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We have paid a huge cost for the Governments decision to cover George Bushs back, following him, no questions asked, into an unethical, unjustified and illegal invasiona human cost, the cost to our own standing in the world and to the rule of law and good government here at home, the cost of increased radicalisation and instability in the Arab world and beyond, and an immense cost to British taxpayers, at
£4 million every day, and counting. Does the Prime Minister now accept Joseph Stiglitzs estimate that the Iraq war will have cost us £20 billion? That is equivalent to about 800 of the Chinook helicopters that our troops desperately need in Afghanistan.
Will the Prime Minister commit himself to a full inquiry? Unlike the Franks inquiry, it should be open. It should be held in public, because it is the public who need to see and hear that lessons really are being learned. The Government must not end this war as they started itin secret, unaccountable and behind closed doors. Does the Prime Minister agree [Interruption.]
Does the Prime Minister agree that we do not need an inquiry to know who bears the heavy responsibility for invading Iraq five and a half years ago? It is on the record in the votes of the House, because for all the shouting and heckling that we hear today from those on both the Conservative and Labour Benches, they know that they were the ones who let this happen. They know that their votes signed us up to George Bushs war. They had the choice; they let Britain down.
The Prime Minister: I appreciated what the right hon. Gentleman said right at the beginningthat he, too, welcomed the contribution and the sacrifice that had been made by our troops in Iraq, just as they make sacrifices and serve us with distinction every day in Afghanistan and in every other part of the world where they are fighting.
I should remind the right hon. Gentleman that the war in Iraq was not a secret war, as it was voted for in the House by a majority of the House; that Iraq was a dictatorship and is now a democracy; that Iraq had persistently defied international law; and that Iraq is now in line, as a democracy, with the laws of the rest of the world. As for everything else he says, people can be proud today that Iraq is in a far better position than it was five years ago.
Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome my right hon. Friends statement today, and in particular his announcement at the end of his statement that the Basra memorial wall will be brought to this country. Will the Government find a suitable opportunity, when all our troops are back, to allow the people of this country to demonstrate publicly their admiration and affection for the brave men and women of our armed forces?
The Prime Minister: We will look at the circumstances in which the memorial wall is returned to Britain and what can be done. Of course, there is also a permanent memorial to all those who have given their lives in the service of Britain since the second world war. That was established last year. We will consider what my right hon. Friend says.
Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con):
Does the Prime Minister agree that the democracy in Iraq is not perfect, but it is improving; that the security situation in Iraq is very far from perfect, but it, too, is
improving; that Iraq no longer poses a threat to its own population, to the region and to the world; and that now is the time to pay an enormous tribute to the soldiers of the United States, of the United Kingdom and of our allies for their enormous sacrifices and for their huge achievements?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentlemans words, which I think will command great support in the House. I pay tribute not only to the British and American forces, and the forces from other countries, that contributed to the effort in Iraq, but to the Iraqi people, whosometimes under huge provocation and huge persecutionhave contributed to the building of their democracy.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I am very proud that this country helped to free Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. Anyone who has followed the history of Iraq will know that we did the right thing at that particular time.
I am glad that the Prime Minister has reaffirmed that the withdrawal of our military efforts does not mean an end to our commitment to the people of Iraq, and that they will continue to benefit from our ongoing support for civil society and particularly for human rights. He will be interested to know that at a very successful conference that I chaired at the Foreign Office this week, attended by three Iraqi Ministers and 50 outside participants, the universal view was that that kind of British involvement would be essential in the future, which was very welcome.
The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to the work that my right hon. Friend has done as a special envoy to Iraq, the work that she has done with the Kurdish population of Iraq, and the work that she continues to do to bring about reconciliation between the different communities of Iraq. She is absolutely right that the relationship between Iraq and Britain will be strengthened at a cultural, economic, educational and social level, and I discussed that with Prime Minister Maliki yesterday. We will invite Iraqi students to come to Britain with scholarships that the Iraqi Government wish to provide; we now have a history of economic engagement with the Iraqi people in helping to rebuild their economy; we are helping young people to obtain jobs in circumstances in which otherwise they would be without work; and in every part of Iraq, not just in Basra, we want to build long-term connections with the Iraqi people.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Withdrawal from Iraq will doubtless lead to increased pressure to deploy further United Kingdom troops in Afghanistan. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should not do so unless other major NATO countries are prepared to deploy troops in a combat role in Helmand province? Will he tell the House what conversations he has had with other major NATO countriesat the European Council last week, or since thenabout their willingness to do that, and what their response was? The House is entitled to a clear and unambiguous answer.
We will look at the situation in Afghanistanas we do nowon its own merits, and in the light of what needs to be done because of what is happening in Afghanistan itself. To that extent, it is unrelated to any decisions that we make in Iraq. At the same time, we have already announced the deployment of additional forces in Afghanistan on two occasions in the past year, most recently earlier this week, and, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we are making a substantial contribution to the 41-member coalition in Afghanistan.
It is right to emphasise the need for burden-sharing, whether it applies to troops, equipment or the financing of some of the operations in Afghanistan. I said on Monday that that would be a major theme of the NATO summit which will take place on 3 and 4 April. Burden-sharing is essential if we are to defeat the Taliban and retain Afghanistan as a democracy playing its proper role in the world. Obviously we continue to discuss the issue with Germany, France and other countries, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman should not fail to note that a substantial additional number of troops have been brought in by, for example, the French in the past few months.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I welcome the Prime Ministers visit yesterday and his statement today. As he knows, 300 Iraqi interpreters have been killed so far. He also knows that last year the Government made an honourable statement that they would allow an immigration concession enabling those people to settle in the United Kingdom. How many have now settled in the United Kingdom, and how many remain to be processed? Will he assure the House that the process will have been completed by the time the last of our troops returns home?
The Prime Minister: As my right hon. Friend knows, this is a difficult and complex issue. We wish to thank the Iraqis who risked their lives and their safety to be of assistance to us. I believe that the policy we announced on 9 and 30 October 2007 strikes the right balance between what we must do to protect those people and how we can at the same time maintain the levels of expenditure in our country that are necessary to finance it.
So far, more than 300 staff have chosen and received the financial package that we offered, and 72 staff and dependants have been resettled in the United Kingdom. A further 100 will arrive in the coming months. We are on track to meet our target of 300 approved for admission to the United Kingdom this year under the gateway refugee resettlement programme. Given the number of Iraqis who have worked for Her Majestys Government and the armed forces in some capacity since 2003, it is absolutely right to focus assistance on those who have had the closest and most sustained association with us. That can be done through the objective eligibility criteria that we have set, based on length of service and job profile, so we are well on the way to implementing the policy that we announced last year.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD):
While the Prime Minister was correct to speak of the plans to bring home the remembrance memorial for the 178 personnel whom this country lost in Iraqlet us hope that that total is not added to over the next six monthswas there not something fundamentally remiss
about his statement? It made no reference whatever to the last memorial that we leave behind of the vast number of innocent Iraqismen, women and children, young and old alikewho perished during all this. Most shamefully in terms of history, the Americans and ourselves did not even bother to count the tally. Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that while those people may be lost to history, they are not lost in the hearts of their families and communities, and that that bitterness and legacy of hatred will now go on for generations? Is there anything arising from todays statement that he and his American counterparts will endeavour to do to redress the grotesque oversight of no body count and no names?
The Prime Minister: I acknowledge the sufferings of the Iraqi people. It is precisely to protect and support the Iraqi people that we have been trying to provide better facilities, jobs and help in the area of Basra where we have been most active. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that, according to opinion surveys, the Iraqi people believe that the presence of British troops has made a difference to the quality of their lives. He must not forget the violence practised against the Iraqi people by Saddam Hussein, and we must not forget that we were dealing with a dictatorship and that we now have a democracy.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): The whole country will strongly welcome my right hon. Friends statement, and will recognise his commitment to strengthening not just the security situation but the economic and political institutions that underlie it. However, the world has a disconcerting habit of moving on from a crisis once that crisis disappears from the headlines. My right hon. Friends own commitment guarantees a bilateral relationship, but how can we guarantee that the rest of the world remains engaged? It is in Britains and Iraqs vital interests that those institutions continue to be strengthened.
The Prime Minister: It is important to recognise that countries that were not part of the coalition in Iraq are now part of the engagement with Iraq that is taking place with a view to the future. I am impressed by the number of Arab countries that are now prepared to place their embassies in Baghdad, and when I was in Kuwait last night I was impressed by the co-operation that it now wants with Iraq on both economic and political matters.
My hon. Friend is right: we must not forget that Iraq has serious difficulties to overcome. It has a long and hard path to travel towards full democracy and full security for its people. It has massive oil reserves, but it has not been able to benefit from them because of the inefficiency of its oil system. Iraq has a long way to go, but it is part of our determination to work with it at an economic and cultural level in the future, and I believe that a growing number of countries share that view.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con):
Does the Prime Minister agree that for all the terrible difficulties that have been faced in Iraqnot least by our own armed forces during our time therehistory is likely to judge the removal of Saddam Hussein as the right thing
to do and as a success, and that our armed forces will be seen to have played a decisive role in that? Does he understand, however, the sense of unease felt by many in the armed forces and others that we are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? If now is the right time for the British to leave, why are the Americans taking over so much of the role that we are abandoning? Is it not just the case that we have run out of military capacity and political will, and that we are, in effect, being asked to leave because we cannot effectively contribute anything further with what we have available to us?
The Prime Minister: I agree very much with the first part of the hon. Gentlemans remarksthat the removal of Saddam Hussein will be seen in history as a decisive act that made possible a democracy in Iraqbut I do not agree with his final comments, as the role that we have played in Iraq is in many cases now being taken over by the Iraqi forces and people. Whereas we used to be the organisers of any combat action in Basra, any interventions that had to be made in the town of Basra and the protection of the area, that is now being done by the Iraqi army and police. We have trained them to a point at which our commanders are satisfied that they have the ability and capacity to do that job. It is Iraqi servicemen who are doing the work previously done by British servicemen, and I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have applauded that.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Whatever the mistakessome of them absolutely disastrousparticularly by the United States in the occupation arising from the invasion of Iraq, does my right hon. Friend not agree that the vast majority of victims referred to by the former leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy), died as a result of sectarian violence? That violence against totally innocent people must be recognised as a crime, but that crime was committed not by the British or Americans, but by those totally opposed to the democratic process in Iraq, and we should say so clearly and loudly.
The Prime Minister: People understand that that is the case. The internal violence in Iraq is something British and American forces have had to deal with, but I should also make the point that while Saddam Hussein was in power, violenceand in one case genocidewas practised against the Iraqi people.
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): At least I agree with the Prime Minister on one thinghis tribute to our armed forces, whose valour, distinction and professionalism are unique. In return, will he agree with me on one thing: when we invaded Iraq in March 2003, she did not possess weapons of mass destruction available to be deployed against British interests in 45 minutes?
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab):
Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the measures of the progress of democracy in Iraq is the fact that its own citizens, and, indeed, its journalists, can protest
against their own leaders and world leadersas happened with President Bushwithout the fear of death, while under the previous Administration of Saddam Hussein anyone who made a protest suffered torture and a violent death, as did their families?
The Prime Minister: Iraq has a free press and, as we saw yesterday, a Council of Representatives that is not predictable in everything that it does. So far as shoes are concerned, I must say that the House of Commons is often less well behaved than an Iraqi press conference.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in praising the exceptional success of British troops in Iraq. At this time of year, we should also remember their families, who have been so steadfast for so long. Will the Prime Minister reflect on the fact that British troops have through the war-fighting phase and into the peacekeeping phase exhibited a range of skills almost unmatched by any other armed forces anywhere in the world, and that those skills are sustained, at the same time as we are fighting in Afghanistan only by a considerable investment in defence training? Will the Prime Minister bear that in mind when those very great demands come to be made?
The Prime Minister: I agree about the importance of equipment, and I also agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the families of servicemen and women. I was in Basra yesterday, where I met large numbers of people who will be spending Christmas away from their families. One of the things that they want to thank the British people for is the large number of unsolicited gifts, presents and cards that have been sent directly to the forces in Baghdad. They said to me that they have never seen such a level of support in any of the previous years they have been in Baghdad. Donations and presents to remember them at Christmas have come from a large number of people in all parts of the country.
On equipment, we have provided £4 billion for urgent operational requirements in the past few years. I have announced today new spending of £150 million to buy more than 100 new Warthog tractor all-terrain vehicles. We have always tried to respond to requests, such as for helicopters, better night equipment or better vehicles, and we will continue to do so. The hon. Gentleman has taken a huge interest in defence over many years, and I have great respect for him on those matters. I say to him that he must ask his own Conservative Front Benchers about those issues, because their decision to cut public spending from 2010 means that they cannot support the defence forces in the way in which we can.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): May I add to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd)? I also welcome todays statement. While my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly focused on the security situation and the economic development of Iraq, will he say a little more about the development of civil society in Iraq, and in particular about the way in which the Department for International Development, British development non-governmental organisations and possibly even British volunteers in future may help to contribute to social cohesion and an effective civil society in Iraq?
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