Iraq (Kurds)

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th June 1991.

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Photo of Mr David Nicholson Mr David Nicholson , Taunton 12:00 am, 4th June 1991

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the deployment of Royal Marines to Northern Iraq.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns , Chelmsford

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the British forces present in Iraq to protect the Kurds.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

Three Commando Brigade was deployed to northern Iraq as a temporary measure to help provide humanitarian assistance to Kurdish refugees and the necessary reassurance to persuade the Kurds that it would be safe for them to come down from the mountains and return home. I am pleased to say that, thanks to the efforts of all allied forces, the majority of refugees along the Turkey-Iraq border have now come down from the mountains and are returning to their homes.

Photo of Mr David Nicholson Mr David Nicholson , Taunton

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the pride of my constituents, and my own pride as the son of a former Royal Marine, at the magnificent contribution made by the Royal Marines to this massive humanitarian effort. In my local newspaper, Lance Cpl. Bateman of 40 Commando reported on the Kurdish refugees' great appreciation of the marines. He said that the Kurds offered the marines hospitality, even if it meant offering the last of their food and drink. Could my right hon. Friend say—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Such long questions are becoming a bad habit. These matters would also be better raised in an Adjournment debate.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

There is no question but that we asked our commando brigade to undertake an incredibly difficult task. The brilliant way in which it discharged its duties is a measure of its confidence, training and absolute commitment. Others have played their part, but none was better than 3 Commando Brigade. I hope that the whole House shares my admiration for the way in which that brigade carried out an incredibly difficult job. Its efforts and those of others undoubtedly saved the lives of hundreds of thousands.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns , Chelmsford

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the decisive action by our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his Department saved thousands of Kurds from certain death from appalling weather and the tyranny of Saddam Hussein? Will he pay tribute to the Royal Air Force and the Chinook pilots for their magnificent work? In adverse weather, they made sure that vital supplies were airlifted to the refugees on the mountain tops.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the Chinook and other RAF pilots who were engaged in the air drop. As I think that the House knows, some of those who volunteered had just returned from the Gulf and had barely a few days leave. They as much as anyone are responsible for saving a fantastic number of lives. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked for Operation Haven to be launched, and we owe a great debt to our pilots and the marine commandos and the other forces involved. It is thought that 15,000 Kurds died. That is tragic, but very many more could have died.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Now that the Iraqi Government have clearly breached resolution 688 by sending troops into the towns of Salumaniya, Dihok, Dahuk, Sahko and Arbil, and the repression of the population has begun once again, how is it possible for the British and American Governments to begin withdrawing troops when clearly the Kurds do not feel that they will be secure in future with only United Nations forces carrying side arms available for their protection?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman is making a challenge and condemning a Government who took the quite unprecedented step of making forces available to go to the relief of millions of people whose lives were in desperate jeopardy. We do not have to prove our credentials. We went there for humanitarian purposes and to save lives. We shall certainly be anxious to see that the benefits of what has been achieved are not lost.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East

We record our appreciation for the excellent and important work carried out by the Royal Marines. Can the Secretary of State say when they will be coming home as their relatives are anxious to know?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

I understand that, and that thought is very much in our minds. Having met the commandos concerned, I know that they understand and are proud of the contribution that they have been able to make. As soon as it is possible for them to come home, they will come home. They have had a very important job to do and they have done it outstandingly well.