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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. Since we are looking at global affairs, I hope your Lordships will allow me to begin by paying the briefest of tributes to the former president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, who died yesterday. He helped to change the world for the better and did so by using his priceless gift of communication. He used the art of simple language to carry the world with him. That is an example that political leaders should always keep in mind.
We warmly welcome the announcement of a new Iraqi Government in Baghdad and the appointment of the new president-designate and the prime minister-designate. We see them as their own men, dedicated to
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building a new Iraq after the nightmare past, and nobody's stooges or placemen. In our view, this is a clear step forward. Obviously while violence continues, as it sadly does, this arrangement refutes those who have been talking of the coalition's efforts so far as being doomed or in some kind of nosedive. Does not this new formation, this government-to-be in the next few weeks, provide the best chance of holding Iraq together and avoiding civil war between factions and tribes? In my view, it was never very likely anyway and was exaggerated by some pessimists.
As for the draft UN resolution, we know that the main debate has been over the meaning of full sovereignty for the new Iraqi Government. I, for one, have never seen the question of control of the security forces, now to be relabelled the multinational force, as all that complex and difficult, provided it is made clear between the parties. The status of foreign troops in relation to the civil power after a period of occupation is not a new problem. It was managed perfectly well in Germany after the Second World War and in Japan and, very much more recently, in Afghanistan.
The reality is that future security situations are bound to be unpredictable. We do not know what will work out. Surely these matters can best be handled flexibly, and by a suitable exchange of letters, which must obviously leave the operational chain of command with the military and its home country, while strategy and major events are discussed between allies. Allies are what the Iraqis now become under their new government. We should welcome that. Will the letters establish that sensible and practical relationship? We need to be reassured about that.
We also welcome the setting up by the Iraqi Government of a new national security committee with members from both the Iraqi side and the multinational force side, the former coalition forces side, which should help this process.
Can the Minister confirm that the militias are now to be disbanded? I am not sure whether this will include the al-Sadr militia, which has been causing so much mayhem. Are the Iraqi Armed Forces to be reassembled and properly reconstituted? We recognise that disbanding them in the first place was a big American mistake. It seems to me that we did not raise a murmur of objection to it, as we should have done as coalition partners.
More broadly, would the Minister agree that despite all the negative reporting, huge strides have been made in reconstruction, especially in the south, much of it with the able help of our brilliant and flexible Armed Forces? Would she agree that the constant predictions of disaster merely serve to undermine the morale of our troops quite unnecessarily when they are doing a good, but fiendishly difficult, job? Actually, I think that they are impervious to much of the chatter they hear. Will she rebuke those doom-saying critics robustly?
Finally, what proposals will Her Majesty's Government put forward this coming weekend at the G8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia, for a better and
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more structured dialogue, at an international level, between the leaders of majority moderate Islam and the Western world, for example on the lines put forward by my colleague, Michael Ancram MP, in a pamphlet today? Would it not be desirable, as he argues in his pamphlet, to set up a process of this kind so that united minds can focus not just on Iraq's future, but on making serious progress on the Israel/Palestine imbroglio, which continues to poison the whole region, as well as on combating the dangerous threats to stability in Saudi Arabia? The latest tragic outcome of that situation, the shooting of a BBC correspondent and the killing of his cameraman, which we deeply regret, are in the newspapers this very morning. Will she say something about these events in the Middle East and how they are to be addressed, since they are all part of the same jigsaw as are developments in Iraq itself and will help to shape the future of that country?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we on these Benches thank the Government for making this Statement and we hope that they will continue to keep both Houses well informed as this process continues over the coming months.
We welcome the clear central role that the UN is now, at last, playing and the restoration of sovereignty to an autonomous government. After so many mistakes have been made, we hope that we are now on the right path. I wish to stress from these Benches that those of us who were very doubtful about the path to war and the justification given for war nevertheless feel that we all have the strongest of interests in getting it right now and in ensuring, as far as possible, that we leave behind in Iraq a coherent, credible and united national government.
May I ask the Minister to explain a little what the full sovereignty of the Interim Government means? The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, referred to the parallel with the restoration of sovereignty to the Government of West Germany in 1955. That was very clearly a semi-sovereign state. Right up until 1989 it was governed by a whole set of agreements with the continuing occupying powers for some purposes.
I must say that the presence of an American ambassador in the shape of Mr Negroponte, given his past as an ambassador in central America, does not give all of us full assurance that this will be allowed to be a fully sovereign government. Can the Minister assure us that, while this resolution has been being negotiated, the British Government have consulted fully with their partners in the EU as well as with the United States?
Can she tell us a little more about the British role within the multinational force? Is it likely that the areas of the country that will be controlled by British commands within the multinational force will be extended, or is that not yet decided? Are we signing a separate status of forces agreement or is it covered by the exchange of letters with the US Secretary of State? Does that also cover British forces? Can she say a little bit
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about what sensitive offensive operations are? I understand that Sir Emyr Jones Parry, our ambassador to the UN, said yesterday that the policy on sensitive operations would require the assent of the ministerial committee for national security. Is that also agreed both by the United Kingdom and by the United States?
May I ask, as we have asked on many occasions from these Benches, what is going to happen to the Iraq Survey Group after 30 June? Will it, as the British Prime Minister appeared to suggest the other day, continue its operations until it finds something; or will it, as David Kay suggested, accept now that nothing is going to be found and wind up its operations?
Lastly, I echo and agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that this is a matter of concern to the entire region. Can the Minister assure us that there has been active consultation with Iraq's neighbours, including Iran and Syria, on the progress of restoring Iraq's sovereignty and stability? We are very conscious that Iraq's neighbours already have a degree of influence within Iraq. How do the Government see that fitting into what is now, I understand, called the "broader Middle East and North Africa initiative" which will be discussed at the G8 summit, and how do they believe the instabilities elsewhere in the region, in particular in Saudi Arabia and in Israel and Palestine, are to be addressed?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I begin by associating myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, about President Reagan. He was indeed a figure of enormous historical importance not only to the United States of America but to the West. As our newspapers rightly reflected this week, he did a great deal to change the tide of international relationships. We benefit from that today.
I thank both the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for what I think were very supportive comments about the Statement that I repeated on behalf of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was right when he said that the new government who will be taking overthey have indeed taken over already, given that the CPA is handing over and that 14 ministries have already been handed over with the other 11 following on 30 Junestand the best chance of "holding Iraq together"I think those were his wordsin light of the way in which the representatives of different groupings have been brought together. I for one am very pleased to see that there is quite a lot of new blood among Ministers, and indeed a number of women among Ministers as well. The role played in all of this by Ambassador Brahimi has been enormously important, and the continuing role of Carina Perelli, the UN expert on elections, will continue to be of enormous importance into the future.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, asked me about the letters that Secretary of State Powell and the new Prime Minister Allawi have sent to the
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president of the Security Council. I agree very strongly with what the noble Lord said about the importance of flexibility in these arrangements. One is not going to be able to write out a blueprint, set it in stone and think that it is going to be able to deal with every eventuality that may arise. Both noble Lords will find copies of both those letters in the Library of the House. My right honourable friend made sure at lunchtime that both Houses would receive those letters.
"Until we are able to provide security for ourselves, including the defense of Iraq's land, sea, and air space, we ask for the support of the Security Council and the international community in this endeavour. We seek a new resolution on the Multinational Force (MNF) mandate to contribute to maintaining security in Iraq".
That is a very clear statement from the incoming Prime Minister about the need for the continuing MNF presence. In his letter to the UN he also set out the structures that will act as what he calls the,
"fora for the MNF and the Iraqi government to reach agreement on the full range of fundamental security and policy issues, including policy on sensitive offensive operations, and will ensure full partnership between Iraqi forces and the MNF".
I think that that is an enormously important exchange of letters given that both were sent on 5 June and both set out the ways in which, on behalf of the MNF, Secretary of State Powell has stated the position, and the way in which that position has been requested by the incoming Iraqi Government. I hope that that gives a clear view on that point.
The noble Lord asked also about militias. We understand that there has been movement on the militias today. I am not in a position to make an absolutely definitive statement about this, but as I left the Foreign Office earlier this afternoon, telegrams were arriving about the militias and the start of militia movement away from their aggressive stance. We hope that that will continue. At the moment we are on a watching brief to try to encourage that sort of movement. Obviously, it would be enormously welcome were that to be the case.
I agree, of course, with what the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said about the importance of our British troops in and around Basra and the way in which they have operated in MND South-East. I have visited them on two occasions. Your Lordships do not need me to say it, but I say it none the less: they are an extraordinary example of peacekeeping at its very best and everything that we would expect of the way in which our troops operate when they deal with people in quite difficult local circumstances and quite volatile security situations. They deal with it with complete professionalism and competence.
So when the noble Lord invites me to "rebuke the doomsayers robustly"I think those were his wordsI say that although I rebuke them robustly, it is a very good thing to hear them rebuked robustly by Members on the other side of the House. If I may say so, his statement was much more positive than that which I heard from his right honourable friend in another place earlier today.
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I think that the structure that we now have in place offers a very positive way forward. The noble Lord asked how we can translate this into what is happening elsewhere in the region. What is happening elsewhere in the region is of course very worrying in a number of different ways. The terrorist situation as it has developed in Saudi Arabia is causing enormous concern at the moment. I join him in sending condolences to the family of Simon Cumbers, the cameraman who was killed in Saudi Arabia yesterday, and to his colleagues and his friends. I join the noble Lord also in wishing Frank Gardner, the correspondent who was reporting at the time, a full and speedy recovery, although I understand that, sadly, he is quite badly injured.
However, in all of this, let us not lose sight of the fact that the Tunis summit of the Arab League came forward with some very positive statements about the future relationships between the region and the Westthe EU and the United States of America. I think that a critical reading of the Tunis summit statement leads one to believe that we have a great deal on offer there with which we can work for the G8. I for one hope that we will take up some of the points made by the Arab League when we meet shortly at the Sea Island summit.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was quite right. Whatever our differences, we all are now, I hope, working for a better future for Iraq. We are doing that with the active supportthe key and central roleof the United Nations, something which I know the noble Lord and all his party have stressed to us throughout this dialoguealthough I am bound to say that I do not think that we on this side of the House needed any persuading on that; we were always very keen to involve the United Nations. However, I would point out to him that the European Union, which as we know was pretty well in disagreement over the initial action in Iraq, has very warmly welcomed the formation of the new Iraqi Government. I hope that we will see real progress on the question of the United Nations Security Council resolution.
The noble Lord addressed the question of, "how sovereign is sovereign". They are a sovereign government. There is a self-denying ordinance for the next seven months which that sovereign government have taken unto themselves, which is not to prejudice the position of an incoming elected government. That is not something imposed on the Iraqi Government who will be taking over on 30 June. They themselves have stated that they do not want to take decisions that in the longer term may prejudice decisions that can be taken by an elected government.
The statement by Secretary of State Powell was made on behalf of the multinational forces. There will not be a separate statement from the United Kingdom. It may not have been crystal clear in the Statement, but it stated that he spoke on behalf of the multinational forces and dealt with the questions about the sensitive operations in relation to Prime Minister Allawi.
After the handover of sovereignty to an Iraqi Interim Government, the Iraq Survey Group will continue its activities, to clarify our understanding of
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Iraq's WMD programmes. The Powell-Allawi letters make that clear, and make it clear that it will be under the aegis of the multinational force. The ISG's operations will be Iraq-wide. There is no fixed schedule for the ISG to report further, but we look forward to seeing how those issues progress.
I hope that I have dealt with all the points, other than the question of how much Iraq's neighbours were consulted. Let us remember that the United States of America does not have the sort of relationship with Irannor indeed with Syriathat we in this country do. I have discussed the issues on behalf of Her Majesty's Government with very senior representatives of the Syrian Government, and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has discussed them with representatives of the Iranian Government. However, everyone has not sat round a table discussing the matter in quite the way that the noble Lord implied. It was discussed at the Euromed meeting recently, and we have taken opportunities to try to make sure that we keep everyonenot only those two countries, but other neighbourswell up to speed on the developments that we hope to see come to fruition, which I am happy to say now are coming to fruition.
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