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Mr. Straw: We do pay tribute to their great bravery. Notwithstanding the level of casualties that the Iraqi army and other security forces have suffered, I am pleased to say that recruitment levels are high and morale is improving. It is clear that the success of the Iraqi forces yesterday will help to defeat terrorism in the months ahead and to raise the morale of those forces.
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): The manner in which yesterday's elections appear to have been conducted is the best news to have come out of Iraq for a very long time, but it remains to be seen whether it improves the security situation. I rather doubt that that will be so in the short term, but, as more and more Iraqis show their support for the Government that they have elected, perhaps support for the terrorists will decline.
The Foreign Secretary said that the presence of allied forces is an essential part of that security operation. However, although they are part of the solution, they are also part of the problem in that they are often a target and make it difficult for Iraqi security forces to operate because they are often seen, wrongly, as being the proxy for American and British forces. At some point, the Iraqis must take over responsibility for their own security. I suggest that that will be easier in the absence of allied forces, who are perhaps seen as pulling the strings, and that he should consider not keeping our forces there for long after the elections at the end of this year on the basis of the new constitution.
Mr. Straw: I anticipate that the security situation will remain difficult for some time but it is also clear that the fact that elections took place and the Iraqi people's overwhelming endorsement of the democratic process will weaken support for the terrorists and greatly help stability and security in the medium and long term.
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that many who actively campaigned against Saddam Hussein years before he invaded Kuwait and also opposed the invasion of Iraq because they believed that the prospectus was false can none the less acknowledge success with the generosity of spirit that it deserves? Does he also accept that many questions remain unanswered and many concerns have not yet been tackled, not least a genuine audit of the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed, including in Falluja, during the war and the occupation?
Mr. Straw: I understand the basis of my hon. and learned Friend's initial comments. When I made the point about the consequences of people's actions, I did not say that people wished Saddam to remain in Iraq. It simply happens to be an obvious fact that a consequenceintended or unintendedof failing to vote for military action on 18 March is that Saddam would still have been there and the elections would not have happened.
I gave a full written ministerial statement about casualty figures in the autumn. I am happy to send my hon. and learned Friend a copy. The most reliable
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figures that are now issued come from the Iraqi Ministry of Health, although there are serious methodological difficulties about their categorisationas some being caused by terrorists and others by the security forces. However, those figures appear to be the more reliable. The figures that The Lancet suggested, which range from 8,000 to 194,000there was never an estimate of 100,000need to be treated with the greatest scepticism.
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that many of those who voted against the war in March voted for pursuing action through the United Nations in the earlier vote in February? A key matter is that the action was not taken legally within a United Nations framework. I accept the success of the elections, which were conducted through the United Nations thus demonstrating what it can achieve when supported internationally. Will the right hon. Gentleman ascertain what the United Nations can achieve in Iran as well as in Iraq?
Mr. Straw: To repeat the point, at the moment of decision, which was not February 2003 but 18 March 2003, the possibility of weakening Saddam through sanctions was not available. Everybody knows that. The choice before the House at the point of decision was between taking military action or walking away, with the consequence that sanctions would have degraded and Saddam would have re-emerged, strengthened and much emboldened. A majority in the House made one choice, others, including Plaid Cymru, made another. We take responsibility for our choice; the hon. Gentleman must take responsibility for his. It is an indelible fact that the consequences of the Liberal Democrat, Scottish nationalist and Welsh nationalist policy would have been that Saddam, an undemocratic tyrant, would still be there and there would have been no elections yesterday. Those parties must understand that.
David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Following that, do not those who say that they were always against Saddam's tyranny have a responsibility to tell us how that tyranny could have been destroyed without military action, and how genuine democratic elections could have taken place without the intervention of the occupying forces nearly two years ago? On the occupation, would it not be wise for all the Governments involved, including the British Government, regularly to review the position, for obvious reasons?
Mr. Straw: Of course I accept what my hon. Friend said at the outset. Those who willed the end had a responsibility to will the means, but they failed to do so. I have set out the timetable for the review of the mandate of the multinational force, and I believe that it would be most appropriate, certainly for the British Government, to stick to the timetable in resolution 1546.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con):
I associate myself with the most moving tributes paid by the Foreign Secretary and by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) regarding the tragic loss of the C-130 Hercules crew yesterday. I am most appreciative of the unsung heroes of the Royal
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Air Force's air transport force, who, in war, emergency and times of humanitarian catastrophe, fly in the most demanding circumstances at great personal risk. May I ask the Foreign Secretary to look forward to the time when Iraq is an established democracy born of the common sacrifice of British and Iraqi security personnel, and to make an investment in the training of such personnel at British training schools such as Sandhurst, so that, over the months and years ahead, we can more fully build a peaceful future for Iraq?
Mr. Straw: I associate myself entirely with the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks. I understand from the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence that there will indeed be offers from the British Government of such support and training for the Iraqi national forces.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): After months of reporting and comment that can only be described as selective, will my right hon. Friend pass on to those elements of the British media that appear to have had a change of heart in the past 72 hours our polite and respectful thanks for having acknowledged that it was right to go ahead with the election, that it was a success and that the seeds of hope in Iraq have not only been sown but are germinating?
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): The shadow Foreign Secretary mentioned that a number of foreign nationals had been detained in connection with offences against the election yesterday. What preliminary assessment has been received from our embassies in Damascus and Tehran of the reaction of the regimes in Syria and Iran to yesterday's election? How does the Foreign Office think that the election will affect relations between those two countries and Iraq?
Mr. Straw: I am afraid that I have not seen any preliminary assessments from our posts in Damascus and Tehran, but I will be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman when I have done so. The Iranian Government have been supportive of the process; it is a majority of the people we might call their compatriots, the Shi'a, who in one sense stand to gain the most from the elections. I am not clear about the position of the Damascus Government, but we have looked to both Governments to ensure that they do not interfere in the internal processes of Iraq.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): Is it not an awkward and unpalatable reality that Kurds went into the polling booths yesterday and voted in their tens of thousands for parties that had promised not a federal Kurdistan, let alone a Kurdistan integrated into Iraq, but a separate Kurdish state? What is the attitude of our Government towards possible demands for the break-up of the Iraqi nation, given the difficulties that might result if the Iraqi Kurds were to be associated with the Kurds in Turkey and Iran?
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