Iraq and the Middle East

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 14th April 2003.

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Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party 3:30 pm, 14th April 2003

Our armed forces have fought one of the swiftest and most successful military campaigns in modern times, and they are now winning hearts and minds in Iraq in building public order and in keeping the peace. I should like, on the Opposition's behalf, to pay tribute today to their skill, professionalism and courage, and to keep in our prayers and thoughts both those who have lost their lives, and the families who now grieve.

The fighting, as the Prime Minister said, is not yet over, but the world has been rid of an evil tyrant and an evil regime. The people of Iraq will at last have an opportunity to choose the Government whom they want, and to live, we hope, in peace and freedom. I should like also to congratulate the Prime Minister. He has carried, we certainly believe, a heavy burden in the past few weeks, but he will have been comforted throughout by the conviction that he was doing the right thing for Britain and for the rest of the world.

I should like to ask the Prime Minister about four specific issues: public order in Iraq, the humanitarian crisis there, its future government, and the wider prospects for the middle east. But before I do so, perhaps he could answer a question about another specific and relatively urgent issue. I understand that there are reports that the wife of Ian Seymour, a Royal Marines commando who was killed in a helicopter crash in Kuwait during the conflict, has been told to pay back his salary for the rest of the month and to move out of the home. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is a poor way to treat a family who have sacrificed so much, and will he ensure that this decision is reversed, and that no other bereaved family is treated in such a way?

On public order, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary said this morning that when tyrants fall, looting always follows, and we have seen pictures, particularly in Baghdad, of the looting of hospitals and shops, and even of the museum. The Prime Minister talked about the actions that are being taken. Will he now guarantee that no troops—certainly no British troops—will be withdrawn until Iraq achieves an acceptable level of stability and security? Can he also tell us whether other coalition countries have been asked to contribute to policing in Iraq, and, if so, what their response has been?

On the humanitarian crisis, can the Prime Minister confirm that only one hospital in Baghdad now remains open, and will he ensure, in line with what he said, that whatever drugs, medical equipment, doctors and nurses are needed will be flown in, if necessary, from our own field hospitals in Kuwait? The whole House will have been moved by the pictures of the plight and tragic case of Ali. Now that Medevac has confirmed that it can evacuate Ali to Kuwait, will the Prime Minister confirm that there will be no difficulty in the RAF's flying Ali or other, similar cases to Britain, if that is required medically?

The Prime Minister will also be aware that a humanitarian crisis is still unfolding. When does he believe the electricity and water supplies will be restored, perhaps in full? When does he believe the aid agencies will have a secure enough environment to return to the work that they say they are pledged to do?

As for the future of Iraq, the Prime Minister knows that oil revenues are essential to the country's reconstruction. Is he now pressing for the lifting of sanctions on all sales of oil? If so, when does he think that will happen? Does he agree that the welfare of Iraq's people should come before the repayment of state debts run up by Saddam's regime, and does he also agree that putting those state debts aside should be part of a new Marshall plan for Iraq?

The Prime Minister spoke about the three phases of reconstruction, but he knows that there are two views on a United Nations resolution and the interim Iraqi authority. The first, which appears to have been held last week by his Secretary of State for International Development and some others, is that a UN resolution is needed to make that authority legitimate; the second is that such a resolution is not needed. I asked the Prime Minister last week, and I must ask him again, whether he shares the view of his International Development Secretary.

Let me now ask about the wider prospects of the middle east. Does the Prime Minister accept that there is a danger that the coalition will give out mixed messages, particularly with regard to Syria? We understand that the Prime Minister has spoken to President Assad, and that he has sent a Minister to speak to the regime directly. Meanwhile, the American Government have said:

"There's got to be a change in Syria . . . The Syrians need to know they'll be held to account."

Is the Prime Minister's view the same as the Administration's in Washington?

In regard to the middle east peace process, we welcome the moves by the new Palestinian Prime Minister, Abu Mazan, to establish his Cabinet, and also Prime Minister Sharon's reported concessions on the settlements. There are, however, reports that Yasser Arafat has very recently refused to accept some of the Cabinet candidates proposed by Abu Mazan. Does the Prime Minister see that as a retrograde step, and does he believe that it will delay the publication of the road map that is so needed to help stability in the region?

The war may be drawing successfully to a close, but a challenge at least as big now faces us—the reconstruction of Iraq and its restoration as a nation that believes in justice, the rule of law and the freedoms and rights of its own people. I assure the House that Conservative Members will be as resolute in seeing this through as we were in the prosecution of the war.