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Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot comment on the report mentioned by the noble Lord because I have not seen it, but I think I can give the assurance he seeks. Every time this particular weapon is used a very close record is kept of what it was that delivered the weapon and where it was so that every effort can be made to ensure that there are no accidents afterwards. War is a terrible thing and casualties occur in the worst possible situations. I cannot give the noble Lord a guarantee
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, in thanking the Government for their helpful Statement, from these Benches we also express sympathy for those families who are grieving or who are concerned about members who are severely wounded. We express appreciation too for the very great care which British forces are taking.
Can the Minister say more about the post-military conflict government in Iraq? There is continuing worry about what form that government will take. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, the purpose is to give Iraq back to the Iraqis. That cannot be said frequently enough or loudly enough but I think that the message has not yet really got through. There is still great concern that the kind of government which comes about in the end might simply be the imposition of a western-style democracy, which is not natural to many countries. Iraq is a predominantly Islamic country. Would it be possible to bring into the councils of those who are planning a post-conflict settlement Islamic thinkers who are working towards an Islamic understanding of democracy and who are prepared to argue for a western-style democracy but using Islamic concepts and Islamic themes? It seems to me that whatever form of government comes about in Iraq, it must have the confidence of the Iraqi people. That means that it must have the confidence of the best Islamic thinkers in this area.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his comments. We do not disagree with anything he says. He will know that international discussions have taken place over a very long period of time, dating from well before the conflict began, about the form of any administration in post-conflict Iraq. Those discussions continue at the United Nations and between nations generally now. The rule we set ourselves is that we want to see the Iraqis ruled by the Iraqis. That is what matters. It fits in, I believe, with what the right reverend Prelate suggests. In the end, the exact form of government and democracy which emerges will be a matter for the Iraqi people to decide. I am sure it may very well be that his suggestion in relation to experts and holy men in Islam who may be able to advise will be taken on board. We want to see a phased transfer of authority leading to a new representative Iraqi government as soon as possible. The vital words are "as soon as possible". Let us make no mistake. When the conflict is over there will be a security issue that will last for some little time.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, is there not some merit in the case put by the Leader of the Opposition for a further conference in Iraq of representatives of the opposition following the one which took place in Salumaniya some five weeks ago? Instead of holding the next conference in Kurdistan, would it not be wise to
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has put forward a very interesting idea; we are considering it with care. We have also to consider the security aspects. One thing is certain. Day by day we are getting closer to our objective, which is the freedom of the Iraqi people to decide their own future. The United Kingdom's vision for Iraq and the Iraqi people underlines our commitment to the restoration of a free Iraq, free from UN sanctions and from the tyranny we have discussed today. Certainly, we shall not let the Iraqi people down.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, following the proposal by the right reverend Prelate and the emphasis in the Statement on the care taken by our forces not to cause any damage to the holy places of Najaf and Karbala, will the Government consider having some embedded Shia imams travelling with our forces to verify the care taken in the holy places and the concern that we have for the local Shia population to demonstrate the commitment which the noble Lord mentioned in the Statement?
Lord Bach: My Lords, certainly we take on board the very interesting idea suggested by the noble Lord. However, we should not be in any doubt about the hypocrisy of the Iraqi regime in relation to holy sites. In 1991 Iraqi troops attacked and desecrated the shrine of Imam Ali and destroyed religious libraries in Najaf. They went further and shelled and desecrated Imam Hussein's shrine in Karbala. The shrine of Imam Abbas was also reported damaged. Indeed, it is believed that acts of murder, torture and rape were committed in religious buildings. It is important to make clear that we need to look to the Iraqi regime to behave itself, not to coalition troops.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, without any derogation from anything said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, with which I totally agree, I want to ask the Minister something more immediate. It is a question of prisoners of war, in which I declare an interest, and must do so, as president of the Colditz Association.
I do not want to make a long speech, but I have one or two queries and I want to ask a question. Are we agreed with our American allies as to the treatment of those who dress up as women who are not regular combatants and who are not generally recognised as having the protection of prisoners of war under the convention? What is the position of what used to be called the SOE agents in France? How are they to be treated? Perhaps they are now the SAS. Such matters require consideration. I raised them with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, some time ago. He said that those matters would be monitored.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I repeat what I said a few minutes ago that captured Iraqis will be given prisoner of war status until they are proved otherwise and they will be treated according to our obligations under the Geneva Conventions. Captured Iraqi forces are likely to be prisoners of war unless they conceal weapons in the conduct of operations, in which case, as the noble Lord will know, they are unlawful combatants. Although unlawful combatants do not have prisoner of war status, we would have a duty, under international humanitarian law, which we would fulfil, to treat prisoners in a reasonable and humane manner. I hope that that answers the noble Lord's question.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the courage and the conduct of our troops contrast not just with the cynicism of using holy places at Najaf and Karbala for purely cynical motives, but also with the cowardly way in which Saddam's militia have used civilians, including pregnant women and children, as human shields and with the way in which hospitals, including a maternity unit, have been used to house his military positions? Perhaps the Minister will return to a question that I put to him last week. What will we do about those who have been responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity during the previous 12 years and during the hostilities to bring them to justice and to account in due course? What mechanisms will be put in place to achieve that?
Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an excellent point. The contrasts between the coalition and the Iraqi regime are stark. He explains very well why they are so stark but they are stark in many other ways as well. The use of the Iraqi civilian population to hide Iraqi troops, including beaten troops, and in campaigns against the coalition is clear and there is much evidence of that. As regards those who may be guilty of the kind of crimes that he mentions, I repeat that we are absolutely determined, as are our other coalition partners, to bring such people to justice. We do not mean Iraqi soldiers who are forced at gun point to sacrifice their lives for the ridiculous tyranny; we mean those who are actually responsible for what is going on, the ones who hold the guns to their heads. We shall bring them to justice through the international system of justice that has nowthank goodnessbeen set up.
Lord Richard: My Lords, on the way in which the war has gone to date, it seems as though the British effort is being concentrated in the south and the American effort is being concentrated in the north. I do not know whether my noble friend can answer this question.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I want to see whether he answers it, of course. What an extraordinary interruption! Do the Government intend that British troops should be used to any significant extent in the fighting for Baghdad? One hears much about the plan, which has had a fair amount of publicity. I hope that is a general question that does not go too far in the direction of disclosure, which my noble friend would not wish to do.
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