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In relation to the contact group, there is already such a group. The issue is the extent to which Iran and Syria are going to play a constructive role in it. To be absolutely frank about it, some of the debates about what our relationship is with Iran and Syria and whether or not we are dealing with them can seem more contradictory than they really are. Ultimately, the
question is this. We are perfectly prepared to deal with Iran and Syria in relation to supporting and helping the situation in Iraq, provided they are prepared to do so. The issue is whether they are prepared to do so. In respect of Syria, I think there is some sign that the Syrian Government are prepared to help. We cannot be sure of this, but there are some tentative signs.
In respect of Iran, I have to say, it is perfectly obvious to usin this sense, we support entirely what the Americans were saying last weekthat the ordnance, much of which was used against British soldiers, has an Iranian origin. No one can be sure of the precise degree to which those in the senior levels of the Iranian Government are complicit, but it is certainly very clear that that is the origin of that weaponry.
So the issue with Iran and Syria is that we could have any number of groups and they could come to the meetings, but what would they say when they came? Would they help or would they hinder? That is the issue that we need to explore.
In respect of Irans suspension of its nuclear enrichment, we will try to get a strong united European position. It is clear that, as a result of the measures that have been taken, including the financial sanctions and the sending of the troop carrier, the warship, out there, there has been a change, but we need to keep up the pressure. A very serious and dangerous situation is happening in Iran.
On the broad fight against terrorism, there have been all sorts of debates about Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition, and I am not sure that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman[Hon. Members: What?] Incidentally, it is a matter of fact that the European report about Britains involvement in this is simply wrong. If we were to construct a broad alliance against this terrorism, and if I had to single out one, or possibly two, issues to deal with, they would not be to do with rendition or Guantanamo or even some of the things that should never have happened, such as Abu Ghraib, which have obviously been a problem for us too. I would say that the single biggest issue that we should resolve and deal with would be the Israel-Palestine question. We also need to tackle global poverty, particularly in parts of Africa, where, if we are not careful, this same type of extremism is going to take root. If we want a broad moral purpose, those are the two clearest issues that we could address.
We must also realise something else about these people. In my view, we will beat them when we realise that it is not our fault that they are doing it. We should not apologise [ Interruption.] No, I am sorry, we should not apologise for our values, for what we believe in or for what we do. The fact is that the values that we stand for are values that can unite Muslim, Christian and Jew, and people of different races and backgrounds, and terrorism will be better defeated if we do not apologise for our values but stand up for them.
On the inquiry, I have nothing to add to what I said before. I totally understand that it is sensible to learn the lessons, but we will get to that point when our troops are no longer functioning in a combat situation on the ground.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD):
The Prime Minister is right to say that we should not
apologise for our values, but that does not mean that we should avoid the responsibility of taking account of the consequences of our actions. Whatever views we may have on Iraq, we can all agree that our forces have conducted themselves with skill, professionalism and courage, as the Prime Minister has said. I, too, extend my sympathy to the families of those who have died, and to those who have been injured.
I welcome the Prime Ministers announcement of the troop withdrawals, especially in view of the remarks made by the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Guthrie, yesterday about overstretch and the difficulties being experienced by our armed forces. That does not alter my view of the need for a phased withdrawal with a target of the end of October, but I do not expect to be able to persuade the Prime Minister of that. We make common cause, however, in having regard to the history of our treatment of Iraq. In the period immediately following Halabja, the then British Government extended the amount of credit that they were willing to offer to Saddam Hussein, a matter commented on by Lord Justice Scott in his inquiry [ Interruption.] Well, if I may put it this way, let the blame lie where it should.
The unpalatable truth is that we will leave behind a country on the brink of civil war, in which reconstruction has stalled and corruption is endemic, and a region that is a lot less stable than it was in 2003. That is a long way short of the beacon of democracy for the middle east that was promised some four years ago.
I should like to ask the Prime Minister a number of questions. On the Iraq study group, when the Government expressed their general support for the findings of James Bakers committee, did they endorse what the committee said about phased withdrawal and the need to engage with Iran and Syria? James Baker said that
it is not appeasement to talk to your enemies,
yet the Bush Administrations response to these proposals [ Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) must be quiet. That is courtesy, and it is right that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should be able to address the House without her interfering.
Sir Menzies Campbell: When the Iraq study group under James Baker put forward those proposals, did the Government have them under contemplation when they said that they broadly agreed with his proposals? Does the Prime Minister agree that there has to be engagement with Iran as part of the wider regional engagement to which he referred? Will he ignore the voices in Washington that are arguingand perhaps even preparingfor military action against Iran? In that regard, will he take heed of the wise reservations expressed yesterday by his Chancellor of the Exchequer?
Does the Prime Minister expressly support President Bushs surge strategy, on which the United States Congress is now deeply divided? What assessment has been made of the likelihood of the displacement of terrorist activity to Basra as a result of that surge policy? Finallyand perhaps most significantly, in the
diplomatic contextwhat progress did Dr. Rice report to the Prime Minister in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following her recent visit to the middle east?
Does the Prime Minister understand that nothing that he has said today will persuade those in all parties who voted against military action in Iraq that they were anything but right to do so? Nor will it persuade the British public that military action was anything other than a major foreign policy mistake.
The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have been in close discussion with Secretary of State Condi Riceand, indeed, with the Presidenton this matter over the past few weeks. There are possibilities of progress and I hope that in the coming weeks a framework for taking this forward will become a little clearer. Perhaps it would not be sensible to say any more about that at this stage, but obviously I look forward to my discussions with President Abbas later today.
In respect of the strategy being pursued by American forces in Baghdad, the most important thing is that it is strongly supported by Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi Government. They recognise that the situation in Baghdad is different from that in Basra. In Baghdad, they want this security plan to be carried out and to move through the city and really take on the extremists. In Basra, the 10th Division of the Iraqi armed forces consists of about 5,000 troops and the truth of the matter is that it is capable of doing the job. A lot of the fire is directed at the multinational force, rather than involving sectarian violence, so it is a different situation there.
I do not have much to add to what I said to the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) earlier about the Iraq survey group. The Baker-Hamilton report made it clear that it wants to see a draw-down of American troops when the conditions are right, and that is also the strategy of the Bush Administration. It has never been our strategy to hold the troops there in perpetuity. On the contrary, as the Iraqi capability builds up, the need for our capability reduces. Of course, that will depend on the circumstances and on the time. In Baghdad, the extremists have redoubled their efforts, so we have had to redouble ours.
I have never agreed with those who say that the situation in the middle east was stable under Saddam, but there we are. That is a disagreement and there is no point in going back over it
Sir Menzies Campbell indicated dissent.
The Prime Minister:
Well, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the consequences of our actions, I agree that we are entirely responsible for the decision to remove Saddam. However, let me tell him about the profound nature of my disagreement with him over what has happened subsequently. Since the middle of 2003, a full United Nations democratic process has been available, which the Iraqi people have shown time and again that they want. It is not our actions that are preventing them from getting it; it is the actions of the extremists, the terrorists, and the
outside extreme elements linking up with the internal extreme elements to deliver chaos in the country. In those circumstances, since our actions are not causing thaton the contrary, we are trying to stop itour response should be to stand up and take those people on. That is the profound disagreement that I have with him: not about the original decision, on which we can just agree to disagree, but on the subsequent one. I cannot for the life of me see how it can be right, when those elements are conducting themselves in such a way, and the alternative has been voted for by the Iraqi people and backed by the UN, to say that we should walk away and leave them to get on with it.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): In paying tribute to my right hon. Friends dedicated efforts to bring about peace between Palestine and Israel, may I remind him that however repugnant Hamas may be, its election victory was as valid and democratic as that of the Israeli Government and the Iraqi Government? Imposing restrictions on the democratic decision of the Palestinian people, in all their poverty and deprivation, will simply strengthen their support for Hamas and make the settlement that he wants so much to achieve even more difficult.
The Prime Minister: I thank my right hon. Friend for his commendation of the efforts that we are making. I want to see a national unity Government, and it is far easier to deal with the situation in Palestine if there is one. It is difficult, however, for us to support that Government financially, or to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel, if they are not prepared at least to say that they renounce violence or terrorism as a way of getting progress, and that they favour a two-state solution, since that is the position of the international community. I hope that we can make progress, including with the more sensible elements of Hamas. It is not a question of ignoring Hamass mandate; the problem is how we can take the peace process forward with a Government who say that they do not even recognise the right of Israel to exist. At some point, we must find our way around that in a manner that is obedient to the Quartet principles; otherwise, we will find it very hard to make progress. My right hon. Friend will know that the political situation in Israelwhich is a democracywould make it hard for any Government there to make progress unless there was some give in relation to the recognition of Israels right to exist. How can we negotiate two states when one side says that the other should not exist? We must try to resolve that problem.
Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that of all the British newspapers today, The Sun got it most right when it said that the heroes who are coming back from Iraq deserve a heroes welcome? I was a little surprised, however, by what the Prime Minister said in answer to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Does not he agree that damage has been done to the reputation of both the United States and the United Kingdom by Guantanamo Bay and extraordinary rendition? Does not he agree that there is nothing to be said by way of apology for our values, but that we need to uphold our values and act on them?
The Prime Minister: I have said what I have said about Guantanamo Bay on many occasions. We should never forget that it arose out of the situation of 9/11, the problems in Afghanistan and so on. A judgment must be made, but if we are talking about how to win the battle of ideology, particularly in the Muslim world, the two issues that I have mentionedprogress on Israel-Palestine and progress on povertyare probably the major ones for those in the Muslim community here, let alone elsewhere. If we are standing up for the rule of law, I agree, of course, that we must promote that in an even-handed and sensible way.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend would agree that there are many heroes in Iraq, including the people of Iraq themselves. This week, we had a visit from a group of 11 representatives of teachers unions from Iraq. One of them was the wife of a man who had been executed by the regime, and another was a schools inspector who had spent four years on death row under the old regime. Whatever the leader of the Liberal Democrats saysI hope that he will go to Iraq soon, because unlike many of us, he has never been there, as far as I knowone of the teachers said:
We are optimistic that all these things will be ended within one year, two years, three years. Then we are expecting a new life, a better life.
Another teacher, Mohammed Saeed Hatem, said that the situation today
was still better than it was. A bloody dictatorship has gone.
The Prime Minister: Obviously, I agree wholeheartedly with what my right hon. Friend says.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The Prime Ministers statement sounded like a long self-justification for the horrors of the last four years, and at points almost like something prepared for the day of judgment rather than for the House of Commons. He says that he does not apologise for values, although he did apologise for the slave trade, for which he had no personal responsibility. Will he at least apologise for the misinformation on weapons of mass destruction, which took us into Iraq, and the carnage that has been a direct result?
The Prime Minister: I have already said what I have said on that on numerous occasions. The reason I entirely disagree with the hon. Gentleman
Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should let the Prime Minister answer. By the way, I am not responsible for his answer.
The Prime Minister: That is just as well for you, Mr. Speaker.
As to the point on which the hon. Gentleman and I disagree totally, what has happened in Iraq in the past few years, which has been grim and difficult, is sometimes presented as a consequence of planning that was not done right or an administrative fault somewhere. However, the reason why there has been a
problem is that the people whom we are fighting have a strategy: to plunge Iraq into chaos in order to stop democracy functioning. The point that I have made the whole time is that, given that the majority of Iraqis have indicated that they want peace, why should we not be at their side, helping them to get that democracy, rather than yielding to the same terrorism and ideology that killed the people on the train that we were hearing about just a short time ago? Ultimately, the hon. Gentleman believes that we should just walk away and let them get on with it; I do not.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is growing concern about what appears to be the mounting tension between northern Iraq and the Government of Turkey and, indeed, between the Kurds and Turkey? Given that some of the parties have apparently been involved in discussions with the American Administration, will the Prime Minister give the House a British perspective on those matters and an assurance that we will encourage dialogue and a peaceful solution to whatever problems there may be?
The Prime Minister: I entirely understand my right hon. Friends concerns. We track the situation carefully, and we work both with those in Kurdistan and in Turkey to try to diminish any tensions as far as possible. I entirely agree that that is a sensible objective.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): The Prime Minister is still in denial. Does he still not understand that the ability of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations to use Iraq as a battleground was only possible because of the decision that he and President Bush took to invade that country? Since then, not only has Iraq virtually disintegrated, with 100,000 Iraqi lives lost, but 2 million Iraqis have become refugees in fear of their lives and Iran has become the hegemonic power in the region. The Prime Minister is right that we should not apologise for our values, but I am afraid that he still has the obligation to apologise to this House and this country for his foolish decision to take this country to war in the first place.
The Prime Minister: I am afraid that, for obvious reasons, I completely disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I do not believe that it was right to leave Saddam Hussein, who had butchered hundreds of thousands of his people, and killed people using chemical weapons, in power. I do not believe that that was a sensible situation to leave in place. Again, as I have said to other hon. Members, the fact is that the reason why it is tough in Iraq is that terrorists are making it difficult. Therefore, our response [Interruption.] With the greatest respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, we did not cause the terrorism. The terrorists cause the terrorism. He has to understand that we will not defeat these people unless we stand up to them in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Anywhere where they rear their heads, we should be prepared to stand up and fight them. If we adopt the attitude that he has, we are well on the way to surrendering the initiative to them.
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