Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab): For many of us, the enthusiasm that we saw yesterday in many parts of Iraq reminded us of the post-liberation election in South Africa in 1994. Is it not ironic, however, that a blocking mechanism on the constitutiontwo thirds of the electorate in three provinceswhich was designed to protect the Kurds, may, unless we are careful, be used by Sunni elements if they feel excluded from the process? So is there not now a very strong incentive to ensure that the Sunni elements who, often for good patriotic reasons, stayed outside the elections are brought within the big tent and feel part of the process?
Even though I agree that it would be wholly premature to give a date now for withdrawal, if we accept that the new Government are in the driving seat, should we not reconsider with them a staged withdrawal, province by province, to show that they are indeed in charge?
Mr. Straw: It showed great foresight when the drafters of the transitional administrative law put in the mechanism allowing a two-thirds vote in three of the provinces to block the constitution. It was originally put in as a protection for the Kurds, but is there now as a protection for the Sunni as well. All of us understand the apprehension of perfectly decent Sunni about whether they will be excluded from the political process, but it is the determination not only of us, but especially of the Iraqis, that that should not be the case, and there are mechanisms ensuring that it is not. On a timetable, the point is premature. Resolution 1546 lays down a clear timetable for review and termination of the mandate at the end of this year, unless it is renewed. It will be renewed only if the Iraqis themselves plainly ask for it, but they may well do so, because their own forces may not be fully ready.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): The profound sympathy of the Foreign Secretary and the whole House will be much welcomed by my constituents at RAF Lyneham, who have so tragically lost nine of their number, although the healing of their hearts and of the surrounding communities will take a very long time indeed. I hope that that process will be helped by the knowledge that the sheer professionalism, determination and guts of the men and women of RAF Lyneham have made such a significant contribution to the successful elections yesterday. I hope that, through their grief, they will realise that their men have made some contribution to restoring democracy and peace in Iraq.
I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman passed on directly to the families concerned and all those on the base our profound condolences and those of the whole House for what has happened. He speaks of their sheer professionalism. I have had the privilege of flying in a C-130 Hercules, as a number of hon. Members have, and of seeing their astonishing professionalism, including, for example, in tactical flying at between 100 and 150 ft, lower than most helicopters, where they will normally fly at speed for kilometre after kilometre
31 Jan 2005 : Column 581
in that dangerous territory of Iraq. Without their bravery and professionalism, we would not have been able to do the job that we have done, culminating at this stage in the elections that went so well yesterday. It is of little comfort, but maybe some solace for the families concerned, that those who died did so for a very great cause.
Ross Cranston (Dudley, North) (Lab): A tragic shadow is cast by the death of our servicemen, but my right hon. Friend was absolutely right to enthuse about the response of Iraqis to democracy, which certainly puts paid to what a number of the doubting Thomases in this country have been peddling. In terms of the next stage under resolution 1546, does he think that there is any mileage in making available the UK experience with devolution as one way of accommodating both the Kurds and the Sunnis?
Mr. Straw: The Iraqis have available to them a wide variety of experience of setting up federal or quasi-federal constitutions. Our experience is quite important, as we have produced an asymmetrical arrangement, and yet it is one that is working well. Also available are the experiences in Switzerland and Belgium, which are regarded as classics of their kind in terms of maintaining a federal structure and a unified country with a high level of devolution. We will certainly ensure that that experience is made available.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary have any new information that he can give the House about the trial of Saddam Hussein, which will presumably be an appropriate way in which to build on the hopes for freedom engendered yesterday? More disturbingly, does he accept and will he convey to the Ministry of Defence that great distress was caused yesterday to relatives of servicemen flying Hercules aircraft in Iraq, including some living in my constituency, when news was given out of a specific type of aircraft coming down, but before the next of kin were informed? Would it not be wise to do everything possible, while recognising the immense operational difficulties involved, to minimise the time interval between news of a specific aircraft coming down and the informing of next of kin, so that those whose relatives are safe can at least sleep more easily?
I have no further information as I stand here about the trial of Saddam Hussein, but I will write to the right hon. Gentleman and place a copy of my letter in the Library. I shall certainly raise the points that he has made with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Having spoken to the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, I can say that my colleagues are very well aware of the necessity wherever possible to inform next of kin before any publicity is given. I understandthis is only my understandingthat the reports about the crash were made by news outlets initially and not by the Ministry of Defence. We live in a kind of global goldfish bowl, which has some advantages, but many disadvantages in circumstances such as these.
31 Jan 2005 : Column 582
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab): May I join my right hon. Friend in saluting the courage of those millions of Iraqis who went to the polls despite the grim security situation in that country and may I associate myself with his congratulations to our ambassador, Edward Chaplin, and his staff for the difficult and delicate task that they have had to perform on behalf of our country?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that now that the forces of democracy have been released in Iraq, there is an obligation on us to listen to the demands of the newly elected representatives? Will he confirm that the great majority of the parties standing in yesterday's elections stood on a mandate for negotiation to end the occupation? Is my right hon. Friend sensitive to the fact that if we want to achieve a constructive and positive partnership with the new Assembly, we must convince it and the Iraqi public that we have a clear perspective for withdrawal within a realistic time line?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his salute to the Iraqis' courage and for his congratulations to the ambassador in Baghdad, Edward Chaplin, and his colleagues. My right hon. Friend knows those people, and their skill and professionalism, very well.
Of course, we have an obligation not only to listen to the elected representatives of the new Transitional Government, but to do what they say in respect of the future of the multinational force. Frankly, an issue about ending the occupation does not arise. In terms of its legal and practical effect, the occupation ended with the passage of resolution 1546. Since then, the multinational force has been there at the invitation, and only at the invitation, of the Interim Iraqi Government, who are now to be the Transitional Government. Of course, one item on that Government's agenda will be when they want us to go, but we have had no indication that any serious and responsible Iraqi politicians want us to go before our job is done. The moment they do soit is their judgment, not ourswe will go.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): In thanking the Foreign Secretary for what he just said and for the tone and content of his statement, will he take an early opportunity to talk to his new counterpart, when he or she is appointed, to make it plain that the British Government will make no unilateral commitment of any sort other than to stand by the democratically elected Government of Iraq and the principles on which they were elected?
Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab):
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement as a huge step forward for Iraq. While our thoughts are rightly with the British victims of the Hercules crash, he will be aware that in recent months a number of young Iraqi army recruits and policemen have been killed by terrorists and insurgents, even during the election period. Will the Government take the opportunity to pay tribute to those people and, alongside the new Iraqi Government, to look at ways of helping their bereaved families?
31 Jan 2005 : Column 583