Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Eighth Report

6  Iraq


166. The Foreign Affairs Committee has been carefully monitoring the situation in Iraq for a number of years. We most recently commented in detail on Iraq in our Report on Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, published in July 2006, and we also considered aspects of the situation in our Report on the FCO's Human Rights Annual Report, published in April 2007. We also heard oral evidence on Iraq in January 2007 jointly with the Defence Committee from both the Foreign and Defence Secretaries. We welcomed the opportunity that this joint session provided to scrutinise the Government's role in Iraq in a more holistic way. This Report has focused on the Government's policy towards the Middle East as a whole, and in particular on Israel and her Arab neighbours. This chapter, and the one that follows on Iran, should be seen in that context and we do not intend for them to be seen as the last word on all aspects of the Government's approach towards these two countries.

167. Our 2006 Report was written in the months immediately following the attack on the al-Askari shrine in Samarra on 22 February 2006. We noted that this attack had "unleashed a wave of sectarian conflict" and that there were concerns that "the country is slipping into civil conflict." We concluded that Iraq's neighbours had yet to take sufficient steps to prevent the movement of insurgent's across Iraq's borders. We further concluded that there was "serious concern" over the role of Iran in Iraq, and that this reinforced "the need for dialogue and engagement with Tehran."[271] This chapter considers how these issues have developed over recent months.

Recent Developments

The Security Situation

168. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has estimated that over 34,000 civilians met violent deaths in the country in 2006, including from "an unprecedented number of execution-style killings."[272] The Iraq Study Group (comprising of US politicians, officials and prominent personalities and led by former Secretary of State James Baker III and Senator Lee Hamilton) concluded in December 2006 that the situation in Iraq was "grave and deteriorating." It warned that if the situation continued to worsen, it could "trigger the collapse of Iraq's government" and lead to military intervention by neighbouring countries.[273]

169. In January 2007, the Bush Administration responded to the worsening security situation with a "New Way Forward in Iraq." This strategy, informally known as the 'surge', committed more than 20,000 extra US troops to Iraq, with the majority deployed in Baghdad. President Bush argued that "reducing the violence in Baghdad" would provide the political space to make "reconciliation" between Sunni and Shi'a groups possible.[274] When we took evidence from the then Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary in January 2007, Mrs Beckett told us that although the Government was fully supportive of the US strategy, it was not "our plan."[275] She argued that the implications of the plan for the UK were "somewhat limited" given its focus on Baghdad (the British deployment is concentrated in the south of the country).[276] Underlining the importance of the new US plan, she told us that if headway was not made in Baghdad, there would be "very, very serious difficulties."[277]

170. By July 2007, 30,000 additional US forces had been deployed to Iraq. This figure is significantly higher than the initial estimate of 20,000 troops. The commander of the US division responsible for Baghdad, Major General Joseph Fil, told a Pentagon briefing in July that US and Iraqi control of Baghdad was now at 48-49%, compared to 19% in April. He defined control as meaning "we have our security forces there and we're denying that space to enemy forces." However, the new strategy has brought about increased casualties amongst US troops. The three months of April, May and June led to more US deaths (over 100 each month) than in any other quarter since the conflict began.[278] In a speech to the House during a debate on Iraq in June, Mrs Beckett argued that it was "too early to make definitive judgments" on the success of the strategy. She noted "significant falls" in the recorded rate of sectarian murders in Baghdad, but also referred to the continuation of suicide bombings and calculated, symbolic attacks.[279]

171. In a statement to the House in February, the then Prime Minister announced that British forces would be reduced from 7,100 to roughly 5,500 by the summer.[280] In July 2007, the Defence Secretary announced that British troop numbers would fall to around 5,000 by November or December, following the handover of control of the UK headquarters, Basrah Palace, to the Iraqi authorities.[281] The new Prime Minister has told the House that the Government's role will be one of "over-watch".[282] In her speech in June, the then Foreign Secretary stated that British forces had handed over control to the Iraqis in three out of the four provinces in their area of operation. There was an "intensive drive" to bring the fourth—Basra—to a position where a handover could occur.[283] At the time of writing, the UK has suffered a total of 163 deaths in Iraq.[284]


172. In her contribution to the June debate on Iraq, the former Foreign Secretary commented on the central role of politics in the new Iraq strategy:

The initiative will be judged not solely on its immediate impact on the security environment, but on the extent to which Iraq's political leaders manage to make progress on the fundamental political issues that underlie so much of the violence.

Among the outstanding political issues, she highlighted the need to find agreement on the distribution of oil revenues, reforms to the process of de-Ba'athification, the establishment of a date for provincial elections, and revisions to Iraq's constitution. She said it was "imperative" for the future of Iraq that politicians make headway on these issues in the coming months.[285] In its quarterly progress report to Congress in June 2007, the Pentagon reported that "Iraqi politicians continue to make little progress toward enacting laws that could advance reconciliation".[286] Dr Howells told the Committee that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Government "have to take the question of sectarianism far more seriously than they have, and they have been told that openly."[287]

173. On 13 July 2007, the US House of Representatives voted for the third time this year in favour of legislation to end US military involvement in Iraq. It called for the Pentagon to begin to withdraw troops from Iraq in four months. The vote followed an interim report by President Bush on the new strategy in Iraq. The report said the security situation was "complex and extremely challenging", and that political reconciliation was lagging.[288] Progress on the legislation faltered in the Senate, where a blocking mechanism was used to prevent a final vote.[289]

174. We conclude that it is too early to provide a definitive assessment of the US 'surge' but that it does not look likely to succeed. We believe that the success of this strategy will ultimately ride on whether Iraq's politicians are able to reach agreement on a number of key issues. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government set out what actions it is taking to facilitate political reconciliation in Iraq.

175. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the FCO set out its key policy objectives in Iraq and how these objectives will be measured. This should include a section on how the Government is working to ensure the Iraqi Government meets its human rights obligations and makes a fair allocation of oil and gas revenue.

Iraq and the Region

176. The security situation inside Iraq cannot be divorced from broader regional considerations. As set out in this section, neighbouring countries have a role to play in bringing security to Iraq. Insecurity also threatens to ripple out from Baghdad to other parts of the Middle East.

177. The Iraq Study Group argued that "the policies and actions of Iraq's neighbours greatly influence its stability and prosperity." However, it suggested that these neighbouring states are "doing little" to help Iraq, with some (i.e. Iran and Syria) "undercutting its stability." It told of a senior Iraqi official who believes that all of Iraq's neighbours are intervening in the country. The study also reflected on how Iraq relates to the rest of the Middle East:

The situation in Iraq is linked with events in the region […] Several Iraqi, US, and international officials commented to us that Iraqi opposition to the United States—and support for [Moqtada al-] Sadr—spiked in the aftermath of Israel's bombing campaign in Lebanon. The actions of Syria and Iran in Iraq are often tied to their broader concerns with the United States.[290]

178. The Iraq Study Group quoted an Iraqi official who claimed that "Iran is negotiating with the United States in the streets of Baghdad." Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have been largely "passive and disengaged," although funding for the Sunni insurgency is believed to come from private individuals in Saudi Arabia. As the situation in Iraq deteriorates, these states have shown signs of greater activity. Jordan, home to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, "fears a flood of many more." Faced with growing instability, the Iraq Study Group argued that its neighbours could,

intervene to protect their own interests, thereby perhaps sparking a broader regional war. Turkey could send troops into northern Iraq to prevent Kurdistan from declaring independence. Iran could send in troops to restore stability in southern Iraq and perhaps gain control of oil fields.[291]

In June 2007, Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul announced that Turkey has planned a blueprint for the invasion of northern Iraq "in the finest detail" and that it would take action if US or Iraqi forces were unable to dislodge guerrillas of the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkish Generals have deployed 20-30,000 troops along the border with Iraq.[292]

179. There are growing concerns about Iran's involvement in Iraq. In our Report in 2006, we concluded that the organisation, weaponry and technology for a number of terrorist attacks in Iraq "emanated from within Iran."[293] Over the course of the past year, this claim has increasingly been made by the Government. In February 2007, the US published evidence that it claimed proved weapons responsible for killing coalition soldiers had come from Iran.[294] Later that month, the then Prime Minister said,

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.[295]

Simon McDonald, then Iraq Director at the FCO, told us in February that "the motivation and the authorisation" for supplying the weapons "are not clear."[296] In May 2007, the then Prime Minister went further in his assessment of Iranian involvement by stating that "elements of the Iranian regime" were backing terrorism in Iraq.[297]

180. We conclude that any intervention into Iraq by neighbouring countries would have an immensely damaging impact on regional security. We recommend that the Government urge Turkey in the strongest possible terms to refrain from carrying out or threatening to carry out such actions. We further recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government set out what evidence it now has that points towards the complicity of the Iranian Government in supporting terrorism in Iraq.


181. The Iraq Study Group identified the need for an international support structure (or "Support Group") to stabilise Iraq and ease tensions in neighbouring capitals. It argued that the Support Group should be comprised of "every country" that has an interest in avoiding a "chaotic Iraq". This would include Iran and Syria.[298] Indeed, it recommended that these two countries should be engaged "without preconditions."[299] However, this recommendation was not picked up by President Bush when he set out his new strategy in January. We asked the former Foreign Secretary about engagement with Iran. She told us that the Government,

continue[s] to maintain contacts with both Iran and Syria and to recognise the potential they have to contribute to the solution. Equally though we continue to recognise […] that they have the capacity and continue in many ways to play a very negative role.

With reference to the Bush Administration, she argued that the phrase "without preconditions" was the key issue. She pointed out that if Iran suspended nuclear enrichment, the US would be willing to engage diplomatically with Tehran.[300]

182. In February, Simon McDonald told us that whilst the Government's approach towards engaging with Iran had been "somewhat different" from that of the US, the policy of the Bush Administration was "evolving." He noted that on the issue of Iraq, the US was "reconsidering" the merits of dialogue with Iran.[301] The extent of this was soon apparent. When Mr McDonald again appeared in front of the Committee in March, he had recently returned from the first Iraq 'neighbours' meeting. In his assessment,

The meeting was an achievement for Foreign Minister Zebari, who has been trying to get Iraq's neighbours to come to Baghdad to discuss the range of issues that Iraq has had with them for some time. He finally succeeded […] and got not only the neighbours but key international organisations to attend, such as the Arab league, the UN, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the P5 of the UN.

This sounds very much like the Support Group proposed by the Iraq Study Group. Mr McDonald told us there was a "good discussion", and that "all the neighbours" said the "right things." He informed us of the establishment of three working groups, looking at refugees, security and fuel imports. He also reported on the evolving US approach:

At the end of the conference, the US ambassador, who was leading the US delegations, said that he had had businesslike, constructive and positive working relations with the Iranian and Syrian delegates across the conference table. He did not actually make direct contact with them, but the basis for that was laid. They were working in the same room, and in the margins of the margins there was more progress with the Syrians than with the Iranians.[302]

Mr McDonald agreed that the US was now accepting this particular recommendation of the Iraq Study Group without saying so.[303]

183. Since this first meeting in March, diplomatic engagement on the issue of Iraq has deepened. In May, Egypt hosted a high level follow-up called the Iraq Neighbours Conference. The list of attendees included the then Foreign Secretary, US Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice, and the Iranian and Syrian Foreign Ministers. The then Foreign Secretary took the opportunity to have a meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister, but Dr Rice did not engage with him formally. She was reported to have made more progress with Syria. The Conference also led to the establishment of the "International Compact for Iraq", which focused, among other issues, on debt relief, reconstruction and political benchmarks.[304] Later in May, the US Ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, held a four-hour meeting with his Iranian counterpart, focusing primarily on security concerns. Both sides viewed the discussions as "positive." These were the first formal talks between Iran and the US since 1980.[305]

184. We conclude that it is welcome that regional states and key international players are now engaged in formal discussions on the situation in Iraq. We note that it has long been the policy of the Government to engage with Iran, and we are encouraged by signs that the US Administration is now accepting the wisdom of this approach. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government set out the key agreements of the International Compact for Iraq and what progress has been made towards them.


185. One of the working groups emerging from the Iraq neighbours meeting focuses on the issue of refugees. In November 2006, the then Secretary of State for International Development noted there were 1.6 million internally displaced persons in Iraq, with 424,000 leaving their homes in the aftermath of the Samarra bombing.[306] In a written answer in February 2007, he provided estimates by the UN on the numbers of Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries. The total number of refugees was 1.8 million. This included 25,000 to 40,000 in Lebanon, 700,000 in Jordan, estimates of up to 1,000,000 in Syria, 100,000 in Egypt, 16,000 in Turkey and 54,000 in Iran. The UN did not have figures for Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.[307] In March, we asked Dr Howells for his assessment of the refugee situation. He said it was "a disaster" and that there was "no way around it" but to improve security in Iraq, in particular in Baghdad.[308]

186. When the Committee travelled to Syria, we were struck by the strain that a now estimated 1.3 million Iraqi refugees were placing on the infrastructure in Damascus. Those of us who visited Jordan heard of similar difficulties there. Dr Rosemary Hollis told the Committee that the influx of Iraqi refugees had changed "the identity" of Jordan itself. Referring to its decision to shut the border to Iraqi refugees, she argued that the country was "trying to retain control" of its destiny.[309] Human Rights Watch has argued that all of Iraq's neighbours are now seeking to keep out refugees. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is developing a US$7 billion high-tech barrier on its border with Iraq.[310]

187. In June, the Government set out how much money it had provided in recent years to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) specifically on the issue of refugees and displaced people.
£ Sterling
200318,000,0001,750,000 _
2004-- -
200510,000,000- -
20064,000,000- -
20077,000,0001,500,000 1,000,000
Total39,000,0003,250,000 1,000,000

The figures reveal that the UK provided no financial support to the UNHCR and the IOM on this issue in the years 2004, 2005 and 2006.[311] Although support was provided to the ICRC, it is unclear how much of this was earmarked for those that had been displaced beyond Iraq's borders. In March 2007, Human Rights Watch claimed that the UK had, at the start of 2007, done nothing to support Jordan and Syria in helping them to cope with the refugee crisis.[312]

188. Human Rights Watch has also argued that the US and UK, as the countries primarily responsible for the intervention in Iraq in 2003, should do more to help resettle Iraqi refugees. In March 2007, it noted:

There is no British programme for resettling Iraqis in the UK, even for those who have served the UK authorities. And the vast majority of asylum seekers who manage to get here on their own are seeing their applications refused. In the 12 months to September, out of 780 applications processed only 55 were granted some form of asylum.[313]

The Home Office takes the lead on the Government's policy on resettlement. However, the issue of Iraqi refugees has clear implications on the diplomatic and political landscape of the Middle East (perhaps similar to the impact of Palestinian refugees since 1948). In that light, we asked Dr Howells about the Government's intentions on resettlement. He told us that the Home Office was in discussions with UNHCR on the possibility of "resettling a small number of very vulnerable Iraqi cases". If the Government agreed to this, exact numbers would be determined at a later date.[314] In February, the Bush Administration announced that it would allow 7,000 Iraqis to resettle in the US.[315]

189. We conclude that the Iraq refugee crisis requires urgent attention. We are concerned that the Government does not appear to have provided any financial support to the UNHCR to assist the plight of refugees between 2004 and 2006. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government set out how much of the money provided to the ICRC in these years was earmarked for refugees outside of Iraq's borders. We further recommend that the Government provide financial assistance to Syria and Jordan to help them cope with Iraqi refugees, but that this assistance should be conditional on these countries keeping their borders open to Iraqi asylum seekers. We welcome the Government's proposal to resettle a small number of very vulnerable Iraqis and recommend that it accelerate its discussions with the UNHCR on this issue.

271   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2005-06, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 573, paras 223-291 Back

272   "Over 34,000 civilians killed in Iraq in 2006, says UN report on rights violations", 16 January 2007, Back

273   The Iraq Study Group, The Way Forward - A New Approach, 6 December 2006, p 6 Back

274   "President's Address to the Nation", 10 January 2007, Back

275   Oral evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 11 January 2007, HC 209-i (2006-07), Q 10 Back

276   Ibid, Q 1 Back

277   Ibid, Q 30 Back

278   "Steep fall in Iraqi civilian death toll", Financial Times, 1 July 2007 Back

279   HC Deb, 11 Jun 2007, col 543 Back

280   HC Deb, 21 Feb 2007, col 264 Back

281   HC Deb, 19 July 2007, col 32WS Back

282   HC Deb, 4 July 2007, col 954 Back

283   HC Deb, 11 Jun 2007, col 544 Back

284   "UK soldier killed in Iraq named", BBC News Online, 22 July 2007, Back

285   HC Deb, 11 Jun 2007, col 543 Back

286   US Department of Defense, Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq, 11 June 2007, p 3 Back

287   Q 197 Back

288   "US House votes for troop pullout", BBC News Online, 13 July 2007, Back

289   "US Senate rejects Iraq troop vote", BBC News Online, 18 July 2007, Back

290   The Iraq Study Group, The Way Forward - A New Approach, 6 December 2006, p 24 Back

291   Ibid, pp 25-8 Back

292   "Turkey warns of plans to invade northern Iraq", The Guardian, 30 June 2007 Back

293   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2005-06, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 573, para 265 Back

294   "US sets out Iran bombs evidence", BBC News Online, 11 February 2007, Back

295   HC Deb, 21 February 2007, col 269 Back

296   Q 42 Back

297   HC Deb, 9 May 2007, col 154 Back

298   The Iraq Study Group, The Way Forward - A New Approach, 6 December 2006, p 32 Back

299   Ibid, p 36 Back

300   Oral evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 11 January 2007, HC 209-i (2006-07), Q 47 Back

301   Q 40 Back

302   Q 207 Back

303   Q 41 Back

304   "Rice breaks the ice with Syria, but not Iran", The Guardian, 4 May 2007 Back

305   "Iran and US see 'positive' steps in first formal talks since hostage crisis of 1980", The Guardian, 29 May 2007 Back

306   HC Deb, 22 Nov 2006, col 107W Back

307   HC Deb, 5 Feb 2007, col 626W Back

308   Q 196 Back

309   Q 83 Back

310   "Iraq: Neighbors Stem Flow of Iraqis Fleeing War", 17 April 2007, Back

311   HL Deb, 26 Jun 2007, col 137WA Back

312   "British policy on Iraqi refugees is not only morally indefensible, but also shortsighted", The Independent, 6 March 2007 Back

313   Ibid Back

314   Ev 127, Q 10 Back

315   "U.S. plan to allow 7,000 Iraqi refugees to come to America sparks praise and scepticism", International Herald Tribune, 15 February 2007 Back

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