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I join the Foreign Secretary in sending our deepest condolences to Ken Bigley's family. They have borne their tragedy with great dignity and courage. We are all revolted by the barbaric cruelty shown by his kidnappers, and we stand with the Bigley family at this difficult time. I also add our thanks to all those who worked so hard in trying to secure his release.
Can the Foreign Secretary tell us what confidence he has that al-Zarqawi and his fellow murderers can be captured and brought to justice? Can he give any details about the part played by Ministers in the Government's efforts to secure Mr. Bigley's release? Does he believe that the Government could have done anything more to help Mr. Bigley, especially during his brave escape?
Our troops are carrying out, in very difficult circumstances, and with great courage and self-sacrifice, counter-insurgency and other operations in Iraq. We again pay tribute to their bravery and loyal service. But can the Foreign Secretary tell us more about the chain of command that exists in Iraq? What is the relationship between British troops, the other troops in the coalition forces and the Interim Iraqi Government? What are the means through which the British Government can influence operations carried out by the Americans?
The January elections are an important step in reaching the goal of a stable, democratic Iraq. What lessons can be learned from the picture that is emerging from the recent elections in Afghanistan? Why have we had no statements to the House on that important developing situation?
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the situation in Iraq would now be far less grave had there been proper planning for post-war reconstruction, as we repeatedly urged for months before the conflict began and thereafter? As Sir Jeremy Greenstock and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) have confirmed, there was no adequate plan. When will the House and the country receive a proper explanation for that serious omission?
"wait and see when they"
"come up with their report what the true facts are."
The report alleges an appalling corruption of the sanctions regime, including the provision of oil vouchers to officials in countries that were blocking United Nations decisions. Were the Government aware of that corruption at the time the alleged events took place? What does the Foreign Secretary believe that it tells us about the way in which the UN operates?
The report's findings are dramatic: that Saddam Hussein has had no weapons of mass destruction for several years. Yes, he had a horrifying track record and the risks of leaving him in place were very great. He was
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a dangerous presence in the world's most volatile region. The world is better off without him. Those were all powerful arguments for going to war. But that is not the case that the Government made. The Prime Minister told us that
"the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt . . . that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons"
"in no doubt that the threat is serious and current."
"not shut down; it is up and running".[Official Report, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c.3.]
We have reluctantly come to accept that when the Prime Minister comes to the House to talk about health or education, he spins and twists and bends, because that is what he does. However, on issues affecting the safety of the nation, the public expect the truth. All the way through, the intelligence advice to the Prime Minister was couched in caveat and caution. However, in the hands of this Prime Minister, caveats were stripped away and cautions were removed.
While the Joint Intelligence Committee told the Prime Minister that intelligence was sporadic, patchy and limited, the Prime Minister told us that it was extensive, detailed and authoritative. He did not behave as a British Prime Minister should. The next time that he comes to the Dispatch Box to commit British troops, who will believe him? That is why the British people must receive a full explanation and a full apologynot an apology for the intelligence but an apology for the way in which the Government conveyed the intelligence to the country. That is the apology for which we are waiting. Will the Foreign Secretary now make that apology?
Mr. Straw: I thought that the hon. Gentleman started quite well, and I thank him for what he had to say in respect of the Bigley family. I will come on to the further episodes of flip-flop that we have just seen.
On the hon. Gentleman's points about the Bigley family, he asked me whether I have confidence that al-Zarqawi can be captured. All that I can say is that al-Zarqawi's apprehension remains a key priority for all the coalition forces and for the Iraqismost of al-Zarqawi's victims, like most of the other terrorists' victims in Iraq, are Iraqis. Those elements are not going at the multinational force, but are trying to stop democracy in Iraqso it is in everybody's interest that he should be captured.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Ministers' role in Iraq. I can only say that by chance I was in Iraq on a long-planned visit when we got news from the intermediary. I was therefore able to be fully involved in discussions about the decisions made, and to ensure that the Prime Minister was fully involved, too. The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not go into more detail than I have already offered the House. He asked whether there was any more that we could have done. In the circumstances, we did a lot, but it ended tragically. I rack my brains, as everyone does, about whether there were other things that we could have done. I do not
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think that there were, but I want to make it clear that there will be a full internal review of what we have done, to examine whether we could have done other things that might have made a difference, although I genuinely do not think so.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the chain of command, which is set out in the relevant paragraphs of United Nations Security Council resolution 1546, and the two letters sent by Prime Minister Allawi and Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Security Council. They work well, and we have a three-star general, General McColl, who is embedded in the key central command in Baghdad, to whom I talked while I was there, as well as our day-to-day operational command in the areas that we control in the south. One of the things that caused anxiety when resolution 1546 was being developed was whether the Iraqis would have sufficient say over key and sensitive operations such as Falluja. I am satisfied that they do.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether there was proper planning for reconstruction. There was proper planningthe problem was in relation to implementation of that planning. I accept, to put it at its mildest, that there were clearly lessons to be learned. One of the things that was unanticipated, however, was the speed with which the Saddam regime would collapse.
Turning to the ISG report, the hon. Gentleman asked me whether we were aware of the corruption. We had intelligence that suggested corruption, but we did not have explicit evidence, which required full access to all the documentation held in the relevant Ministries in Iraq. That was why we did not surface it.
The hon. Gentleman went on to make extravagant and completely unjustified comments about the Prime Minister in relation to the intelligence that we made public. I make two points to him on that. First, there was a huge demand from March 2002 for us to put before the House a summary of the intelligence that we had seen. That came from the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Opposition, and the House as a whole properly asked to see the case. That dossier, as the House is well awarethere have now been three inquiries into its provenanceaccurately reflected the views of the Joint Intelligence Committee at the time and was signed off by it. SecondlyI will place these documents in the Library and make them publicly availablethe House should be aware that we sought to cross-check the dossier with many people. One of my officials in New York showed Dr. Blix section 6 of a slightly earlier version of the dossier, which I am very happy to make publicly available so that it can be contrasted with the final published version. My official wrote a letter on 12 March 2002 to my then private secretary, the full text of which I will publish, which stated:
"On the whole, Blix liked section 6he felt it did not exaggerate the facts, nor revert to rhetoric, probably both desirable for its credibility."
That referred to the section on Iraqi chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programmesthe current position. It is important that the House fully
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understands that the evidence that we put forward was a view that was widely shared at the time by other foreign intelligence agencies, as well, as it happened, by Dr. Blix.
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