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Fireworks (Amendment)

Mr. David Amess accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Fireworks Act 2003; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 10 March, and to be printed [Bill 106].

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Christmas Adjournment

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

1.37 pm

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): First, I   wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, Mr. Speaker and all his team a merry Christmas.

I must say that I am disappointed that the House is adjourning without a proper debate on Iraq. Last month, the UN Security Council extended the mandate for US and UK troops to continue in Iraq for another year. It had been due to expire at the end of this year, after the recent 15 December parliamentary elections. Those have been held and we have been told that they were a success. At least one of the official reasons for the continued military presence has been changed.

There has been no debate in the House of that decision or of the UK position on it either beforehand or afterwards. Barely any proper debate has been allowed in the country's media about the central policy question of whether the troops should stay or go. The BBC tells me that it has "reported on Iraq enough", but reporting events and atrocities is not the same as facilitating policy discussion on such an important issue.

The Security Council extended its own mandate on the basis of a letter by the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, saying that the Iraqi armed forces should be ready gradually to begin taking over from coalition forces by   the end of 2006. There is no rush, then, and the   foreign presence is envisaged to go on and on. The non-occupying powers on the Security Council—France, Germany and Russia—have other concerns and interests to tend and saw no diplomatic sense in confronting the US and the UK on the matter: the allies can stew in the mess of their own making. The concession that they satisfied themselves with was that the mandate should be reviewed in June. The decision that the troops should stay—which I oppose—means that the atrocities, the killing and the bitter conflict, which are preventing Iraq from settling down and developing, will continue for many more years.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): The hon. Gentleman talks about Iraq in general, but does he accept that there are three regions in Iraq, and that the northern region under President Barzani—the Kurdish region—has shown great advances economically, politically, in human rights and in social development? At least it is safe there, and that could provide a model for the other two areas of Iraq. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in hoping that those will proceed in the same way?

Harry Cohen rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Before the hon. Gentleman replies, may I remind Members that there is a 15-minute time limit on all speeches? I   apologise for the fact that I forgot to do so earlier.

Harry Cohen: I acknowledge the progress in the north, but the people there did not have the same sanctions as the rest of the country, because they had an
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exclusion zone. I am not in favour of Iraq being broken up, and I shall come back to that point later.

The coalition military presence fuels the insurgency, which is viewed by many in Iraq as a war of national liberation to end foreign occupation. The activities of the overseas forces—such as what happened in Abu   Ghraib, torture, the use of white phosphorous, extraordinary rendition, and even destroying police stations with remote detonators to free soldiers dressed as Arabs—alienate the Iraqi people, and are recruiting sergeants for the insurgents.

I want to share with the House some extracts from the brilliant Glen Rangwala's November paper "What would disengagement mean?", because it puts the argument extremely well:

that is being mooted at the moment—

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I am aware of the work of Dr. Rangwala, who did a splendid job when he exposed the dodgy dossier, but I find the logic of that quotation hard to follow. If the number of troops is reduced, the number of attacks on them will not necessarily diminish, nor will the number of casualties necessarily fall because there are fewer troops on the streets. The number of attacks would be just as likely to increase, because a sign of weakness would have been shown, so the number of casualties could rise.

Harry Cohen: Indeed; the Russians discovered that in Afghanistan. By the logic of that argument, the hon. Gentleman wants more and more troops, because if we start to take any troops away, that is "weakness".

I think that Dr. Rangwala's argument is well made. Let me continue with it:

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That is the key to any solution.

Here is a good factual passage in the text of the paper:

In reality, the coalition is in total control of the Iraqi forces, and there is very little movement away from that.

This is my last quotation from Dr. Rangwala:

Dr. Rangwala goes on to say that the coalition policy has already bolstered rather than demobilised party militias, and that there is unlikely to be any growth in militia power, because instead of adopting the policy of developing a unified non-sectarian armed force for Iraq, we have helped Iraqi forces become more sectarian. I   recommend Dr. Rangwala's paper. The rest of it is as scathing as the passages that I have quoted.

What we are seeing is not portents of progress or peace, and the coalition alliance is overwhelmingly to blame for that. It wants to pretend that it is phasing down its occupation and handing over authority, whereas it is doing no such thing. It remains overwhelmingly the determinant of all major policy and involvement in the killing fields.

Of course, like other Members, I welcome the recent elections in Iraq, and the Sunni population's participation in them. A proper Iraqi coalition government must now be formed, and the sectarianism curtailed, not exacerbated. Real authority must be handed over to such a government, but the portents for that are not strong. All the major Shi'a and Sunni elected parties had two central policy platforms: the unity of Iraq—maintaining its sovereignty and its not
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being broken up—and the withdrawal of foreign troops. Democracy is not just about voting; it is about implementing what the people voted for.

I realise that I have already read a lot of quotes into the Hansard record, but I want also to quote some key points from an article in last Sunday's edition of The   Sunday Times by Hala Jaber, the journalist who recently re-entered Falluja. As the House knows, Falluja was subject to a massive assault by US forces, which we were assisting, in November 2004. She said:

She goes on to refer to that Operation, Phantom Fury, and points out that

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