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John Reid: I shall come back to the subject of Iraq, if hon. Gentlemen wish to wait.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. I know that he will join me in paying tribute to the 10 constituents who were killed in the terrible Hercules crash in Iraq recently, and I was pleased that he was able to attend the wonderful service in Salisbury cathedral in memory of them. Can he tell us when the report into the causes of that crash will be published?
John Reid: On the first point, yes, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I do indeed join him in expressing my deep, deep regret and condolences to the families of the servicemen whose lives were lost in that Hercules crash. From speaking to some of the families, I know that the hon. Gentleman has been involved in helping them as a constituency MP and more widely. I cannot give him a specific date. Obviously, I want the report as quickly as possible because I know that the grief of a family is only compounded by a lack of knowledge of the circumstances of that loss. I therefore hope it will be published as quickly as possible. I undertake after today's debate to go back and make a further gentle inquiry. I do not want to be seen in any way to interfere with inquests or inquiries of any kind. I may create another problem if people get the suspicion that a Minister is somehow intervening. Nevertheless, it is perfectly legitimate from time to time to inquire, and I undertake to write to the hon. Gentleman and to the families to give them my latest appreciation of the situation, provided that does not transgress any of the independent players looking into the matter.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD) rose
John Reid: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, although I was about to set out the premise of my approach to international affairs. It seems that we are dealing with all the other bits first.
I am grateful for the Minister's generosity. He was beginning to touch on the question of troop withdrawal. Some in America have said that the American army may be in Iraq for 10 years. Can the
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right hon. Gentleman envisage any circumstance in which the British forces may be withdrawn, even if the Americans continue in place in Iraq?
John Reid: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. On the first part, I do not know of anybody who has said that the American forces would be there for 10 or 15 years, certainly not in their present configuration. I do know that my opposite number, the Secretary of State for Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, has said that he envisagesin contradistinction to some other comments that have been madethat it will not be an easy or a short insurgency to defeat, and that the insurgency could last for 5, 10, 12 or more years. That is not to say that the counter-insurgency will inevitably be led by forces other than Iraqis for that time period. The purpose of what we are trying to do now is genuinely to place the future democratic control of Iraq, with all its difficulties, with all its religious and ethnic groupsSunni, Shi'a, Kurdand to accompany that by a democratically controlled security force capable of defending that democracy and taking on the insurgency.
While it is possible to envisage a prolonged insurgency, through imported terrorism or through disaffected elements of the former regimeor through alienated members of the Sunni populationit is also possible, as the political element and the security of Iraq increase, to envisage that element taking a lead. That means that there is no definite time scale, but rather the prospect of a conditional withdrawal. I assure the hon. Gentleman that at the point at which the democratically elected Iraqi Government say "We would like you to go", we will go. I hope that that answers his question.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I know that some NATO countriessome NATO allieshave played their part very well in supporting us in Iraq, and have sent many troops. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that all NATO allies have done enough to support us in what we are trying to doin our attempts to bring stability and democracy to Iraq?
John Reid: There are two issues here. One is the number of multinational forces we have in Iraq, and the number of countries involvedsome 27. The other is the specific issue of NATO.
No one needs to be a genius to understand that the origins of the intervention in Iraq were other than non-controversial. Many of our NATO partners took a view that was different from ours. Therefore, when they are encouraged to come together and provide support, inside or outside Iraq, for the rebuilding of both a democratic Iraq and the security forces there, that must be done with a degree of persistence but with sensitivity. At present, given all the circumstances, I am happy that all the NATO partners are contributing in what is the best way for them, in the light of the position from which they started.
There are, for instance, countries that do not want to have troops on the ground in Iraq, but which are nevertheless helping to train the Iraqi police force, or have made offers of that nature. I think that, in all the circumstances, the international community has responded. I am always trying to urge the institutions, including the United Nations, to play a greater role in assisting the Iraqis themselves.
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We would never want to reach a point at which, on balance, the presence of our forces was more a problem than a solution. There will always be an element of both in the presence of multinational forces, but we want to be sure that our forces are contributing more to the solution of the security problem than they are contributing to the problem itself.
Lembit Öpik: Will the Secretary of State give way?
John Reid: May I make a little progress first? I shall take interventions from Opposition Members shortly.
I shall now abbreviate and simplify what I was going to say. As this is my first debate on this subject, I was going to outline my personal approach. Over the past few yearsever since the statement that our foreign policy, the foreign policy of a new Government, should have a moral and ethical dimensionit has been easy to gain the impression that we have fallen into what our critics would call a certain pragmatism, and what others would describe as a neo-conservative agenda elsewhere. Let me set out in simple terms my own view of Britain's role in the world.
I believe that at home, domestically, as citizens of this country, we do not have absolute rights, and we do not have the right to get ahead irrespective of the consequences of our actions for others. I hope that our political backgroundcertainly that of Labour Membersis one in which the role of a citizen of this country is encompassed by a combination, or balance, of rights, interests and responsibilities. I see our role in the world in exactly the same way. We are citizens of the world, a world that is shrinking almost visibly before us. Acts which, long ago, could be branded as something happening in faraway countries of which we knew little and for which we cared even less are now brought before our eyes every day through new technology and communications. Transportation systems take us from one part of the world to another in unbelievably short times. If we ever believed that our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world were no responsibility of ours, it gets harder by the year to do so. Therefore, in the international community and as a citizen of the world, this country has our rights to defend, our interests to maintain and also our responsibilities to discharge. In doing that, we sometimes have to use diplomacy, finance, aid and tradeall the matters that are being discussed at the G8and also fighting power.
Sometimes we have to use fighting power to separate others, and sometimes to bend others to our will. That is the general approach that I take. In other words, I simply reject the view that if we take a form of action that coincides with anyone else's action, it is because it derives from some imposed neo-conservative view; it is because it derives from our own view of the world, whichat given points in timecoincides with action by those who hold other points of view.
The Secretary of State's comments are helpful and enlightening. Do his comments mean that we are not necessarily committed to maintaining our troop presence in Iraq, for example, just because the Americans are there? Is it possible, at least in theory, for us to withdraw our forces even if the Americans are still on the ground?
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John Reid: I never find these hypothetical questions very helpful. We are a sovereign nation, but we have responsibilities and allies. Chief among those allies is the United States. In general terms, I have made my view known. I spent decades opposing the US when it was bringing down democratic Governments and installing dictators. I do not have a problem when it brings down dictators and puts in democratic Governments, but that is not true for everyone.
In specific terms, in my opinion, the US armed forces and the population have shown a resilience and courage in Iraqthe hon. Gentleman will have his own views on that and, indeed, he has expressed themthat no one would have envisaged 10 or 15 years ago under such circumstances. Tragically, casualty figures for the Americans in Iraq are now approaching 1,800. We are a sovereign nation, but we will stay as long as the Iraqi Government want us and until the sort of conditions that I outlined earlier have been met. That is what we mean by saying that we will stay until the job is done.
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