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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I assume that it was you, Mr. Speaker, who arranged for international affairs to be the first subject for discussion under the Queen's Speech. I thank you for doing that, because it is important that the subject be given the priority it deserves. The general election campaign from which we have just emerged is the first I can remember in which international affairs have played a significant part throughout. Every day dozens of people in my constituency raised the subject of Iraq with me, as well as global poverty and all that goes with it. Such a degree of understanding is most welcome.
To some extent, the Government's approach to international affairs has been contradictory. On the one hand, we have seen almost slavish support for George Bush and his neo-con foreign policy, which led us into the disastrous war in Iraq; on the other hand, we have seen the highly effective work of the Department for International Development to increase our aid budget and promote sustainable development and economies, the Government's support for the Kyoto treaty process, and the historic debt write-off proposals made by the Chancellor in various forums during the past few years. I hope that in this Parliament the Government will spend much more time, energy and effort on the latter aspects of foreign policy, rather than continue to be seen around the world as stooges for George Bush and his policies.
What is now happening in Iraq is a consequence of the invasion and occupation. I hope that the Government recognise that the longer we stay in Iraq with no endgame, no date for withdrawal and no proposal for withdrawal by the United States, the more the presence of United States and British forces will become, not the solution, but a greater part of the problems that that country faces. We need transparency. We need to know how many Iraqi people have died as a result of the invasion, what the effects have been of the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium, and what proposals there are for withdrawal from Iraq. I do not support or condone in any way the murderous attacks against civilians, but we have to recognise that, beyond that, there is a large popular civil movement throughout Iraq that is also calling for the withdrawal of British and American forces. We must acknowledge the fact that there is substantial unity across the piece in Iraq on the need for the withdrawal of those forces.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the legitimacy of the present Government of Iraq is undermined by the lack of Sunni representation? The Association of Muslim Scholars has said that it would encourage Sunnis to join the Government in the event of
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an agreement by the occupying powers to withdraw. Changing our policy in that way could lead to a much more stable Iraq.
Jeremy Corbyn: That is a fair point. The Government of Iraq are not seen to be representative of the entire population. They exist within the green zone in its strongest form; in the rest of the country, their writ is patchy. Perhaps the most effective forms of government in Iraq are to be found in the Kurdish regions in the north of the country, and I suspect that, in the foreseeable future, there will be serious and legitimate demands for total autonomy, if not outright independence, for those regions.
Iraq dominated the last Parliament and it will dominate the present one and international affairs until such time as we recognise the necessity of setting a date for withdrawal by British and United States forces.
Mr. Winnick: Although my hon. Friend and I differed sharply over the war, I too do not want British troopsor American troopsto remain in Iraq indefinitely. I acknowledge his comment a few moments ago, but does he agree that there must be the strongest possible condemnation of the way in which hundreds of Iraqis are murdered every week, not by the coalition forces, but by suicide bombers and terrorists? The victims are, first and foremost, women and children, but many active trade unionists have also been killed.
Jeremy Corbyn: Obviously, we all condemn the attacks that are going on and the terrible tragedy of the loss of life of entirely innocent civilians who are merely trying to make a living and survive in a difficult set of circumstances.
We must consider the effects of the invasion and also the forces that have been unleashed by that invasion that are causing the problem within Iraq. If we go into illegal warsI believe that this was an illegal waroccupy indefinitely and support a Government who are in part privatising and exporting the country's wealth, an opposition is created that is uncontrollable and the mayhem that we have seen is the result. There are some hard and serious lessons to be learned. It is an issue that dominated the minds of many people during the general election campaign, who only voted for the Labour party reluctantly. They were strongly opposed to the policies that the Government pursued on Iraq. It is a lesson that must be understood, learned and acted upon by the Government during this Parliament.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that Iraq was the foreign policy issue that was most frequently raised with Labour candidates on the doorstep? Does he also agree that the danger of an indefinite deployment of our troops in Iraq is that they will move from being seen as an army of liberation to being seen as an army of occupation? There is nothing in the history of the 20th century that suggests that the indefinite occupation by western troops of a third world country is politically sustainable.
My hon. Friend makes a valuable and correct point. The longer the troops stay when they are unwelcome, the harder it is for them to go, the more
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brutal is the departure and the more humiliating is the endgame. When the United States finally had to leave Vietnam in 1976, we all have memories of US helicopters evacuating people from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon. I plead with the Government to think carefully about the situation in Iraq and to give us some proposals and plans for the withdrawal of British and US forces from that country. They should think also of the longer term consequences within the region of the illegal nature of the war.
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Government also to commit themselves to establishing exactly how many civilian deaths there have been in Iraq? Once that figure is established and accepted by the Government, the argument will be moved on.
Jeremy Corbyn: I made that point earlier. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. There must be some independent verification of the number of civilians who have died during the invasion, since the invasion and as a result of the current unrest in Iraq. We need to know the full scale of horror.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) called Iraq a third world country. Yes, it is now, but it was not always thus. There was a period when Iraq had one of the highest standards of living within the region, with the best standards of health care and education. Those standards were certainly far better than anything in any neighbouring country. Sadly, that has all been destroyed.
The neo-con proposals appear to be to continue with heavy threats against Iran and possibly to move against Syria in future. I hope that there is no such plan to engage in further military adventures in the region. Instead, apart from withdrawal from Iraq, we should turn our attention to a solution to the problem in Palestine. When talking to anyone anywhere in the middle east, it is clear that the running sore throughout the political class is the issue of Palestine.
In January I had the good fortune to be in Palestine. I was in Gaza, as an observer during the presidential elections. There was relative calm on polling day by Gaza standards. There was some shooting by occupying forces in Rafiah and other places. Ordinary, decent people, wanting to survive, to live and to get their kids in schoolall that sort of thingsaid that living in Gaza is living in an open prison. Having spoken to people from the mental health foundation in Gaza, they legitimately told me that they thought that almost two thirds of the population had some degree of mental health problems because of the occupation and the stress that goes with it. The stress of occupation and povertyunemployment runs at 70 to 80 per cent.leads people to do crazy and extreme things. I condemn suicide bombing in any form, as it is ludicrous, wrong and abhorrent in every way, but we must consider the circumstances that breed such anger and outrage. We should listen to the voices of the peace movement in Israel and Palestine, and say firmly and bluntly to the Israeli Government that withdrawal from Gaza is not enough. There must also be withdrawal from the west bank, an end to the settlement policy and recognition of the role of east Jerusalem in a future Palestinian state. If we move in that direction, many other things become
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possible in both the region and the wider world. We must take that step and be prepared to put tough pressure on Israel to achieve withdrawal.
I could speak about many other issues, but I am conscious that many other Members wish to speak, so I shall refer briefly to only two other broad areas. During the election, the "Make Poverty History" day became a welcome feature of campaigning. The issue is crucialwe cannot continue to live in a world where a quarter of the population lives on the brink of starvation and call it a world of peace and justice. Interestingly, there was consensus among most of the political parties about the need to eliminate poverty globally. That is a credit to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), the former Secretary of State for International Development, and others who have done much to educate people about the realities of world poverty and what needs to be done to tackle it.
It is not enough to say that we will wear wrist bands or go to Trafalgar square to support the "Make Poverty History" programme unless we are prepared to do something about the issue. I welcome the document produced by the Commission for Africa, as it includes a welcome section on the colonial history of Africa, its impoverishment and the deskilling effects on the continent. Anyone who has visited the poorest African countries will accept that none of the millennium targets will be met, given the current rate of progress. In Angola, the majority of children barely receive any education at all. Those who do receive education are taught in classes of 70 or 80 in ramshackle buildings with no facilities whatsoever. The notion that we will conquer illiteracy within the time frame of the millennium goals is simply unrealistic. Many other problems including health care and associated areas must be addressed. AIDS is a huge issue, but it is not the only one affecting people's health throughout Africa.
The debt write-off proposals are very welcome, but we must also consider the issue of African trade and development. If the Government are serious about adhering to the commission's proposals, they must adopt a tough attitude towards the United States and the European Union at the next round of World Trade Organisation talks; otherwise we will continue with a policy that protects the richest farmers in the richest countries, impoverishes the poorest people in the poorest countries and prevents Africa as a producer continent from processing its own products.
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