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On behalf of Conservative Members, I join the Foreign Secretary in his expressions of sorrow at the crash of the RAF C-130 Hercules north of Baghdad yesterday. Our thoughts and prayers are very much with the families of those who have died in this incident. In Iraq, we have asked a lot of the dedication and professionalism of our armed forces, who have responded magnificently, and I pay tribute to those who have given their lives.
Obviously, we must await the outcome of inquiries into the cause of the crash. Those planes, as I personally know, have a good safety record and are flown with the greatest professionalism. If there is any evidence that that crash was caused by hostile action, the Government will have many further questions to address. Can we be assured that the Foreign Secretary or the Defence Secretary will keep the House informed?
In the meantime, there are certain questions which I hope the Foreign Secretary will answer now. Why was this plane flying to Balad? Is that a routine run for RAF C-130s, as is the regular flight from Basra to Baghdad? Has the whole site of the crash now been fully secured? We are told that an Australian airman was killed in the crash. Were any Americans involved?
On yesterday's elections, may I join the Foreign Secretary in his warm words of praise for the way in which they were conducted, and for the courageous way in which the Iraqi people responded? The turnout and level of participation, even in the face of the gravest terrorist threats and violent intimidation, were not only encouraging but proved the doom merchants wrong. At the suggested 60 per cent. overall, the turnout would be a little higher than in our last general election, which should give us food for thought.
On terrorist intimidation, I see that interim Prime Minister Allawi announced today that seven foreign nationals had been held in relation to election day attacks. Are there any indications as to which countries those seven came from?
While the vote was a major blow for freedom and democracy and against tyranny and terrorist intimidation, is not the key to its longer-term success the breadth of the turnout in all parts of Iraq and across the various ethnic and sectarian divides? I see from the reported remarks of the UN's Carlos Valenzuela that higher numbers of Sunnis than expected turned out to vote, and that in the former rebel stronghold of Falluja queues were seen forming outside polling stations. Is not that a welcome vindication of the anti-insurgency action taken by multinational forces in rebel areas over recent months? And was it not encouraging that, in most areas, Iraqi forces took the lead in providing the necessary security to allow the poll to proceed? I, too, pay tribute to them for that.
Now we must look to the future. The new Transitional National Assembly and Government will now draw up, as we have heard, a constitution to put to
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the people in a referendum later this year. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that all elements of Iraqi society must be involved in the drawing up of that constitution if they are to feel a sense of ownership in it? What steps will be taken to ensure that, even where low turnout or boycott have caused under-representation of certain crucial elements in the new Assembly, those elements can still become part of the constitution-formulating process? Looking further to the future, can the Foreign Secretary comment on the words of Iraqi interim Interior Minister Falah al-Nakib yesterday:
Can the Foreign Secretary comment on the extraordinary reports today that since the war almost $9 billion of Iraqi oil revenue has gone missing from a fund specifically set up for Iraq reconstruction, and that mismanagement by the coalition provisional authority was to blame? I am sure that he will agree that that is a most serious allegation. What steps are he and his Department taking to follow this up?
Yesterday's elections are a positive step towards a stable and democratic Iraq, which has been the long-standing goal of all of us who supported the war. Of course one poll does not deliver democracy; indeed, sometimes in history it has delivered the opposite. Yesterday's vote, however, was good for Iraq, the middle east and freedom. For that we must all be thankful. Our hope must now be that it will set the path for wider peace and harmony throughout that troubled region.
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks. He asks me essentially to speculate about the causes of the crash yesterday. With respect, I would rather not do so. A board of inquiry has been established, and it is appropriate that it should deal with the causes.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a very good point about turnout. We do not know what the turnout will be, but if it is at or above 60 per cent., then on the basis on which Members are in this House it must be a highly legitimate election.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises an important point about how inclusive the process of forming the Transitional Government will be. It will be very inclusive and, as I pointed out, Ayatollah Sistani, who represents a substantial part of the Shi'a majority, has made that clear. There are protections for both the Sunni and the Kurdish minorities, as I have spelled out, but it is also worth bearing it in mind that even if, as a result of a lower Sunni turnout, the Sunnis have fewer members in the Transitional National Assembly than their population would suggest, it would be open to the government's appointing panel to appoint Sunnis to the government, because it is not a requirement that members of the Iraqi Government be members of the TNA.
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The mandate for the multinational forceit of course includes the British forcewas established in resolution 1546, which states that the mandate will be reviewed in June this year and will terminate, unless extended by a further Security Council resolution, this December. Meanwhile, as the Iraqi Interior Minister implied, the question of whether foreign forces should be on Iraqi soil is entirely a matter for the Iraqis themselves. I heard Dr. Shaikhly, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Kingdom, say yesterday on the BBC that this election could not have taken place but for the presence of the multinational force of the United States, the United Kingdom and other contributor forces to the coalition. We proved yesterday that it is there not as an army of occupation, but as a force for democracy by, for and of the Iraqis. We will only stay there as long as we are needed, but how long that is depends almost entirely on how quickly the Iraqis' own forces can be built up. However, yesterday's experience was a good one in terms of their ability to deal with such matters.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): May I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the expressions of sympathy with which the Foreign Secretary began his statement, and express our regret at the loss of life? I have no detailed questions to ask the Foreign Secretary about the circumstances of the crash; I am content to wait until the Government feel able to release such details as are appropriate.
It would be churlish not to salute the courage of the ordinary citizens of Iraq who have voted in such numbers; nor would it be right to complain if the British Government felt a moment of satisfactioneven reliefat the fact that the election has taken place with such success. The Foreign Secretary will doubtless agree, however, that this is no time for triumphalism, and we would do well to accept Kofi Annan's sober judgment that this is merely the beginning. May I therefore ask the Foreign Secretary what steps can be taken to strengthen and improve the quality of the Iraqi security forces? What practical steps can be taken to ensure that the political process now set in motion will be as inclusive and representative of all opinions as he, the shadow Foreign Secretary and I consider desirable? What steps can be taken to improve delivery of public services such as water, sanitation and electricity, and to deal with unemployment?
The Foreign Secretary knows that my colleagues and I were opposed to military action, but we have accepted the moral obligation that that action imposed on us all. However, that commitment cannot be open-ended. The United Nations' mandate is due to expire at the end of 2005. Should not United Kingdom forces be withdrawn by then?
I understand the position in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman finds himself, but I should point out that there is no question of "triumphalism". No one
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feels triumphal about what has happened in Iraq, but there is a great sense of relief. I should also point out as gently as possible that we all have to bear responsibility for the consequences of our own actions. Some of us in all parts of the Housea majoritydecided on a course of action on 18 March 2003 that has caused much heart-searching. It meant that each of us individually, as well as collectively, has come under a huge amount of criticism, and in some cases much worse. We all made that decision because we felt that it was the right decision and that the outcome, however difficult, would be to produce a better Iraq than that which had gone before. So it has turned out. We now have the beginnings of a democratic Iraq. No one can gainsay what happened yesterday, which we have seen with our own eyes and through the eyes of observers.
I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, whose party has made so much of the position that it took in respect of Iraq, that the consequence of the decision that his party took was that there would be no democratic elections in Iraq. Saddam would still be in power, and the only elections that would have taken place in Iraq would have been a continuation of those ruthless elections in which the only issue was whether the leading candidatethe only candidategot 99 or 100 per cent. of the vote. We bear responsibility for our actions, including the loss of life of British soldiers that has taken place. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's party bears responsibility for the strategy that he and his colleagues resolutely pursued, which, whatever their good reasons, had the consequence, whether intended or inadvertent, of keeping Saddam in power and crushing the very idea of democracy in Iraq. The British people can make their own judgment about that.
Let me answer the other two questions that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised. He asked what we are doing about water, sanitation and so on. We are doing everything we can. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is present. He and his Department have been indefatigable in pursuing the aid and reconstruction programme, along with other international partners. The one thing that has set back the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq has been the terrorism. That is why we must have our multinational forcesBritish forces, United States forces and forces from other countriesas long as the Iraqi forces cannot cope themselves.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says we should make a commitment to withdraw our forces by the end of the year. If we were to decide that now, in advance of knowing what the security situation will be, we would be going back to the situation that his party wanted, where the forces of democracy are weakened and the forces of tyranny are strengthened. It would be utterly irresponsible for the House or the Government to make a premature decision about the withdrawal of British and other forces.
It is for the Iraqis themselves to make that judgment. If the Iraqi Government were to say today that our mandate had ended, we would leave tomorrow, but so far they have said, and we all understand this, that they do not like the idea of foreign forces on their soilnobody doesbut they understand fully that without
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foreign forces on their soil for a period, they cannot rebuild their country and create the freedom, security and democracy that they so desperately need.
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