply the lessons that have been learned so painfully over a long period in Northern Ireland. The other, wider point to make is that there will not ultimately be a military solution to this kind of crisis. Whatever security action we take on the ground has to
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be supported and complemented by an appropriate political process. That is precisely the strategy that I am setting out on behalf of the Government.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con) rose—

Mr. Hoon: Perhaps I may make a little progress. I have given way a number of times, although I will give way in due course.

Security sector reform is a crucial part of our strategy to allow the Iraqi people to rely less on coalition forces. We are making strong progress, and our armed forces are playing a vital role. As the House will recall, I announced last year that we would send extra forces to Iraq for just that task. They are supported by civilians from the United Kingdom and by contributions from our allies, and are doing an excellent job. It is not just the coalition in Iraq that recognises the importance of this work for Iraq's future. A substantial police training centre for Iraqi officers is operating in Jordan and producing large numbers of graduates each month. Other countries have also privately offered help, and we are exploring their proposals.

There are now close to 80,000 trained Iraqi police, as well as tens of thousands of other security personnel, including border guards, facilities protection staff and civil defence forces. In the British area, more than 12,000 police have been recruited, and we have trained some 8,000, either in Jordan or in the police training centre that we established with our Danish coalition partners. Six battalions of the Iraqi civil defence corps—some 5,000 people—have been recruited, trained and equipped, as have 5,000 border police, which is some 60 per cent. of the assessed requirement. Raw numbers, however, can seldom provide the full picture.

On the ground, real, tangible progress has been made, with Iraqi police on patrol across the country. Those police are an enormous credit to Iraq and have shown great bravery and resolve in the face of vicious attacks. For example, after the recent terrorist outrages in Basra, which killed more than a dozen schoolchildren, the Iraqi police stabilised the situation and are now investigating. The Iraqi Ministry of Health, which has fully passed to Iraqi control, provided medical care on the scene.

Tony Baldry: The Secretary of State is describing the action that has been taken on security and military grounds, but it is quite clear that one of the problems that we have had in Iraq is the concept of the coalition forces being occupiers. The UN resolution refers to them as occupiers. All of us in the House are supposedly politicians, and we know that we have to win people's hearts and minds. Will he give the House some idea of the thinking and the work that is being done to win the hearts and minds of Iraqi people, so that they cease to see the coalition as occupiers and regard us as part of the process that will lead sooner, rather than later, to their liberation?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's observation. He will know, probably as well as I do, that the word "occupier", which is not the happiest word in this context, is one that we are required to use by virtue of the Geneva conventions. It sets out our status. Obviously, that will change on 30 June, which is why we
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are working in such a determined way towards that date. However, he is also right, in the sense that we are helping with the reconstruction of Iraq. The coalition provisional authority reports that around 20,000 reconstruction projects have been completed—building Iraq's infrastructure, generating jobs and getting its economy moving. The United Kingdom is involved in some 2,700 of those projects, and every day the quality of life in Basra gets better.

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