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Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab): May I welcome the broad thrust of my right hon. Friend's statement, especially the strong stress that he placed on the role of the United Nations? Many of us in the Chamber—I suspect himself included—would have welcomed such a central role for the UN from the start. Those of us who have been critical of the occupation should recognise that the events of recent months have obliged the United States to accept a much bolder transfer of sovereignty
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than it had been contemplating. Given the extent to which nudging from Britain has moved it in that direction, I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Foreign Office.

Will my right hon. Friend clear up one point? A month ago, Ambassador Bremer said that the interim Government would not have the power to vary the laws that he brought in as presiding genius of the coalition authority. Will my right hon. Friend give me the further good news that the United States has also given ground on that point and that the interim Government will be able to amend the directives that they inherit from the coalition authority should they wish to do so?

Mr. Straw: I thank my right hon. Friend for what he said, especially about the importance of the United Nations—I know that he has always subscribed to that view. May I make a correction to an answer that I gave a moment ago? It has been drawn to my attention that I talked about the mandate of the multinational force expiring on 31 January, but I should have said 31 December.

My answer to my right hon. Friend is the same as my answer to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). The transitional administrative law was negotiated between the appointed Iraqi Governing Council and the coalition provisional authority. The interim Government have said that they have no intention of disturbing key elements of that because they do not want to pre-empt the rights of the transitional Government who will be in place, God willing, after being elected within a seven-month period. Subject to that, however, if they wish to make changes, they may do so because they are the sovereign Government of Iraq. The self-denying ordinance is not required by the Security Council and nor could it be required by the coalition, the role and authority of which finishes, full stop, on 30 June. As I made it clear in my statement, there will be laws passed by the interim Government that will go to the consultative council for supervision.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con): Whatever the imperfections in planning and the difficulties of implementation, the coalition's objectives behind what it has done and tried to do in Iraq are the promotion of stability in the middle east, the enlargement of freedom and the promotion of the Iraqi people's ability to govern themselves rather than being subject to an unelected tyranny. Does the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that the insurgency and insurrection that is currently going on in the middle east—not only in Iraq—is cynically designed to frustrate those objectives and to unnerve and divide those throughout the world who promote them? Will he assure the House that the Government will hold their nerve and draw the right lesson from President Reagan's life: when the free democracies show sustained strength in the face of an international threat, they eventually win?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It is clear, tragically, that there is a degree of insurgency—much of it fanned from outside Iraq, some from within—that is seeking to cause instability across the region without discrimination as to whether the people concerned supported or opposed the military
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intervention in Iraq. Saudi Arabia has taken the brunt of some of the attacks and I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I place on record our deep sadness at the news overnight of the killing of Simon Cumbers, a BBC cameraman whom I knew personally and respected. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I express our condolences to his family, his colleagues at the BBC and his friends, and in wishing Mr. Gardner the speediest of recoveries in the very difficult circumstances in which he finds himself.

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): The House will welcome the Foreign Secretary's confirmation that 11 of the 26 Government Departments are already in Iraqi hands and that the rest will be by the end of the month. Will he confirm that one of these Government Ministries is a Ministry of Human Rights, the only such Ministry in the entire middle east? Does he agree that the UN resolution will assist enormously in the 30 January passage of sovereignty, the 31 January elections in Iraq and the 31 December expiry of the mandate? Should not this House give its best wishes and say Godspeed to the United Nations in the hope that these things come about and that the insurgency and insurrection do not disrupt democracy for all the people of Iraq?

Mr. Straw: I agree with my hon. Friend and I can confirm that there is a Ministry of Human Rights—the only one, I think, in the middle east—which sits alongside the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice to proselytise and establish human rights of a kind that Iraqis have never known.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Will the Government take heed of publicly stated opinion in Wales and Scotland in favour of a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops and their replacement by troops of useful countries, particularly from the Arab League?

Mr. Straw: Everybody, particularly the new Government of Iraq, believes that it would be utterly and wildly irresponsible to seek to withdraw British troops now from Iraq. There is no possibility of the British or other multinational forces being replaced by troop contributions from Arab nations. When the hon. Gentleman proposes that we withdraw troops from Iraq immediately, he needs to be aware that he is proposing the creation of a security vacuum that would come as a comfort only to the terrorists and insurgents and would be opposed by the overwhelming majority of Iraqis. In a formal letter to the Security Council, the Prime Minister of Iraq, Dr. Alawi, spelled out, in terms, that he believes that the multinational force is essential to the building of stability, peace and democracy within Iraq.

On the issue of a timetable, there is a timetable; it is the one before the Security Council, which makes it clear, in terms, that the mandate of the multinational force will end on 31 December next year unless it is determined by the Iraqi people to end it earlier.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): May I assure my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that many who opposed the war nevertheless accept that it would be irresponsible now to withdraw the
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multinational force, because that would lead to a power vacuum and almost certainly a civil war in a country that is already benighted with violence?

May I press my right hon. Friend, nevertheless, on the legitimacy of the new Government? In the end, what really matters will be whether that Government can show the Iraqi people the reality that it is in control of the situation. Although, as he told the House a few moments ago, the letters lay down in some detail the nature of the relationship between the multinational force and Iraq's own security forces, there is a need for that to be further fleshed out because we cannot afford any future ambiguity in that relationship. It must be quite clear that future Iraqi Governments will be able to condition the circumstances in which a multinational force operates, to save us from the kind of disasters that we have seen in recent months.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said at the start of his remarks. His view is widely shared, regardless of the original position that people took on the merits or otherwise of major military action.

I have the advantage of being familiar with every line of the letters that have been sent to the Security Council, in a way that other Members of the House are not, and I invite my hon. Friend to read through the letter from Dr. Alawi to the Security Council, which sets out—fleshes out, to pick up my hon. Friend's phrase—in as much detail as is possible in advance, the way in which the relationship between the Iraqi forces and the multinational force should operate. As I said in answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), it is not possible to anticipate every conceivable circumstance, but it is possible to set up the framework for a partnership, have in mind what could go wrong—frankly, we have seen some things go wrong—and learn from those lessons. Also, overriding all the day-by-day arrangements should be the simple imperative fact that, if necessary, the Iraqi Government—the interim as well as the transitional Government—can decide to require the multinational force to withdraw altogether before 31 December next year. It is that fact alone, that they have a veto on the forces remaining, which will change the nature of the relationship, in addition to the detail of the letters.

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