I am grateful to have the second Adjournment debate this evening, and it follows in a timely fashion from the previous debate. It is chilling that both debates are about war and the outcome of war, and many of the discussions appear to be the same —for instance, the desirability of war reparations, which is also being discussed in relation to Iraq.
The moving debate that we have just heard clearly demonstrates man's inhumanity to man writ large—horrors, cruelty and indifference to suffering on a horrendous scale. The right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) said that it was necessary to spell out those horrors, and that we must not forget. I wonder whether we ever learn anything from history, or whether the only lesson we learn from it is that we do not learn anything at all.
Wars are catastrophic. The right hon. Gentleman detailed the long-term effects on people's' lives produced by the second world war. We clearly understand that the consequences of war, including the war with Iraq, have already destroyed many lives and will continue to make many suffer, not least the Kurds, who have been persecuted by Saddam Hussein and Iraqi Governments over many decades. The situation continues to deteriorate.
The plight of the Kurds in Iraq at the hands of Saddam Hussein may no longer feature every night on our television screens, but no one should be fooled into believing that their plight has eased or improved. Safe havens—the Prime Minister's idea to encourage Kurds off the mountainsides away from the horrendous experiences and tragedies that unfolded at the end of the war with Iraq—should not lead us to believe that all Kurds are safe and back in their homes, their safety guaranteed by allied troops.
The impression created is that the Kurds have gone home, but alas that is far from the truth. They have moved to districts, many where there is a presence of allied troops, where they believe that they will be safe, but they have not necessarily returned to their homes. Half a million or more Kurds are in the no man's land on the border between Turkey and Iraq, and there are a million or more either in Iran or on the Iran-Iraq border. All those Kurds are unprotected and without aid.
There is a chronic shortage of aid, both in Iraq and Iran, to support and help the Kurds. We have seen and heard horrific reports from Iraq about the lack of medical supplies. We have heard of operations being conducted by doctors who are unable to wash their hands between operations and where flies hover over patients and settle on open wounds. There have been detailed reports of the lack of electricity and vital clean water, not to mention the lack of food and supplies that people need to live. The tragedy is truly appalling and the suffering is great.
Today, I spoke to the Iraqi relief co-ordination group, which works closely with the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development and regularly receives information from a range of groups including Oxfam, the Red Cross, the Refugee Council, Medical Aid for Iraq, Kurdish Relief, the Kurdish Cultural Centre and the Islamic Cultural Centre, to name but a few. They all say that they consistently receive reports from camps and districts where the Kurds are living in Turkey, Iran and Iraq where United Nations aid supplies are simply not getting through to those who desperately need them. Supplies of aid still fall desperately short of what is needed. For the Kurds in the south, nothing, or next to nothing, is getting through. The Kurds are not certain where the aid is going, but believe that it is being redirected—or intercepted—by Saddam Hussein.
The Kurds also say that their latest information is that in the next two days the supplies of chlorine left in Iraq will be exhausted. That means no clean water. Cholera, typhoid and other appalling infectious diseases are already widespread and many people do not have access to clean drinking water.
Worse still, the Kurds now fear a new genocide—a new war initiated by Saddam Hussein. I am deeply concerned that the signs and messages sent by the allies to Saddam Hussein are leading him to believe that he will soon be able to continue his appalling persecution of the Kurds unthwarted. The political background is complex, but we know that the only lasting solution to the problem that the Kurdish people face is a political one. I am told that in the past two weeks 60,000 Iraqi troops have amassed in the Sulimaniyah area, accompanied by 60 tanks from Kirkuk. That arises directly from comments made by the allies and it demonstrates clearly what Saddam Hussein's intentions are.
My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) intends to contribute to the debate if he is able, and he will detail the appalling record of the resumption of Saddam Hussein's oppression of the Kurds and others in Iraq. The signals are that a new wave of atrocities is on its way to Kurdistan. The truth is that Iraqi Kurdistan may well now be on the precipice of a new period of oppression which is now building up.
The Kurds have made it clear that they want to see a democratic Iraq and, within that, an autonomous or confederated Kurdish area negotiated directly within a democratic Iraq. They are not looking for an independent Kurdistan.
At present, negotiations have been continuing in Baghdad between Kurdish representatives and the Iraqi Government and it had been hoped that an agreement would be reached with the Iraqi Government which would later be ratified internationally in some way, perhaps by a resolution through the United Nations which would specifically guarantee that the Kurds would be able to live in a democratic Iraq free from repression and in security. But the United Nations appears to have sent the wrong message again. It said in July last year through its ambassador to Saddam Hussein that an invasion of Kuwait would be an Arab affair and nothing to do with the UN—and we know how that situation unfolded. The UN is now saying that it must withdraw its troops by 15 June, and the number of troops in the area has already declined from 22,000 on 21 May to 20,000 now.
Saddam Hussein has seen that as an opportunity to drag his feet in negotiations with the Kurds so that the agreement will not be reached before the allied forces have left. Then he will no doubt terminate the discussions and move heavily against the Kurds. Negotiations have been caught on three main areas. There is the question of geographical boundaries for a Kurdish area and the question of guarantees and security for that area. There are also problems in relation to the constitution involving the apportionment of oil revenues. Perhaps more importantly, there is also the question of the Arabisation that has gone on in Kurdish areas, where once-Kurdish towns have been cleared and populated by Arabs. The Iraqis have refused to include them in the debate. The Government need to go to the United Nations for more international pressure to be applied to Saddam Hussein to negotiate seriously and to make progress on the agreements with the Kurds for the establishment of a democratic Iraq.
As I have said, a solution is not possible unless it is a political solution. A political agreement must be achieved and the comments made by the United States representatives and forces of withdrawal have not helped that political process. Indeed, they may plunge the Kurds into persecution and another war, as I have outlined.
Let us not forget that it is not only Iraq which persecutes the Kurds. The Turkish president was in Paris yesterday lobbying and applying for membership of the European Community. In Turkey, the Kurds are not allowed to speak their own language except in the privacy of their own homes. They are not allowed to sing in their own language except at private parties. Education and publishing in the Kurdish language are banned, and there is an enforced 15-mile zone on the Turkey-Iraq border where forced removal of Kurds occurs, with no resettlement plans, so as to break the links between the Kurdish communities in Turkey and Iraq.
The Kurds are talking of returning to the mountains because they fear what Saddam Hussein plans for them. An article in The Independent earlier this week quoted American troops in the region. It said:
'See that man in my car over there?' the American colonel asked … 'I've tried to help him but I can't. When the Iraqis come back in here, they're going to kill him. But I can't get him out.'
Thousands of people face that prospect under Saddam Hussein.
We plead with the Government that the Kurds, despite the absence of their plight from our television screens, must not be left with no protection against Saddam Hussein. Pressure must be applied through the United Nations and internationally to ensure that Saddam Hussein negotiates seriously on a political settlement. We need immediate and unequivocal undertakings that Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey will not be abandoned and a detailed strategy to ensure that massive aid gets through to those who need it.
There has been much talk of building a new world order. The previous Adjournment debate was on the consequences of a war 50 years ago. Surely we must have learnt that a new world order cannot be based on or grow from the horrors, indifference, persecution and slaughter of the Kurds in Iraq. I press the Minister as hard as I can to send a clear message from the House that we shall not desert the Kurds and that they will be supported positively and continuously in their struggle to establish a free, democratic Iraq.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) on securing this Adjournment debate. It could not be more timely to have a debate on the plight of the Kurds, because the history of the past 70 years shows that there has been a profound lack of discussion by the House of Commons and successive British Governments of the situation facing them.
I am not a newcomer to the subject as I have been heavily involved in issues affecting Kurdistan since I became a Member of the House. Many Kurdish people from Iran, Iraq and Turkey who have sought asylum here have made their homes in my constituency. The way in which the Kurdish people have been treated is one of the great injustices of the century. We witness on television, which was not available to earlier generations, the horror of life for many Kurdish people, such as the easy death of so many young Kurds, the abject poverty in which many of them live and the profound ignorance of the rest of the world of their plight.
The Kurds should be living in an area the size of France, but their population of more than 20 million is largely ignored by the rest of the world. The Ottoman empire collapsed at the end of the first world war, and the Kurdish people, mainly through accidents of geography and topography, enjoyed a semi-autonomous existence.
The Kurdish people have brought much learning to the world. Saladin himself was a Kurd. Kurdistan produced many other heroic people. At the end of the first world war it was hoped that the Kurdish people would receive justice. The treaty of Sévrres, which was signed in 1920 but not ratified, contains three crucial articles. Article 62 made reference to a commission sitting in Constantinople, composed of three members appointed by the British, French and Italian Governments, to determine the boundaries of Kurdistan.
In article 63, the Turkish Government agreed to accept and execute the decisions of the commission mentioned in article 62 within three months of their communication. Article 64 dealt with the recognition of that arrangement by the then League of Nations. That treaty was the source of some hope and provided an opportunity for the Kurdish people but, tragically, it was never ratified. Instead, Mustafa Kemal led the development of the modern state of Turkey, and the British Government decided to back modern Turkey rather than the aspirations of the Kurdish people. The RAF undertook chemical bombardments of the Barzani-led Kurdish separatists in 1922. Britain has very bloody hands in the history of Kurdistan and of the Kurdish people.
The treaty of Lausanne, which was ratified in 1923, expunged from the record anything to do with Kurdistan or the Kurdish people. Kurdistan was obliterated from the modern political map.
There is something very tragic about Kurdish history and the way in which national movements developed in each of the countries in which Kurdish people lived—Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. In every case, there has been manipulation of the Kurdish people. Iranian Kurdish people are backed by Iraq. Iraqi Kurdish people are backed by Iran. Turkish Kurdish people are backed by Iraq, and so on. The awful circle continues. The Kurdish people are the losers every time.
There have been notable assassinations, including that of Dr. Ghasamlou, the leader of the Kurdish people in Iraq, who was disgracefully murdered by Iranian agents while trying to negotiate on behalf of his people in Switzerland. Many others died in the same cause.
I hope that even now, in the midst of the horrors of the aftermath of the Gulf war, it will be recognised that a tragedy that has occurred repeatedly over the past 70 years must not arise again in the coming months and years.
It is deeply moving to talk to Kurdish people. One finds Kurdish people in almost every city in the world. They say, "Yes, 1 am a Kurd. I do not have a country, I do not have a language and I do not have a literature that the world recognises." But when Kurdish people come together to hear the singing of Sivein Perver, a marvellous entertainer if ever there was one, who attracted 3,000 people to Kensington town hall for an nueroz celebration, which I attended, one realises the spirit and strength of the Kurdish culture, and the determination of the Kurdish people.
Many Kurds have been compelled to migrate to the cities, to do the dirty jobs that no one else will do. Many have sought political asylum in this country, as in others. Often, they have not been well treated. In 1989 Siho lyuguven took his own life rather than be deported back to the horrors of the fascist regime in Turkey. I could cite many other examples.
I hope that, in the aftermath of the Gulf war, we will look again at the way in which the Kurdish people are treated. I was one of the Members of Parliament—and others are present in the Chamber tonight—who did not support the Gulf war in any way. We did not see that it would solve any of the problems of the region. One now sees oil wells on fire in Kuwait, marshal law imposed on the streets of Kuwait, destruction throughout Iraq, and the carnage of the Kurdish, Shia, and Syrian peoples, and many others, throughout Iraq. The scenario is one of a managed instability in the region.
The United States and Britain, having fought a war for the liberation of Kuwait, are making no discernible efforts to bring democracy to that city. They say that they are supporting the Kurdish people, and then withdraw; at no stage have they said that they recognise the Kurdish people's right to self-determination, although that is now a clear and necessary demand.
Both Mr. Barzani and Mr. Talebani have visited the House several times, and I have come to know Mr. Barzani quite well over the years. Both are at present negotiating in good faith in Baghdad—attempting, on behalf of the Kurdish front and the Kurds who wish to unite, to achieve a solution that would give autonomy to Kurdistan within Iraq. Their crucial need is for aid and recognition; but aid is in short supply, while recognition is in no supply at all.
In Iraq, Saddam Hussein's forces are preparing once again to deal with what they describe as the Kurdish problem—that is, to impose Arabisation on Kurdish villages, just as the Turkish army has imposed "Turkification" on the Kurdistan villages in eastern Turkey, and just as Iran has done at various times in the past.
This is a tragedy of immense proportions. It has happened so many times before; now it is happening yet again. I hope that the Minister will recognise the justice of the Kurdish people's case, and will accept that there can be no peace in the region until the rights and demands of the Kurds are recognised internationally. Those who have died in the mountains—including the children who never came down from them—and those who are now dying of disease in the cities and camps in Iraq are victims of the whole awful process. They are victims of the carve-up of 1920; they are victims of the greed of oil companies and military powers; and they are victims of the latest Gulf war.
Those people need and deserve as much aid as can be conveyed to them. I am glad to say that aid is getting through to various parts of Iran and Iraq, and, to some extent, to Turkey, but it is not reaching all the Kurds. They are dying of preventable diseases, while the world watches on television screens and through television camera lenses. Something must be done, and action must be taken in the long term to prevent a repeat of this tragedy. I believe, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South, that that will indeed be prevented if the importance of the current Baghdad negotiations is recognised and the United Nations ratifies them after their completion.
Instead of snuggling up to the Turkish Government, as they have done so many times, the British Government should recognise that the treatment of the Kurds in Turkey is nothing short of abominable. The cosmetic changes to the laws that the Turkish Government have introduced in the past few months do not absolve them of responsibility for such a large Turkish army presence in Kurdistan. People whom I have met in villages on the Iraq-Turkey border have been arrested on a whim; their villages have been razed to the ground and their families moved miles away, because they have been deemed to threaten national security. That is not a civilised way in which to treat a people; there must be something better than that—something more.
I am not advocating a new Gulf war. I am advocating recognition of the Kurdish people, which would make it harder for any Iraqi Government to behave in this way —including the Ba'ath regime of Saddam Hussein, which was consistently opposed by some Opposition Members even when the Government were lending it money and allowing arms to be sold to it through the use of foreign currency.
I hope that tonight the Government will acknowledge the needs of the Kurdish people, who have suffered so tragically in the past 70 years. Their suffering must end; they must be able to live in peace and harmony with their own history and culture, which have contributed so much to the world.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who has a long history of involvement in this problem. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) for taking the initiative in calling this debate in rather curious circumstances.
I want to bite deeply into what I consider to be at the heart of the whole affair—statements made by American and British politicians and by representatives of the American Administration, and the United Nations resolutions, how they interlock and how they should resolve the crisis in Kurdistan.
The principal resolution that we should consider tonight is resolution 688. It demands that
Iraq as a contribution to removing the threat to international peace and security in the region immediately ends this repression.
That resolution was carried shortly after the mass movement of population from the towns and cities of Kurdistan to the boundaries of Turkey and Iran. It
followed a statement by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in America, Mr. Colin Powell, on 31 March, in which he said:
It would not be in the interests of the Government in Baghdad to return to this area in an aggressive way which would threaten these people"—
he was referring to the Kurds—
and cause them to fear for their lives again. The Iraqis should not doubt America's resolve.
I believe that, at that time, that statement was a sign that the United States Administration understood the problem, that it would press for the United Nations resolution—which was pressed for and secured on 5 April —and that there would be subsequent resolutions to enforce resolution 688 in the event that the Iraqis breached the principle of no repression. However, that has not been the case.
I was further fortified in my view that action might be taken when, on 21 May this year—only a few weeks ago —the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), said to the Arab Research Centre that
no-one can ever feel secure while Saddam Hussein remains in Baghdad—any more than we in Europe could have felt secure as long as Hitler survived in Berlin".
They are the words of a British Foreign Office Minister to an Arab audience in London, yet tonight I can refer to innumerable breaches of resolution 688 which have been ignored, and indeed denied, by the Government as late as today. During business questions, the Leader of the House said:
There is no evidence that there is any systematic or widespread repression of the Kurds at present.
That is from a statement made by the Leader of the House today from a written brief. He continued:
We are in close contact with other joint force members to agree ways of providing reassurance to the Kurdish population if and when forces are withdrawn.
I want to draw attention to the breaches which the Leader of the House says are not taking place, but which all the evidence suggests are taking place. I begin with what happened on May 13, when Iraqi forces fired on a United States helicopter and on British Marines inside the protection zone. Ministers were informed of that by field commanders. They know that it happened, and they know that the forces in question were involved in humanitarian aid relief efforts and in the protection of populations in the area. That is an example that has been denied today by a Minister at the Dispatch Box.
On 19 May, 570 people were rounded up and summarily executed in Babylon in a Shia area of the south. I ask the Minister to check the allegation that I make tonight. On 20 May, Iraqi forces attacked a Kurdish aid centre, killing and injuring Kurds. On 22 May, reports stated that up to 500,000 refugees were trapped by Iraqi army road blocks in the region of Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk. Could my allegations be checked? May we have an assurance from the Dispatch Box tonight?
On 23 May, whole areas of Kirkuk were levelled by the Iraqi army as part of its Arabisation programme. Kurdish lives were lost. That matter needs to be checked by Ministers. I was told today by the Leader of the House that, if I can prove or if it can be proved conclusively that the Iraqi Government breached United Nations resolution 688,
that is the Government—
would obviously consider making a statement to the House, and I can give him that assurance.
I am putting the evidence to the Minister. He can test the evidence, and when it has been substantiated perhaps we can have a Government statement on the matter.
I have been listening extremely intently to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that the House will be shocked but not surprised by the catalogue of atrocities that he has recounted. In a sense, was not that catalogue inevitable, when the allied high command decided not to force the unconditional surrender of Iraq, and particularly that of the leader of Iraq, President Saddam Hussein? The Minister of State drew the parallel with Hitler. In that instance, the allies rightly demanded the unconditional surrender of the Nazi regime. Should we not have done the same with Iraq? The future of the Kurds, the Shias and others would have been much brighter than it is today.
That would have been one solution, but not one that I would necessarily have supported. There are other ways—for example, a further United Nations resolution with the threat of force at a later stage, which would have had precisely the same effect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South referred to 60,000 Iraqi troops. I understand that the Republican Guard are now located in the town of Salumaniya. I understand that they were used with tank forces to quell protesters. On 3 June, in Dahuk, Kurds were shot and killed by Ba'athist security party members. On 4 June—only a few days ago—United Nations relief officials reported that Kurdish refugees returning to Irbil had fled back to the Iranian border after Iraqi troops fired on a Kurdish crowd. Innumerable examples of aggression are being reported every day.
I draw the attention of the House to the house arrest and imprisonment of religious leaders, which were reported extensively in the western media and by Reuters on 9 May. I understand that they were Shias. I refer also to the desecration of holy places, the rounding up of clergymen, teachers and their families, and reports of secret police operations in Safwan, which I understand have been brought to the attention of the United Kingdom Government.
There have been reports of abductions in all areas where there is an Iraqi Government presence, and reports of the systematic destruction of Dahuk before the Americans went in. I understand that in that case the Americans were able to witness the damage after they arrived. This week, we have reports of Iraqi forces being deployed in the area of the southern marshes, near the town of Alamara. I understand that those forces have been deployed there with a view to the removal of the population currently living in very temporary conditions in the marshes.
Those incidents are violations of United Nations resolution 688. The Kurdish people are entitled to know what the Government's response will be. We certainly have an undertaking today that there will be a statement in the event that they can be substantiated.
I now refer to sanctions. I want the Government to know that there is a statement on the record to which many of us will hold the Prime Minister. It is a statement that he made on 10 May to the Conservative party conference in Scotland:
Today at this conference I can give the country two assurances. First, Britain with veto any UN resolution designed to weaken the sanctions regime we have set in place for so long as Saddam Hussein remains in power.
We want to be absolutely sure that there will be no weakening of that statement.
I understand that the Prime Minister's statement has been reinforced by statements in the United States. Marlin Fitzwalter, a White House spokesman, said on 21 May:
The United States Government wants the Iraqi people to negotiate a new political compact. It"—
that is to say, the United States Government—
will exert all possible sanctions against Baghdad until Saddam Hussein is removed from power.
That statement was qualified further by Robert Gates, who is an adviser on national security affairs. He said:
Any easing of sanctions will be considered only when there is a new Government in Baghdad.
Those are clear statements. We do not expect Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box in the weeks or months to come and, while Saddam Hussein remains in power, say that, in light of the problems in Iraq, it is necessary to ease oil sanctions. That sanction is the Kurds' only hope of securing a democratic Iraq without Saddam Hussein at the helm.
That principle should be reaffirmed from the Dispatch Box. That will signal to the Kurds the resolve of the British Government and, together with the discussions that have been taking place in Washington—in which some of us participated when we visited that city recently—it will clarify the position for the Kurds and strengthen their resolve.
There has been discussion of an international guarantee. While Saddam Hussein is in power, it is utterly impossible for the Kurds to return to their towns and cities, without an international undertaking guaranteeing their future security. The Minister might wish to comment on that aspect of the affair tonight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) referred to the lack of aid for the Kurds and gave some harrowing examples of the present position. However, without denying that, I want to talk about the generosity of the British people in supplying aid to the Kurds—a generosity which has not been matched by the Government on behalf of the British people and has not been adequately assisted by the Government in terms of the organisation and resources that the Government could have offered to the voluntary organisations.
I am not referring to the Simple Truth concerts that were held seven weeks after the crisis emerged, although they were very praiseworthy. I want to stress the spontaneous and immediate response of the British people which occurred as soon as they witnessed the harrowing scenes of the Kurds going into the mountains in Turkey. In towns, neighbourhoods and villages up and down the land, without being asked, mobilised or organised by anyone, apart from one or two people who took initiatives in their own communities, people began to collect the kind of things that they felt the Kurds required. That happened from the beginning of April as soon as those scenes were broadcast on our television screens.
By 4 April, British Aid for the Kurds, one of the largest groups and voluntary organisations to assist the Kurds, had been established. It was established by Lorraine Goodrich from Devon, who had run an organisation called Parcels for the Gulf. She has received recognition for the work that she has done with Parcels for the Gulf. For example, she is included in a visit that is to take place to Buckingham Palace shortly in recognition of the role that she played. However, she cannot receive any mention from the Government or any recognition of the work that has been done by British Aid for the Kurds. When it came to supplying parcels to the troops, she was a heroine, but when it came to supplying aid to the Kurds, she was an embarrassment to the Government.
Parcels for the Gulf was a straightforward operation. Those who wanted to send materials out to troops carefully parcelled them up, organised them and contacted United Carriers, which said that it would handle the parcels free but in the event charged £2 for collecting up to 15 items, which were then transported. The Ministry of Defence had enough planes going out to the Gulf to be able to take the materials out there.
British Aid for the Kurds collected masses more material than Parcels for the Gulf, but it had massive logistical problems and needed assistance from the Government. It collected foodstuffs, blankets, medicines—which were supplied in response to lists drawn up by the Iranian embassy—and clothing. There is a myth around, which the Overseas Development Administration tends to perpetuate, that all the British Aid for the Kurds did was to collect clothing which turned out not to be needed. That is not the case. The clothing has been trans-shipped and is of value and in use, but the organisation has been involved in sending many other items. It collected tons and tons of material and then had to face the logistics of transporting it.
Transport was initially supplied free within Britain by the National Courier Service. Then Track 29, which works with British Rail and publicises its activities as a private haulage organisation linked with the railways, began to move the bulk of the material. According to Lorraine Goodrich, it was brilliant in the work and the organisation in which it was engaged.
However, it was not simply a matter of moving goods about Britain. As the goods could not be moved quickly, there were massive storage problems. People gave storage facilities. They included businesses, councils, individuals and in some cases, although not very often, the ODA. As it was taking time to ship goods, storage presented great problems. People who had made storage facilities available needed them back. They expected to hand over their facilities for only a week or so. The great problem became the movement overseas of the material that had been collected.
It was not until 24 April, 20 days after the organisation began its activities, that the first material was shifted out of Britain through Iran Air. Iran Air has a regular flight into Heathrow and a 747 was loaded full of material and sent out. Iran Air paid the landing fees for the Heathrow exercises. Although, after protests, the fee was lifted for special flights, the standard flights each Wednesday which have carried masses of material from British Aid for the Kurds have been subject to landing fees.
Only two ODA flights, or flights paid for by the ODA, have been provided for British Aid for the Kurds, but it was not recognised by the ODA that the material was from British Aid for the Kurds. A 707 flight went from Belfast. A 747 Iran Air flight from Heathrow was paid for by the ODA. That was held to be material collected by the Iranian embassy. In fact, it was British Aid for the Kurds material.
I tabled parliamentary questions in an effort to discover what the Government and the ODA thought had been done by British Aid for the Kurds, but I got virtually a nil return, as though British Aid for the Kurds did not exist. I received a letter from Lord Belstead on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office showing that the material sent from Belfast had been collected under the aegis of British Aid for the Kurds, but that fact does not seem to have been recognised by the ODA.
There have been eight other Iran Air flights. The significance of those is that Iran Air has large 747s, whereas the British Government tend to hire only the smaller capacity 707s when material needs to be sent to such areas. There have been two overland trips with material, one to Turkey in mid-April and one to Iran on 25 April, paid for by the ODA.
In all, 527 tonnes of material has been sent from this country. A further 200 tonnes is at Heathrow and elsewhere. It could readily be moved by Track 29. British Aid for the Kurds believes that if it had not had to put the brakes on because of the difficulty of shifting material it could, without any problem, have collected three times more material, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South said, that material is urgently required in the area.
Next week, British Aid for the Kurds hopes to send out —through Iran, but for northern Iraq—a prefabricated building which will house a 40-bed hospital, with 40 lockers, 200 blankets, 400 sheets, 100 pillow slips, 100 towels and 100 sets of clothing, plus appropriate medicines that are urgently required. The organisation has had to engage in a special financial appeal—it had not previously been involved in collecting money—and has £5,000 from the Welsh organisation Kurdish Relief (Wales), which acts under its umbrella.
Judy Stubbs, of Cutthorpe in my constituency, a northern organiser for British Aid for the Kurds, wrote to the Prime Minister on 17 April offering the Government masses of materials free which they could ship to the Kurds. No answer has yet been received to that letter, although she was writing on behalf of that organisation.
The scale of the operation is revealed in parliamentary written answers to me. Up to 15 May, Save the Children had sent out 207 tonnes of material, Oxfam 143 tonnes and the Red Cross 290 tonnes—all valuable material which had been specifically purchased for special purposes, and I am not decrying that contribution. British Aid for the Kurds had by then sent out 478 tonnes of material. That was done with little publicity. There was no national publicity—the media blackout set me wondering whether a D notice had been applied to the organisation's activities —and only a limited amount of regional coverage.
I have tabled five early-day motions and several written questions about British Aid for the Kurds. In addition to questioning Ministers when statements have been made, I made a short speech in an Opposition day debate on the work of the ODA. There has been no public recognition by the Government of the work of British Aid for the Kurds, despite links with the ODA, to which I shall come.
The ODA has acted in the only way it can act, given the way it is established and the finances available to it, and that is in an ad hoc and limited fashion. That is no fault of the dedicated staff of the ODA disaster unit. Under pressure from the Labour party, the number of staff has risen from four at the start of the disaster to six. When the Bangladesh crisis arose the number rose to nine, and the latest figure of which I am aware is 12.
The Overseas Development Administration has a hangar containing collections of material to be sent to disaster areas. When disasters such as earthquakes occur, it sends out a couple of 707s and purchases food in the nearest local market. That is its usual contribution to disasters, but it has had on its hands three massive disasters for which it has special responsibility. Although the ODA has been trying to handle the problems by increasing its staff, it finds that the problems are beyond it because it is seriously underfunded and there is a lack of political will at Cabinet level to assist it. The ODA even has to pay the Ministry of Defence to take materials to Kurdish areas in the middle east.
The Government are terrified to be seen to have provided insufficient aid. On 9 May, I asked the Minister for Overseas Development for a meeting with British Aid for the Kurds but I have not yet received a reply to my letter. It took until 5 April for the first of the two usual 707 disaster relief flights to leave for Turkey. Not until 8 April did the first 707 fly out to Iran. By 27 April, only four 707s, taking out 35 tonnes each, had flown to Iran. It appears that nothing has ever been sent to Syria, although some 100,000 refugees found their way into that country.
The Prime Minister's initial response to the crisis was his famous remark that he did not recall anyone asking the Kurds to rebel. He then had to react against that statement and suggested a safe havens policy. It may be as well that he did, or the safe havens policy might not have emerged so quickly. The initial safe havens policy did not provide sufficient water, food, medical supplies and other necessities required by the Kurds. We were defending the Kurds, who were then dying from lack of food, supplies and cover in the most abysmal circumstances—in massive contrast with the facilities and organisation provided for the Gulf war, which destabilised Iraq and led to the problems.
When I wrote to the Prime Minister about those problems, I claimed that the Government's response was "tawdry". I do not know whether it was in response to that comment, but he then wrote to the United Nations claiming that its response was "tardy". The difference is that "tawdry" means showy, but worthless, which is exactly the Government's position, while "tardy" means slow to act, move or happen. Those are the definitions given in the Oxford reference dictionary.
The Government's response to the plight of the Kurds has been inadequate. They have tried to pretend that they have done something dramatic, but they have not met the basic humanitarian needs of the Kurds—and when people have moved to meet the needs, the Government have been embarrassed and have attempted to downgrade those actions.
It is not only the Government who have failed to make the necessary statements. To their great discredit, the mass media of this country have failed to pick up the fact that the British public were involved in these humanitarian acts. The British public are ready to respond to disasters and they expect the Government to act automatically on their behalf and to help the organisations seeking to assist the Kurds and others involved in disasters.
Lorraine Goodrich's letter concludes:
We have now also started an account for Africa after requests to do so from many of our contacts throughout the Country. We shall be taking the ODA's advice and United Nations' … on what they would like done with the money as and when the time arises.
This time, cash is to be collected to try to move matters along because it was found impossible merely to collect materials and goods and to rely on the Government then to move those goods.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) on choosing this subject for debate. She has chosen an opportune moment to talk about this subject. When I returned from the Iran-Iraq border in April and told the House what conditions were like at that time, I did not think that I would be talking about the plight of the Kurds again some two months later. I thought that the message would have got across to the Government by then and that, instead of depending on the Opposition—[Interruption.] I hope that the Minister is listening, as it is important that he replies to some of my points. It is not enough just to have a Whip on the Front Bench.
It is amazing that it is left to the Opposition to discuss in this House the plight of the Kurds. I congratulate my hon. Friends who have spoken in the debate—my hon. Friends the Members for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). They have all in turn touched on points of importance, and I ask the Minister to answer them this evening.
The plight of the Kurds is a matter of some anxiety to those of us who have a long record of discussing in this House the human rights of the Iraqi people. For seven years, I have chaired this country's Campaign Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq, and since I entered the House almost seven years ago, I have continually raised the matter in this place. Most of the time, my remarks have fallen on deaf ears. Even after the tragedy of Halabja, the Government continued to double export guarantees to Iraq. All that is water under the bridge, and I hope that our Government and other Governments have learnt from their experiences after 2 August.
Let us face it: until 2 August Saddam Hussein was one of this country's best friends. Whatever we said about violations of human rights in his country was ignored by the Government. It was all very well to make weak protests after the tragedy of Halabja; but to behave as though Saddam Hussein was a person to be trusted and whose friendship was to be valued was little short of a disgrace.
It is not good enough for the Government to wash their hands of the plight of the Kurds. It is amazing that we were given statements on the Gulf war almost every other day. It is surprising that the Government have not seen fit to make a statement about the Kurds. I do not recall any statements since the debate that we initiated a week before the recess on the way that the Government had dealt with the three major tragedies which had confronted them and the Overseas Development Administration. The response to those tragedies was completely inadequate. I would welcome an immediate statement on what the Government propose to do to secure the safety of the Kurds who have returned, those who are returning, and those who are still on the borders of Turkey and Iraq and Iran and Iraq.
There has been much coverage of the plight of the Kurds on the Turkey-Iraq border but little about the plight of those on the Iran-Iraq border. Perhaps it has escaped the notice of many people, since the pictures have disappeared from our screens and the cameras are concentrating on other issues, that there are still 1 million Iraqi refugees in Iran. This week the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expressed concern for those people, and spoke particularly about what would happen to them if they returned to their homes. There has been little talk about what will happen to those people who do not even have access to the safe havens that are available to some people on the Turkey-Iraq border.
Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people who attempted to leave Iraq during the Kurdish refugee crisis when they fled from the wrath of Saddam Hussein are trapped in a no-man's land between Iraq and Iran. They have not reached the Iranian border and are still on the borders of Iraq. They are staying in what can only be described as huge gipsy encampments on the rubble of some of the towns and villages that Saddam Hussein destroyed in 1987.
Those people are not in receipt of international aid either inside Iraq or on the borders. That is because they are not covered by any of the aid agencies and no aid, apart from that provided by people who have returned to the country, is available to them. Some of them are not able to return to their homes because the Iraqis have blocked the accesses to towns and villages. The Minister must address the problems of those people.
Apart from the necessity to increase aid and to meet the requirements of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other UN agencies that are calling for assistance, the Government must foresee what will happen when the allies leave the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington has documented the violations of the various resolutions that were passed by the Security Council. What do the Government intend to do to enforce those resolutions?
On 30 May I wrote to the Foreign Secretary asking him to say what date, if any, had been set for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraqi Kurdistan. I said that reports of an imminent allied withdrawal had caused grave anxiety among Kurdish refugees who had strong grounds to fear for their safety if allied protection were removed without the strongest possible international guarantees for their security. I have not received a reply to that letter. As many of my hon. Friends have said, we need tonight from the Government a clear and unequivocal statement that British troops will not be withdrawn from Iraqi Kurdistan until the safety of the refugees is guaranteed. It would help to reassure the refugees, speed up the process of resettlement and so enhance the prospects of an early withdrawal of British troops in the proper circumstances.
Such a statement would discourage Saddam Hussein from deliberately stalling the talks with the Kurdish leadership in the hope that allied troops will eventually be removed before a satisfactory agreement on autonomy is reached. That is the fear of us all who have been in close contact with the Kurdish negotiators. It is felt that it is a deliberate tactic of Saddam Hussein to slow down the peace talks until the allies have left the country so that he can resume his repression of the Kurds and other groups within Iraq. Those of us who follow events closely believe that that is the tactic that he is following.
When I was in Iraq at the beginning of April I had a conversation with Jalal Talabani, who said that the Turkish leaders would be negotiating for autonomy for the Kurds within Iraq and for democratic elections for the whole of Iraq. The Kurds believe, as does everyone else, that there will be no safety for them, no peace and no stability—for them or any of the other oppressed groups of Iraq—unless there is democracy within the country. They would most of all like to see the removal of Saddam Hussein. That is true of those who are negotiating with him as well as of many of the other Iraqi opposition groups within Iraq. They feel, of course, that the rest of the world has let them down in their attempts to achieve that end.
Over the past six months I have attended many international conferences in Stockholm, Paris and Washington. I have no doubt that the Kurds were given a nod and a wink and much else besides, especially by the Americans, to go ahead and fight the forces of Saddam Hussein after the end of the Gulf war. It is to the shame of the west that it was not able to secure the safety of the Kurds when they were fighting the airpower of Saddam Hussein.
The Kurds are under no illusion that if they conclude an agreement with Saddam Hussein without international guarantees, and without ensuring that there are free and democratic elections for the whole of Iraq, they can never be secure in an Iraq in which Saddam Hussein remains. I hope that the Minister will apply his mind to the questions which have been raised.
I have no doubt that if the allies pull out of Iraq in the next few weeks, as it is believed they will unless the Minister can tell us otherwise, Saddam Hussein will resume his oppression and persecution of the Kurds and of other people within his country who are opposed to him. I mention especially the Shi'a, who are in particular difficulties, the Assyrians and many others who over the years have opposed Saddam Hussein within Iraq. They should not be forgotten because we are talking about the plight of the Kurds. I am certain that, unless we get assurances from the Minister tonight, this will signal the go-ahead for a new wave of repression, torture and killing in the country where so many people have suffered under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
Over the years I have raised these issues in the House. At times I did not believe some of the horror stories coming out of Iraq. I asked some of the people who came to me with those horror stories to check them out, but now I have no doubt that what they told me was an understatement of what was happening inside Iraq. It will be to our shame if we fail to heed what has happened in the past and do not ensure the protection of those persecuted people in Iraq in the future.
With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate.
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) on raising this important and interesting subject, which has occupied many hon. Members from both sides of the House—for obvious reasons. It is a complicated matter which has already developed a considerable history during the past few weeks and months. I shall try to do justice to the contributions of Opposition Members, but I have some of my own comments to make, and I hope that Opposition Members will recognise that I should be entitled to do that in the time available to me.
As is well known, with our allies in the United Nations, we reacted swiftly to seek the backing of the whole international community in demanding that Iraq should stop the repression of its people and allow the humanitarian relief effort to proceed unhindered. The Security Council adopted resolution 688 on 5 April to do exactly that. The resolution condemned Iraq's repression of its civilian population, the consequences of which threatened the
international peace and security in the region
and demanded access by international humanitarian organisations. It went on to ask the Secretary-General to pursue his humanitarian efforts in Iraq, using all the resources at his disposal, and appealed to all member states to contribute to his efforts.
The hon. Members for Bristol, South, for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) and for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) talked about the aid levels. Since 4 April—during the past two months—the British Government have provided £62 million-worth of aid. Since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August, the total amount of aid given amounts to £81 million. That involves 100 United Kingdom volunteers working on the Turkish border, 510 tonnes of relief supplies flown to the Turkish border and 625 tonnes flown to Iran. I do not see how the hon. Member for Bristol, South can describe our response as lacking in substance.
The Minister will know that we contributed about £2·5 billion to £3 billion to the war and the liberation of the Kuwaitis, of whom fewer than 1 million were resident in Kuwait. He will also know that we are talking about considerably more Kurds than that. When I talked about the lack of aid, it was in comparison to, first, the level of need and, secondly, the resources that we were able to deploy in the war against Iraq over Kuwait.
I listen to what the hon. Lady says, but I think that, on any reasonable judgment, our contribution has been immense.
It is our wish to ensure that the objectives of Security Council resolution 688 are effectively achieved. On 8 April, as we know, the Prime Minister put to his European collegues in the special European council in Luxembourg a proposal to establish the safe havens. The proposals received the enthusiastic backing of our European partners, and in the days that followed there were intensive discussions with our friends and allies about that.
On 16 April President Bush announced that the United States, the United Kingdom and France would send troops to northern Iraq, but it was made clear at the time that the deployment was a temporary measure to meet an immediate and overwhelming humanitarian need and to allow the refugees to return to their homes in conditions of safety.
The aims of the deployment were fully consistent with what had gone before. On 18 April, the Secretary of State for Defence spelled out in a statement to the House what British forces would be committed.
The logistical and practical problems faced by the military and the humanitarian relief organisations deployed in northern Iraq have been formidable. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the remarkable skill and dedication shown by all involved in so effectively meeting the needs of the refugees. The progress since the deployment took place has been truly remarkable.
As many as 2 million Kurds, Christians and Turcomans may have fled their homes in fear at the end of March. Military and non-governmental organisation personnel on the ground have not only provided the conditions of security which have allowed many of the refugees on the border with Turkey to return home, but have helped to feed them, establish sources of clean water, dramatically improve hygiene and provide medical services.
Here I wish to pay tribute to the efforts of the Governments of Turkey and Iran, in contrast to what was said earlier. They have responded to the need on a huge scale, and we have provided assistance to both Governments as best we can.
The humanitarian needs of the refugees from Iraq have now largely been met.
Let me develop my point; then I will accept an intervention.
The airlift of the remaining refugees from the last camp at Cukurca began earlier today, and by the end of the week they should have been relocated in longer-term accommodation in Turkey. It has been agreed—it is important that I refer to this—that the United Nations should take over responsibility for the refugee operation from coalition forces from 7 June. Those of our troops who have been engaged in providing humanitarian relief to the refugees have finished their job and will be brought home.
But there remain the other troops in Kurdish Iraq. The House will, I hope, agree that coalition forces cannot remain in northern Iraq indefinitely. Their deployment was intended as a temporary measure to meet an immediate and overwhelming humanitarian need. It is right that that responsibility should now be passed to the United Nations, but we would be failing in our duty if we were to ignore the situation of the Kurds, and we are doing everything that we can to ensure that the callous persecution that they have suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein does not happen again.
I am sorry, but I shall deal later with the allegations that the hon. Gentleman made.
First among the measures to be taken will be the deployment of United Nations relief workers. The memorandum of understanding between the Iraqi Government and the United Nations provides for the establishment of United Nations humanitarian centres throughout Iraq. The presence of UN personnel, whose task will be to work among refugees, should pro vide considerable reassurance. We hope that a significant UN presence will soon be in place throughout northern Iraq.
Prince Sadruddin, the Secretary-General's executive delegate, whom my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met in London earlier this week, is well aware of the need to get UN staff on the ground quickly. The UN relief effort will be complimented by the presence of up to 500 United Nations field services officers, drawn from the ranks of the UN security force in new York and Geneva and other sources. We see their task as being to monitor the situation in Iraq—I beg the hon. Member for Workington to listen carefully—and they will be able to report any abuses to the Secretary-General, who will be free to take them up with the Iraqi authorities and, if necessary, the Security Council. Some 47 field service officers and 162 United Nations personnel are already in Iraq and more will be sent shortly.
The hon. Member for Workington made some greatly exaggerated allegations. The field service officers will report abuses to the Secretary-General, who will be in a position to take them up, if he feels it appropriate, with the Security Council. That is the appropriate way of dealing with the matter.
We do not expect the Iraqi Government to hinder the relief operation. We and our allies would view any attack by the Iraqis as completely unacceptable, and there have been only minor isolated incidents so far.
I have explained the position. The hon. Lady knows that our actions in the conflict with Iraq and in establishing the safe havens in northern Iraq have been consistent with, and derived support from, United Nations resolutions. We have operated on that basis.
I recognise the fear of the Kurds, which the hon. Member for Bristol, South mentioned. We recognise the justice of the Kurdish case, in which the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has much interest and experience going back many years. We have made clear our support for autonomy for the Kurdish people and our respect for human rights, and I am happy to repeat that. That is what the Kurds want; they are not calling for a separate Kurdish state.
We hope that a satisfactory agreement between the Kurdish leadership and the Iraqi Government will be reached. Sadly, Saddam Hussein gives the impression that he seeks to drag out negotiations in order to buy time. He should realise that the only way to resolve the problem, which has given rise to considerable international condemnation of his regime, is to respond generously to the legitimate aspirations of the Kurdish people.
In our contacts with Kurdish leaders, we stressed the importance of reaching an early agreement. However, the Kurds' suspicions of the Iraqi regime have been amply justified by its past actions. We shall be working to ensure that any agreement is properly underpinned by the United Nations.
The hon. Member for Cynon Valley suggested that, before 2 August 1990, Iraq was a country with which we were best friends. Does she not remember the condemnation that the British Conservative Government expressed four or five years ago after the appalling use of weapons at Halabja? That incident was raised in the UN Security Council by the British Government. Is that the act of a country with which one can say we were in friendship? That is an absurd proposition.
I recall the British Government's condemnation of the Iraqi Government in 1988 following their chemical attacks on Halabja. However, I recall also that, less than a month later, a substantial export credit loan was given to British companies to allow them to trade with Iraq, on top of all the other loans that had been made available. Does the Minister accept that the problem of the Kurdish people must be dealt with, and that requires pressure from other Governments in the region, including Turkey, if the awful horrors of the past few months are not to be visited upon the Kurdish people again in the future?
I cannot accept that. I certainly cannot accept that there was any degree of friendship between the British Government and the Iraqi Government before 2 August last year.
An agreement between the Kurds and the Iraqi Government would be a great step forward, but it cannot be a precondition for the withdrawal of coalition forces. We must look at other ways of providing the Kurds with the assurance that they need. We are discussing with our allies what arrangements might appropriately be made to deter Saddam Hussein from further aggression—perhaps by the stationing of military forces in the region but outside Iraq.
I want to make it clear that, if the Iraqi Government were to embark on a further round of repression, the Government would not hesitate to have recourse to the Security Council, to seek a further resolution authorising action to halt it.
I am not saying anything particularly new, but if it gives satisfaction to the hon. Member I am most pleased. I am more than happy to underline and endorse the Prime Minister's commitment to the recent Conservative party conference.
The British Government's response to the refugee crisis in Iraq has been swift, decisive, and effective. Now that the immediate humanitarian needs of the refugees have been met, we are moving into a new phase. It would not be right for coalition forces to remain in northern Iraq indefinitely, but the Government will work actively to create the climate of security and reassurance necessary to allow the Kurds to rebuild their lives and to ensure respect for their fundamental human and political rights.