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to conduct operations against extremist groups and to be there in support of the Iraq army when called upon. “Over time and depending naturally on progress and the capability of the ISF, we will be able to draw down further, possibly to below 5,000 once the Basra Palace site has been transferred to the Iraqis in late summer. We hope that Maysan province can be transferred to full Iraqi control in the next few months and Basra in the second half of the year. The UK military presence will continue into 2008, for as long as we are wanted and have a job to do. Increasingly, our role will be support and training, and our numbers will be able to reduce accordingly.“Throughout the whole of this part of the south-east, the UK depends on the steadfastness of our coalition partners—Denmark, Australia, Romania, the Czech Republic and Lithuania. I pay tribute to them. I welcome the continuing Australian presence at Tallil in Dhi Qar province. We are keeping in close touch with our allies as the transition proceeds. “The speed at which this happens depends, of course, in part on what we do, and what the Iraqi authorities themselves do. But it also depends on the attitude of those whom we are, together, fighting. Their claim to be fighting for the liberation of their country is a palpable lie. They know perfectly well that if they stopped the terror, agreed to let the United Nations democratic process work and allowed the natural talent and wealth of the country to emerge, Iraq would prosper. We would be able to leave. It is precisely their intent to eliminate such a possibility. In truth, this is part of a wider struggle taking place across the region. The Middle East is facing a struggle between the forces of progress and the forces of reaction. “The same elements of extremism trying to submerge Iraq—or Afghanistan for that matter—are the same elements that across the region stand in the way of a different and better future. None of this absolves us from responsibility. In fact, for too long we believed that, provided regimes were ‘on our side’, what they did to their own people was their own business. We must never forget that Saddam inflicted 1 million casualties in the Iran/Iraq war and butchered hundreds of thousands of his citizens, including by chemical weapons attack, wiping out whole villages of people.“We need now to recognise that the spread of greater freedom, democracy and justice to the region is the best guarantee of our future security as well as the region’s prosperity. That is why peace between Israel and Palestine is not an issue inhabiting a different domain of policy. It is a crucial part of the whole piece. I shall meet President Abbas later today, talk also to Prime Minister Olmert, and within the past 24 hours have had detailed discussions both with President Bush and Secretary Rice. I will once again today emphasise the importance of basing the proposed

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national unity Government on the principles of the quartet. I will also stress our complete and total determination to use the new opportunity to create the chance for peace. “I have always been a supporter of the state of Israel. I will always remain so. But for the sake of Israel, as well as for all we want to achieve in the Middle East, we need a proper, well functioning, independent and viable state of Palestine. We should support all those across the region who are treading the path of progress: from the Government of Lebanon, whose Prime Minister courageously holds firm to democracy, to those countries—and there are many now in the region—that are taking the first fledgling steps to a different and more democratic governance. “As for Iran and Syria, they should not be treated as if the same. There is recent evidence that Syria has realised the threat that al-Qaeda poses and is acting against it. But its intentions towards Iraq remain ambiguous and towards Lebanon hostile. The statements emanating from Iran are contradictory but, as the words yesterday of the head of the IAEA indicate, its nuclear weapons ambitions appear to continue. But both countries—though very different—have a clear choice: work with the international community or defy it. They can support peace in Palestine, democracy in Lebanon, the elected Government of Iraq, in which case they will find us willing to respond, or they can undermine every chance of progress, uniting with the worst and most violent elements, in which case they will become increasingly isolated, politically and economically.“But what nobody should doubt is that, whatever the debates about tactics, the strategy must be clear: to bring about enduring change in the Middle East as an indispensable part of our own enduring security. The poisonous ideology that erupted after 9/11 has its roots there and is still nurtured and supported there. It has chosen Iraq as the battleground. Defeating it is essential—essential to Iraq, but also essential for us here in our own country. Self-evidently, the challenge is enormous. It is the purpose of our enemies to make it so, but our purpose in the face of their threat should be to stand up to them and to make it clear that, however arduous the challenge, the values that they represent will not win and the values that we represent will”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.50 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am sure that we are all immensely grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this enormously full Statement of intention and roundup of the Middle East situation generally.

Obviously, it is welcome news that some of our brave troops are coming home. It will be particularly welcome to the families of those who are serving and have served there, and to the Armed Forces generally in their present state of chronic overstretch. It is equally obvious that the drawdown raises a set of vital questions, of which the first must be about the

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security and positioning of our remaining troops, for whom our admiration is unlimited. In the past three years since the invasion, the situation in Basra has declined tragically; since, if I may add a personal note, 2004 when my son served there and found a thoroughly co-operative and even friendly atmosphere. We are now told that after that serious decline, things are looking better again and that therefore troops can be removed.

We all hope and trust that that assessment is right, when so many assessments about Iraq have proved wrong. I trust that there is nothing artificial or wishful about the discovery of improvements in Basra which allow the withdrawal. I hope and trust that our troops left there will be able to carry out their new duties of supporting Iraqi army training, border supervision and securing supply routes with reasonable, although obviously not complete, safety. We would value assurances on that. Above all, I hope and trust—we all need reassurance on this—that our troops will be properly equipped and not left, in the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, yesterday, when addressing the Global Strategy Forum,

and,

through lack of the right equipment, sometimes even having to borrow superior kit from other forces such as, in one recent incident, the Estonian contingent.

Turning to the overall situation, which the Prime Minister covered, can the noble Baroness explain exactly how we see our plans fitting in with current American intentions? We had the Baker-Hamilton report in Washington the other day, which called for much more involvement with neighbours and other powers in coping with the Iraq situation and for the more intensive use of diplomacy on all fronts. We agree with that approach. Yet the next moment we had the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary applauding the US Administration’s decision not to follow that route but to send in 21,500 more troops to the Iraq maelstrom and to ignore the proposals for seeking closer linkages with neighbours such as Iran and Syria, as well as with other regional and world powers.

We recognise the difficulty of dealing with Iran when its leader makes such wild and aggressive statements and it is right that if Iran is encouraging mischief-making in Iraq, as it certainly has been, that should be sharply and effectively confronted. Today is the UN deadline for Iran to suspend its unauthorised uranium enrichment activities. Will the noble Baroness confirm that we continue to put diplomacy and negotiation first in engaging with Iran? Will she confirm the UK’s agreement reached last week with US Under-Secretary Burns, who took a very wise approach, that while using sanctions against Iran, the exit door should be kept open, everything done to keep contact with the people of Iran and diplomatic solutions sought?

Speaking of sanctions, the one sort that seems to work in putting pressure on the Iranian leadership is the financial sort imposed particularly through the American banking system. What steps have we taken

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on this side of the Atlantic to persuade the European Union membership to follow suit?

The Prime Minister also spoke of the Israel-Palestine situation, on which of course we all hope for progress, especially if Al Fatah and Hamas can sort out their differences. Are the Government still focusing, however, as much as I believe they should, on the critical situation in Lebanon, where Israeli, Iranian and Syrian pressures and ambitions all dangerously collide? Do the Government regret being quite so unequivocal in supporting the misguided Israeli strategy of smashing Lebanon to get at Hezbollah? What steps are we taking now to see that the legitimate Lebanese Government of Mr Siniora are not undermined by extremists and street violence, egged on by Iranian and Syrian resources, and carried through by the apparently undefeated Hezbollah movement?

The Prime Minister talks in his Statement of “an epochal struggle” in the Middle East. These generalisations sound good, but in fact there are numerous complex and different struggles in the region, which need to be understood and dealt with in a whole variety of ways, mixing hard-power and soft-power methods. We on this side supported the decision to overthrow Saddam—although we were given faulty intelligence on Iraq—but the string of errors since then confirms our view that subsequent events have not been well handled; that strategy has not been clear, steady, or well thought out; and that very serious mistakes and omissions have occurred in the shaping of Cabinet decisions and of government policy at the highest level.

That is why we think the time is coming for a full-scale inquiry into the conduct of the whole war operation. We note that in the USA several such inquiries are being held, uncovering new evidence, and going wider and deeper than the various reports we have been given, for example, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and others. We believe that we owe it to our brave Armed Forces, who are so dedicated and professional, to look frankly and honestly at the way in which things have gone wrong, so as to learn and apply the lessons swiftly. Your Lordships will debate this very issue tomorrow, when I hope this viewpoint will be endorsed and pressed home firmly.

The vision of a peaceful, prosperous, western-model, democratic Middle East is, frankly, today as far away as ever. Perhaps it was too na├»ve a vision in the first place. We should certainly fight for our values and our security—we should fight not with slogans, but with subtlety, experience, understanding and dexterity. These are the qualities that have been missing in government policy.

It is good that some of our brave troops should now be progressively withdrawn from a dire situation, in a dangerous region, which, frankly, will never be solved entirely by military force alone. It is bad, however, that there have been so many faults and impulsive errors along the way. The sooner we learn the full story, the full lessons from what has gone wrong, and how, even now, to help set it all on a more promising and constructive path, the better.



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4 pm

Lord McNally: My Lords, I, too, thank the Lord President of the Council for repeating this Statement made by the Prime Minister, giving his personal résumé of the history of Iraq over the past four years. I am not a marcher by nature, but I took part in the march against the war. I have to say that the Iraq adventure has produced chaos on a grand scale. On these Benches, we have no regret for condemning the policy four years ago, and for condemning it as a blot which will never be erased from the Blair record or the Blair legacy. However, on the Prime Minister’s commitment to peace in Israel and Palestine, we fully support his commitment to establish a,

We hope that during his remaining months in office he will continue to give priority to an Israel-Palestine settlement.

On Iraq, however, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has indicated, there are many serious questions to be asked. How conditional is the timetable for withdrawal? The phrase,

keeps recurring. Will not the reduction in numbers, while leaving the remaining forces with a considerable task, continue to lead to the danger of overstretch? Let me remind the House of those tasks: training and supporting the Iraqi forces; securing the Iraq/Iran border; and securing supply routes. Those are the tasks listed by the Prime Minister in his Statement.

I endorse the tributes paid by the Lord President and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, to our Armed Forces, but I still have in mind a speech made right at the beginning of this tragedy by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. On the eve of invasion he said he hoped that the politicians were as sure about how they were going to get out of Iraq as they were about how to get in. I fear that this Statement makes us no clearer on that point.

I want to raise a side issue. Last night I was at the Royal Television Society’s annual journalism awards ceremony. At the beginning they present a roll of honour of those reporters who have lost their lives during the previous year. It was chilling to note the number of journalists who have died in Iraq. This has been a war fought on our television screens and marks a contrast between what I can only say is the slightly rosy picture painted by the Prime Minister and the reality we see every night on our televisions. I have also watched the events at the other end of this place. When Sir Menzies Campbell called for a phased and timed withdrawal, he was hooted and howled at by the Labour Back-Benchers, and yet now the Prime Minister seems to be announcing his own phased and timed withdrawal. The Prime Minister pays tribute to the Baker-Hamilton report, but surely that report has to be taken as a whole and should not be cherry-picked. How you can pay tribute to that report while in the same breath pledge full support to the Bush surge just seems to defy reason.

I want to ask the Lord President about something that comes within her own particular area of expertise. The Prime Minister has spoken of a new and far more focused effort on reconciliation, reconstruction and

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development. Will DfID’s strategy and responsibilities in Iraq be changed by today’s announcement? Is there any intention to increase aid to Iraq on the reconstruction side to match the military withdrawal? It would be interesting to know the position on this. On the call for a full public inquiry, of course I endorse it and I am glad that we now have the support of the Conservatives. I note also that of the seven candidates for the Deputy Leadership, questioned in the Guardian today, two are now calling for a public inquiry. I wonder whether the Lord President agrees with them or with the three who said that they were too busy to answer the question.

We share the concerns expressed about policy towards Syria and Iran, and wonder whether there are any further Government initiatives towards either country. In the past, with the Prime Minister in Syria and the Foreign Secretary in Iran, they have taken to direct diplomacy, and we certainly urge the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about soft diplomacy. We continue to worry that talk still comes out of the United States that part of the final Bush legacy might be a direct attack on Iran. However, the real worry is that this Statement is not a strategy, it is a wing and a prayer, often at odds with the reality we see each evening on our television screens.

4.05pm

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I will try to respond quickly to the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord McNally. I first want to tell the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the security of our remaining troops is our first concern; he will realise from the Statement that the decision made has been based on conditions on the ground. I can also tell the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we are not working to a predetermined timetable. The transfer of security responsibilities to the Iraqis is the ultimate goal, but that is based on what happens on the ground. Following Operation Sinbad, we believe that we can best create the conditions for that by reducing our footprint on the ground and focusing our efforts on training the Iraqi police and security forces.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned the equipment available to our Armed Forces. We take the protection of our servicemen and servicewomen very seriously. We have rapidly procured a number of vehicles to enhance force protection, while substantial improvements have been made in recent years to the standard and quantity of body armour available to armed forces personnel; commanders in Iraq now have a range of that. There are also, of course, our military aircraft, which are fitted with defensive systems and other aids to mitigate threats present in the operational environments in which they are deployed.

On the Baker-Hamilton issue, and following down the diplomatic route, I constantly hear these arguments about the US and UK strategies being at odds with each other. We are at the point in Basra where we are able to talk about troop drawdown precisely because of Operation Sinbad and what it has been seeking to put in place. In Baghdad, the United States, with the Iraqi Government, is seeking to use the increased troop levels to secure and then to hold areas of the city to enable reconstruction to take place. These are not

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mutually exclusive things, but a recognition that the situation differs in the two parts of the country and that Baghdad is particularly difficult. Given that 80 per cent of the conflict occurs within a 30-mile radius of Baghdad, the city has to be made secure. The decision has been taken that it can be made secure only on the basis of additional troops.

At the same time, there is of course a diplomatic route that we want to follow. Noble Lords will again know that the previous and present Foreign Secretaries, Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett, have been involved with EU colleagues in negotiating with the Iranians on their nuclear ambitions. In fact, EU foreign Ministers discussed Iran briefly at their meeting on 22 January, and with our full support they agreed that, in order to ensure effective implementation of the United Nations resolutions, the European Union,

in that Security Council resolution, and,

Officials are drafting a common position to take that decision forward. I also want to assure the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we support the Lebanese Government and the efforts that they are making, as the Statement made absolutely clear.

We have already had four independent inquiries into Iraq: the Butler inquiry, the Hutton inquiry, the ISC inquiry and the FAC inquiry. I remember that everyone was very pleased when we first announced the Hutton inquiry but, because they did not like the outcome, they immediately asked for another inquiry. In answer to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I do not believe that we should divert the attention of those working on this critical issue by holding a further inquiry at this time. The time to make such a decision will be when all our troops have come home from Iraq. We are constantly learning the lessons of the conflict.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised a number of further questions and in particular said that the leader of the Liberal Democrats had developed his own plan for drawdown. In December 2005, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said:

That was the position in December 2005 and is the position now. We have made some progress in that some of that drawdown will begin to happen. However, I can assure the noble Lord that we will retain a robust re-intervention capacity.

On Baker-Hamilton, the noble Lord may recall that, at what was seen as great personal political risk, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister invited the President of Syria to the United Kingdom in 2002. Indeed, he was criticised by many for seeking to engage through diplomatic channels with Syria. That

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engagement broke down subsequently but we will continue to go down the diplomatic route.

We will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Government on reconstruction and development. Our total pledge for humanitarian and reconstruction aid for Iraq for 2003-06 was £544 million; a further pledge of £100 million was announced by the Chancellor in late 2006; and over the next year the Department for International Development’s water and electricity projects will improve access to water for 1 million people living in southern Iraq and a further 328 megawatts of power will be added or secured to the Iraqi national grid. With the work already under way, this will help to supply almost 1 million people with 24-hour power.

We intend to continue to work in partnership with our colleagues in the multinational force and the Iraqi Government, but bringing our troops home when the conditions are right is also an important element of the strategy.


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