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Alan Howarth (Newport, East) (Lab): Although this issue understandably might not be in the forefront of my right hon. Friend's diplomatic thinking, will he—along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport—do what he can to enable British archaeologists and other scholars to make the best possible contribution to the international effort to support Iraqis in conserving the heritage of ancient Mesopotamia and of the early centuries of Islam? That heritage is not only theirs but ours, so it has great symbolic importance in terms of reconciliation.

Mr. Straw: As a matter of fact, that issue is in the forefront of my mind; indeed, I discussed it over the weekend with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. As my right hon. Friend says, the preservation of these archaeological sites is of huge importance to our understanding of our culture and history, as well as that of the middle east. We are concerned about reports of damage to some of these sites, and I should make it clear that they are being investigated urgently and thoroughly.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Given that we attacked Iraq not to change its Government but
 
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because we were told that it possessed weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to us and our allies, the continuing search for such weapons is obviously a matter of great importance. What arrangements have been made for continuing the search after the Iraq survey group report to which the Foreign Secretary referred, who will control the inspectors in the longer term and to whom will they report? Can the Foreign Secretary assure us that the search—although currently fruitless, it is nevertheless very important—will continue in all eventualities after sovereignty has been transferred?

Mr. Straw: The mandate and the reporting chain for the Iraq survey group after 30 June remain something for discussion with the Iraqi interim Government. However, we expect the work of the survey group to continue.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): Would the Foreign Secretary risk speculating why some of the Jonahs, with honourable exceptions such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), are not prepared to acknowledge the remarkable political progress that is taking place, with a widely representative Government, including six women? Is it because that is more women than are on the Front Bench of either of the two main Opposition parties, or is it because they just cannot bring themselves to come round to the view that the coalition might actually be succeeding?

Mr. Straw: It may be both, but I hope that if this process works out, in six to nine months' time we may—we have to be cautious about this—see a democratically elected Iraqi Government. That will contrast with what would have been if no action had been taken, because for sure, Saddam Hussein would have still been there, re-emboldened and re-empowered to wreak his havoc and his terror on not only his own country, but the rest of the region.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Given that even under Saddam Hussein there was a degree of self-determination for the Kurdish part of northern Iraq, will it be open to Dr. Alawi's interim Government to come up with a suggestion of a devolved or federated Government for the future of Iraq?

Mr. Straw: The drafting of the constitution is, and will be, a matter for the Iraqi people as a whole, through the processes that will, I hope, be endorsed by the Security Council. How the Iraqis develop their internal devolution arrangements is entirely a matter for them, subject only to the overriding international requirement of the Security Council that the territorial integrity of Iraq be preserved.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): On the question of security, the Foreign Secretary has said that the draft resolution and the letters set out the need to reach agreement on the fundamental security and policy issues, including policy on sensitive offensive operations, but he does not make clear what happens if the two parties do not reach agreement. If there is no agreement, will the British and
 
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American troops be able to overrule the sovereign Iraqi Government? How sovereign is a Government who do not have the last word on military operations within their borders?

Mr. Straw: Not very sovereign—but that is not the case, because that Government will have the last word on military operations and, indeed, on the military presence, within its borders. Because of the way in which the arrangements have been developed, and the fact that the multinational force and the Iraqi Government have the same interest—that of establishing security and defeating terrorists—we do not anticipate that, in practice, there will be the kind of visceral disagreement that my hon. Friend describes. However, were there to be such disagreement, the last word would absolutely rest with the Iraqi Government, because under the terms of the draft resolution the Iraqi Government have the power not only to seek a revision of the mandate of the multinational force, but to seek to eject the multinational force altogether, in advance of the normal expiration of its mandate on 31 December next year.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary acknowledge the disproportionate share of responsibility that the United Kingdom is seen by the rest of the world as having for events in Iraq, in the light of the importance of our political and diplomatic support for the United States? Given that, and given the revelations by Sir Christopher Meyer that the Prime Minister fails to make Britain's case in private, as well as in public, with the United States, what confidence can we have that Britain will exercise satisfactory influence over the United States after 1 July, when we have so far signally failed to help it to avoid some of the more obvious mistakes that it has made in the conduct of the occupation?

Mr. Straw: We accept our responsibilities, because under the terms of the Security Council resolutions we were one of the two occupying powers under the coalition. We have always accepted our responsibilities and we have worked in a spirit of partnership with the United States and other Security Council partners.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op): Any Foreign Secretary's role is, inevitably, to sell various mixed messages, but can the Foreign Secretary help me, as one whose mental agility is not as great as his, to understand this: if we succeed, as we hope we shall, in setting up a democratic Government in Iraq, which will be a beacon of democracy in the region, why would it be in the interests of near-neighbouring countries to help to set up something that would, inevitably, help to undermine their own oppressive regimes? Given that some of the countries with the most oppressive regimes are those to which we are most sensitive, can the Foreign Secretary explain for me the overall strategy?

Mr. Straw: Well, my hon. Friend will be familiar with what is coming as he and I attended similar schools in the days of President Reagan and before. We face in the middle east a transitional situation, to use that term precisely. The simple truth is that it is a parody to suggest that there would be an Iraqi democratic
 
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Government while all the surrounding Governments were dictatorships; that is simply not the case. A process of democratisation, of building representative government, has already taken place across the whole Arab region. Different countries in the region, such as Bahrain and other Gulf states, now have elections that are recognisably democratic by any standard. Jordan has recently had elections. We have arguments with Iran, but however else one might describe the Iranian situation, it is certainly not a monarchic autocracy. Among other countries, Egypt is in a state of transition, as, even, is Saudi Arabia; they are at different stages. I get no sense from my colleagues in Arab Governments that they are opposed to the democratisation of Iraq: they know that democracies have a much higher propensity to being peace-loving than authoritarian regimes ever have; and what they want, above all, after three decades in which they have been threatened by Iraq—some have had missiles fired at them and two countries have been invaded by Iraq—is a peaceful Iraq, which means a democratic Iraq.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary have any evidence to suggest that the good will that will surround 30 June will be used by the United States or ourselves to encourage serious progress on the middle east peace talks, given that the road map was so important to us all before the decision to take action against Iraq was announced?

Mr. Straw: I very much hope that it is, although the hon. Gentleman will be aware of what has stalled progress on the middle east peace process, including, tragically, disagreements inside the Israeli Cabinet.


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