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Role of the United Nations in Iraq

– in the House of Commons at 4:14 pm on 10th September 2003.

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Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs) 4:27 pm, 10th September 2003

I beg to move,

That this House
welcomes the publication of the recent draft resolution of the United Nations Security Council on Iraq;
calls upon Her Majesty's Government to honour the Prime Minister's commitment to give the United Nations a vital role in the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq through a new Security Council Resolution which would expedite the restoration of sovereignty and democratic control to the Iraqi people, place the process of political transition under the auspices of the United Nations, transfer the whole responsibility for the economic reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq to an Iraqi provisional government assisted as necessary by the United Nations and replace existing security arrangements with a multinational force under unified command obliged to report to the Security Council.

Those who have come here today hoping for a partisan debate, like yesterday's, will—I hope—be disappointed. We have chosen to ask the House to consider a serious matter and I begin by thanking the Foreign Secretary for being present. I know that he had other obligations for today that he has cancelled in order to attend the debate.

The scepticism of me and my party about the military action against Iraq is well documented, but nothing in the events of recent weeks—the Hutton inquiry, the fact that we still have not found weapons of mass destruction capable of deployment within 45 minutes, the Foreign Secretary's memorandum setting out, with admirable clarity, the risks and responsibilities of Government policy towards Iraq or today's allegation of a leak from the Intelligence and Security Committee—has persuaded me that my scepticism was other than well founded. However, we have a duty to deal with events as they are, not as we would like them to have been.

If I were to allow myself a brief moment of self-indulgence, it would be to point out that on the East river it will not be lost on those who work for the United Nations that the institution that was bypassed in March as part of the problem is being assiduously wooed in September as part of the solution.

When the force commander on the ground asks for more troops for an operation that the House of Commons authorised by democratic vote on 18 March, there would have to be a very good reason to refuse the request. In my view, no such reason exists. I understand the reluctance of some to acquiesce in the sending of more troops, but it is not realistic or fair to ask forces to fulfil tasks for which they have inadequate resources.

Some would argue that the logic of refusing more troops is that the forces already deployed should be withdrawn. However, one need only pause and ask what the consequence of withdrawal would be. Would Basra be made safer for its citizens? Would electricity and water flow more regularly? Would aid agencies find it easier to operate? The answer to those questions is self-evidently no.

The additional forces now being sought are necessary for two principal purposes—to help to achieve the humanitarian objectives to which I have referred, and to keep safe those already there, both military and civilian.

What would be the military consequences of withdrawal? It would create a vacuum in which disaffected members of the Ba'ath party, the sullen soldiers of the disbanded army and the suicidal jihadists would flourish. The current deterioration that all recognise would accelerate out of control

However, the deployment of the extra troops can be seen only as a stopgap that allows an opportunity to buy time. The deployment, to be added to in the way that has been suggested and indeed already implemented, cannot go on for an unlimited time, for military and economic reasons. A former leader of the Conservative party asked three questions last September to which no one has been able to provide answers. He asked what the exit strategy was, how many British troops would be required, and how long they would be required to be deployed. Those perceptive questions of 12 months ago remain unanswered.

Sooner or later, there will have to be an exit strategy. I suggest that it will be based either on a determination that the job has been done and the objectives achieved, or on a recognition that we can no longer do the job and that we should go. However, that is not a matter for today.

The House and the country are entitled to more detailed information about the financial costs to date. What are the daily and monthly costs? What are the projected costs? I was not satisfied with an answer that I received on 10 July from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and I have written to the Chancellor again today to ask for further information, but it has become overwhelmingly clear that the burden in Iraq has to be shared. I have no doubt whatever that the best way to do that is through the UN, which now enjoys belated recognition among even the most neoconservative elements in Washington. Truly, rumours of the UN's death are shown to have been grossly exaggerated.

I turn now to the military position. We need a resolution that mandates a multinational force under unified command. In that respect, there is nothing between me and the Foreign Secretary. We must be realistic, and accept that that force will be under US command. The force, and the command that is established, should be modelled on the arrangements for what we might now call Gulf war one. The command should be obliged to report to the Security Council, as happened in Gulf war one.

I do not know how many hon. Members have had the opportunity to read the draft resolution now circulating in New York. Those who have read it may have noticed that it uses the phrase "all necessary means", in contradistinction to the earlier phrase "serious consequences". If "all necessary means" had been in people's contemplation last October and November, it is possible that some of the difficulties encountered by the UN might have been avoided.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

Earlier, the right hon. and learned Gentleman made the interesting remark that we might have to withdraw from Iraq because of a recognition that we cannot achieve our objectives there. Is that possibility more likely to come to pass if we retain a command structure that is under the control of America and not the UN? If the UN were calling the shots in military terms in Iraq, would the withdrawal under the conditions that he describes be less likely? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say a little more about how there could be an American command structure that would, nevertheless, be recognised internationally as answerable to the UN?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was a Member of the House in 1990 and 1991; the answer to the second part of his question is that precisely such a structure was established for the purpose of expelling Iraq from Kuwait. It was under the command of General Schwarzkopf, and General Sir Peter de la Billière was the senior British representative. The French were also represented in that command and the representation of other contributing nations related to some extent to the value and degree of their contribution. It is perfectly possible to create such a command. Our motion seeks to establish that the command is authorised by the UN and obliged to report back to the Security Council.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Scottish National Party, Banff and Buchan

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall answer the questions put by Mr. Thomas before I take his intervention.

On whether we are more likely to succeed through the UN or through existing arrangements, I have no doubt whatever—indeed, it is implied in the motion—that we shall much more easily and effectively achieve the objectives that we regard as desirable through not only a multinational security arrangement, but also an arrangement for the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq conducted through the UN. That would enjoy far greater legitimacy than proposals and measures from a coalition about whose right to continue with such measures there must be, at least, some legal doubt as, to some extent, it is stretching its responsibilities under the Geneva convention.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Scottish National Party, Banff and Buchan

The right hon. and learned Gentleman examines such things extremely carefully, so he will have noticed that the Government amendment refers to the existing command structure, as did President Bush's "Come and join us" appeal earlier this week. Will he confirm that he is not in favour of the existing command structure being sanctioned by the UN, but rather that he is looking for one that is properly authorised by the UN?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

I thought that I had already said that, but if it is necessary to repeat it, I want a command structure based on that for Gulf war one, which was both legitimate in terms of the legal powers that it created and politically acceptable because it required the command to be answerable to the Security Council. That is why I responded to the hon. Member for Ceredigion by saying that we were much more likely to achieve those objectives through the UN than by following the existing arrangements outside the UN.

Such a force with such a mandate ought to be able to attract contributors from militarily capable nations such as France, Germany, India, Pakistan and even perhaps Turkey. I used the words "militarily capable" deliberately; it is one thing to have troops assigned from a member of the UN to a command of that kind, but we must have troops that are properly led, properly equipped and properly trained. Some hon. Members will remember the lessons of Bosnia where troops were assigned to a UN force—a blue-helmet force—with inadequate provision by all three of the criteria to which I referred. Troops were arriving without personal weapons and without boots. If we are to restructure the command as I have suggested, we must do so in a way that will attract troops from militarily capable nations.

That of itself will not be enough to attract such support, as some of the preliminary observations made by the representatives of those countries at the UN made clear. There will have to be parallel political development. Even with an expanded and more representative security force, there will be no shortcuts to stability in Iraq. Stability and security will depend on political progress and on the civil administration in Iraq being the responsibility not of the coalition—increasingly seen as occupiers— but of the UN, which would, in my view, enjoy a far greater legitimacy and acceptability.

For those who are students of such matters, I fancy that the next fortnight in New York would be a most interesting occasion if one could participate, even silently, in all the meetings that will take place, because they will essentially involve that peculiar UN operation of barter and exchange, negotiation, offer and counter-offer. However, any new resolution, as finally agreed, must provide the vital role for the UN promised by both President Bush and the Prime Minister, not just in words, but in substance as well. It must embrace the urgent objective of restoring sovereignty and democratic control to the Iraqi people. It must ensure that the process of transition from the present arrangements comes under the auspices of the UN. We should ensure that the responsibility for economic reconstruction and rebuilding in Iraq is as soon as possible placed with an Iraqi provisional Government, assisted by the UN.

The deployment of British forces can be justified against such clear objectives. I also want to make it clear that a desire to rescue the deteriorating situation in Iraq, which virtually everyone now recognises, is no endorsement of the action that has given rise to that position. I said at the outset that my scepticism remains undimmed. Analogies in these matters are always deeply dangerous, but let me suggest that the doctor who treats the victim of a serious assault neither endorses nor justifies that assault in so doing.

I cannot believe that it is in the interests of the people of the United Kingdom, whom we are sent here to represent, that Iraq should further deteriorate and that there should be instability in that country, which would inevitably have consequences for the stability of the whole region. We have a moral obligation, but there is also a deeply pragmatic obligation as well.

Firmly rooting remedial action in the UN is, in my judgment, an acknowledgement of the UN's pre-eminence, for which Liberal Democrat Members at least have consistently argued, and far from being an endorsement of military action, which I still believe was unjustified at the time that it was taken, it is in truth an implied rebuke to all those who sidelined the UN. I have said before—I am flattered that the Foreign Secretary has quoted it from time to time—that the UN is no more or less than the sum of its members. It is not a third party to whom we can contract out our security or, indeed, that of the Iraqi people. It requires our engagement, and if, as we do in the motion, we set out a series of steps that we regard as essential, we have an obligation to recognise that we have to continue to engage, and, if necessary, we have to engage with further resources in the form of troops and—who knows?—perhaps even in the form of financial support.

When Sergio Vieira de Mello and Fiona Watson, who was one of my former constituents—incidentally, her coffin was draped with the UN flag at her funeral—were both brutally murdered, they were acting for us and in our name, as much as were any of those in uniform who have been so tragically killed.

The UN is not and never will be a perfect instrument, but it is the best means available now by which to ameliorate the present condition of the Iraqi people and to improve it to the point at which they can resume full responsibility for themselves. That is why I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary 4:44 pm, 10th September 2003

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"supports the vital role played by the United Nations in Iraq as endorsed by UN Security Council Resolutions 1483 and 1500 (2003);
pays tribute to the Secretary General's Special Representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello and his colleagues brutally murdered in the terrorist atrocity of 19th August;
welcomes the determination of the United Nations Secretary General to remain engaged in Iraq;
further welcomes the initiation of discussions on a new UN Security Council Resolution on Iraq, which aims to reaffirm the United Nations' support for the work of the governing council, calls on the governing council to submit a timetable and programme for the drafting of a new constitution for Iraq and for the holding of democratic elections, proposes a United Nations-mandated multinational force under existing unified command arrangements and encourages UN Member States and international organisations to help the Iraqi people by providing resources for rehabilitation and reconstruction at next month's conference in Madrid."

I welcome this debate and the tone in which Mr. Campbell moved the motion. I welcome the spirit of the motion, too. I looked hard to see whether we could accept the motion as stated, and it was only what I described as a little infelicitous drafting here and there, on which I would have been happy to offer prior assistance, that led me to move the alternative. The tone of the debate reflects the fact that, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, whatever views people have had about the wisdom or otherwise of the military action, we all have a common interest in securing Iraq's peace and prosperity as quickly as possible.

The role of the UN has been at the heart of the issue with Iraq for more than a dozen years. During that time, Iraq achieved the unique distinction of having more mandatory Security Council resolutions against it than any other country in the United Nations' history. Its record of defiance in response to the Security Council's demands put Saddam Hussein's regime into a category of its own. That unenviable record led the House to make the decision on 18 March, by a majority of 263, that the only way to deal effectively with that defiance and the threat that the Security Council had already agreed that it posed to international peace and security was through military action.

This time last year, we were involved with our Security Council partners in an intensive dialogue as to how we could enforce the writ of United Nations resolutions in Iraq. That dialogue became a negotiation, which led on 8 November to the unanimous adoption of resolution 1441. It is worth reminding ourselves of the key elements of that resolution. It declared that Iraq represented a threat to international peace and security, which is a key trigger for the use of chapter VII powers. It gave Iraq a "final opportunity" to bring itself into compliance, and it spelled out how it was to do so in the clearest possible terms. If Iraq failed to meet the conditions, 1441 warned that "serious consequences" would follow. Diplomatic parlance is notoriously ambiguous, but that phrase was understood to have only one meaning—military action. I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it was understood to be interchangeable with "necessary means" or "necessary measures".

I do not downplay the significance of the United Nations' subsequent failure to agree on the so-called second resolution in March. Indeed, it was a matter of great personal regret to me. I travelled to New York four times between January and March in an attempt to a secure a consensus on the need to enforce those terms of the resolution. We all worked hard to try to achieve that consensus, but we were unable to do so. Divisions were also apparent in this House in that momentous debate on 18 March. Some took the view that containment was working, or, alongside that, that more time should be granted to the United Nations inspectors. The Government's view was that that would simply play into the hands of a regime that wanted time without end. As I have already mentioned, the House therefore endorsed the Government's position and decided to enforce those "serious consequences".

In the aftermath of coalition military intervention, the immediate challenge facing the international community is to bring peace and the rule of law to a country that has been brutalised for almost a quarter of a century. Our task is to help the Iraqi people rapidly build a nation from the ashes of Saddam's dictatorship and to do so with the United Nations. In April, at the Hillsborough summit, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush called on the United Nations to play a vital role in the reconstruction of Iraq. It has been doing so ever since. The World Food Programme, with its Iraqi counterparts, got the public distribution system for food rations fully up and running in June. UNICEF and the World Health Organisation have made major contributions to the restoration of health services, which have included the successful containment of the cholera outbreak in the south of the country, maintaining supplies of essential medicines and resuming child vaccination programmes. The United Nations Development Programme has been helping to restore electricity services, and the Government, through the Department for International Development, have been providing very considerable support. DFID has committed £113 million to the United Nations' work in Iraq, alongside other funds in respect of other programmes.

In all this work, particularly in the south of the country, the work of the civilian agencies has been supported and in some instances made possible by the exceptional work of British troops. I cannot emphasis often enough—I know that I have the approbation of the whole House—the admiration that we all have for the skill, expertise, courage and determination of our troops. It happens that by chance on Saturday I met a group of service personnel who were literally about to leave for Basra. Some were with their families. Tears were being shed. It was striking in the brief conversations that I had what stoicism our troops were showing, and what commitment to the cause and to the highest traditions of the British armed forces.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

Endorsing what my right hon. Friend said about the British troops, where great commitment has been shown, is not there a problem that really should be addressed, which is the labelling of many technocrats who formerly were Ba'athists, in that they had to be to get anywhere in their profession? Could not some change be made in the guidelines as to who can help in reconstruction and who cannot? I think particularly of Saddam's Health Minister, Dr. Mubarrak from Sulammiya—a Kurd, incidentally—who was technically, in the view of many people, extremely efficient. All right, he paid lip service to the Ba'ath party, but he was interested in health. Should not such people be brought back in the reconstruction process?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend makes an important and constructive point. It is one that has been exercising us as well. The point is how sensitively the process of so-called de-Ba'athification can be undertaken in a way that identifies those people who on any analysis were completely committed Ba'athists, and therefore would represent a threat to any subsequent Government within the country, and those whom my hon. Friend correctly said were Ba'athists because they had to be Ba'athists, in the same way as in the Soviet bloc if someone wanted to be a teacher, an administrator or engineer at any level, they had to be a member of the Communist party.

Quite a lot of the people who are operating at a senior level were members of the Ba'ath party. When I was in Baghdad on 1 July, I met a woman who had been a senior official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I am quite sure—I am not absolutely certain, but almost certain—that she was involved in the Ba'ath party. People had identified her as someone who was not remotely committed to it. However, she had to be able to follow her career.

On the gravamen of what my hon. Friend says, he is right. We continue discussions in the coalition provisional authority to ensure that the de-Ba'athification process is handled sensitively and quickly, and that good people who pose no threat to security in Iraq are allowed to continue their work.

The Government have been committed all the way along to establishing a broad mandate for the UN in post-Saddam Iraq. Thus far, this has been affirmed in two Security Council resolutions. The first, UNSCR 1483, was passed on 22 May.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge

I am pleased to hear my right hon. Friend's remarks about the British commitment to a UN mandate. Does he agree with me that the American reluctance to bring in the UN at an early stage, and the seemingly reluctant acceptance that the UN has an important role to play now, after a period of violence, does not do their cause very much good?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I do not fully accept my hon. Friend's view. From the very start, the American Government wanted the United Nations to play a vital role. I was present at the discussions at Hillsborough at the beginning of April, when the issue of the vital role was discussed. It was not an issue of words. Everyone recognised, not least President Bush and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that if the UN was to play a "vital role", those words had to be translated into action. In my judgment, they have been, and I was about to say how that has been done. However, I do not deny for a second that we now have to enhance the UN's mandate.

Resolution 1483, co-sponsored by the United States and the UK, talked about a vital role for the United Nations, and established a framework for the UN's involvement in all significant aspects of Iraq's reconstruction. It lifted most of the UN sanctions against Iraq. A second resolution—resolution 1500—passed on 14 August welcomed the first steps taken by Iraq towards representative government with the formation of the Iraqi Governing Council. It also created the United Nations assistance mission for Iraq, as recommended by the Secretary-General.

To pick up the point made by my hon. Friend Mrs. Campbell, of course there was scepticism about the question of whether the "vital role" was simply warm words or would be followed by action. I have accepted both in the House and outside that mistakes were made, not only in respect of the role of the United Nations but, more significantly, in not fully anticipating the speed with which the Saddam regime would collapse and the security vacuum that would be left. There were also mistakes in the planning for the coalition provisional authority. That said, after the passage of resolution 1483, in late May, June and July, the role of the United Nations on the ground was accelerating and, on any analysis, becoming vital.

That was made clear in the Secretary-General's report to the Security Council on 17 July. He said that the

"UN can begin to assist the Iraqi making a difference . . . and in helping to pave the way of the restoration of sovereignty to democratic Iraqi institutions."

Sergio Vieira de Mello referred to the formation of the Iraqi Governing Council on 13 July as a "defining moment" for Iraq,

"moving it back where it rightfully belongs: at peace with itself and as a full participant in the community of nations."

As I told the House on Monday, the fact that the terrorists decided to target the Secretary-General's special representative and other United Nations staff at the UN's headquarters, the Canal hotel in Baghdad, speaks volumes about the positive impact that the United Nations was having through its involvement in the political process and its role in reconstruction. It had been helping to establish the conditions for an orderly transition in Iraq, and its personnel became the target of those who sought to plunge the country into chaos. It was precisely because those terrorists could see the difference that the UN was making that they decided to target it.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

I do not demur from what the right hon. Gentleman has said in the last moment or two, but another consideration is the fact that the UN was a pretty soft target. The security arrangements for its headquarters were a long way below what was desirable.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I was just about to say that in the wake of the appalling events on 19 August, the United Nations obviously had to scale back its presence in Iraq considerably. I have since spoken to Secretary-General Kofi Annan on a number of occasions, and assured him that we are ready to offer further advice and assistance to help to guarantee the security of United Nations facilities and personnel. However, may I also tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the United Nations had to make its own decisions about security? There was security around the Canal hotel, but the UN—rightly, in my view—judged that it should be separate from the coalition forces and the secure area within Baghdad. It also judged that in the past it had never been a target, so it was fair for it to assume, even in the more difficult security climate, that it was not going to be a target in future. Obviously, that has to be reassessed, but I say to him from my knowledge that no culpability lies with the security services of either the United Nations or the coalition. The culpability for that terrorist attack lies solely with the terrorists.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

May I infer from the Foreign Secretary's last remark to Mr. Campbell that the United Nations was offered security cover at the Canal hotel by the United States, but thought it proper to refuse it?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The situation is more complicated than that. The United Nations had security cover and the issue is the level of cover. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will excuse me, I am afraid that I shall not go into detail about the confidential discussions that took place between the UN and the coalition.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Scottish National Party, Banff and Buchan

The Foreign Secretary said that he thought that the United Nations wanted to be separate from the coalition forces. Might that be the case because it wanted to see a distinction between the United Nations operation and that of the coalition forces, which had been engaged in military action—a distinction between combatant forces and peacekeeping forces? If he acknowledges that distinction, would it not be unwise to blur it by trying to incorporate other countries into an existing command structure instead of setting up a new command structure that would not be regarded as partial and combatant?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The hon. Gentleman is correct that, of course, it was in the mind of the United Nations that it was distinct from coalition forces and wanted to reinforce that distinction by locating itself in a different place in Baghdad. Indeed, it had occupied the same headquarters since the Gulf war. I shall deal in a moment with the issue of unified command, but I say now that nobody in the Security Council is arguing for blue-helmeted troops under the command of a UN Secretary-General-appointed commander. Everyone accepts that there has to be a multinational force, but under a unified command, and that that unified commander has to be from the United States, for reasons that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife readily acknowledged. That is also an element of the resolution.

The truth that we now know, but did not know before 19 August, is that everybody who is working for peace in Iraq—the United Nations, coalition forces, members of the governing council and ordinary Iraqis—can be targeted by such terrorists, who simply want, in a nihilistic way, to blow up processes that will lead to peace and security. We must take account of that and assist the Iraqis in getting on top of terrorism, just as, in a much more limited way, we have had to do ourselves.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I need to make progress, as this is a very short debate and others wish to speak.

As I have said, the attack on the UN headquarters was a terrible reminder that all nations share a common interest in ensuring a successful transition in Iraq and have none in allowing the terrorists to succeed. For that reason, over the past few weeks, I have been working closely with United States Secretary of State Colin Powell and my colleagues in the European Union and the Security Council to strengthen the UN's mandate and the joint efforts of the international community in Iraq.

Let me set out the key elements in the draft that is now under discussion. It reaffirms the United Nations' support for the work of the Governing Council and calls on the council—this is a very important point—to submit a timetable and programme for the drafting of a new constitution for Iraq and the holding of democratic elections. The timetable would be provided in co-operation with both the CPA and the United Nations. It would reinforce to the Iraqi people our determination to move along the path towards democratic government run by Iraqis in a sovereign Iraq. Giving that sense of progress and hope about the fact that the coalition is in the country as an occupying power only temporarily is of profound psychological importance in Iraq. It will give the international community more certainty about the direction that is being pursued in Iraq. The fact of the discussions has already tended to assist the international climate in which the Iraqi Governing Council is operating. I was pleased to learn this morning that at a meeting in Cairo yesterday, the Arab League passed a resolution in which it invited the Iraqi Governing Council to take up its full seat at the league until a representative of a full Iraqi Government could take over. Given how standoffish the Arab League and neighbouring states had been before, that is a very important change.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

The Secretary of State says that he wants to give the Iraqi people the impression that the occupying forces will be there only temporarily. Will he give an indication of how long they are going to be there? Will it be two years, three years, five years, or 10 years? If he cannot do that, will he give an indication of when he can give an indication?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The purpose of inviting the governing council to propose a timescale is to let the most representative body of the Iraqi people make those proposals, not to have them imposed by others, including the United Kingdom. We do not want to stay, nor will we stay, in Iraq for a moment longer than is necessary. We will ensure that a handover of sovereignty takes place as quickly as possible. Given the uncertainty of the situation, I cannot give my hon. Friend exact dates as to when that will happen, but I can promise him that we are committed to doing so as quickly as is safe.

The text highlights the UN's role in supporting the constitutional processes in Iraq, drawing on its extensive expertise in this area. The aim is for the UN to be heavily involved in preparing the electoral register and other electoral processes.

The draft proposes a UN-mandated international force under existing unified command arrangements; that should facilitate the provision of troops by other countries that have so far felt unable to make contributions.

Finally, the text refers to next month's donors conference in Madrid.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

In answer to some comments that have been made about the commitment of the United States to the involvement of the United Nations, can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the draft text to which he refers was in fact proposed and tabled by the United States?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Indeed. This is a United States proposal, which is constructive and will no doubt be improved during discussions.

In summary, if a resolution along the lines of the draft is accepted, that will send a strong signal to those forces in Iraq who would deny the Iraqi people a peaceful and prosperous future. It will tell them that the international community's commitment to the establishment of representative government in Iraq was irrevocable and that their efforts to block Iraq's return to the international community of nations were doomed to failure.

The build-up to military action in March was, sadly, characterised by serious divisions in the international community. By contrast, the period since the fall of Saddam has been characterised by growing consensus that whatever those previous disagreements, we all have a common interest in Iraq's future stability and prosperity and in the role of the United Nations in achieving that. Constructive discussions on the draft have been held over the past 10 days in New York and via direct contact between Foreign Ministers of Security Council members. This Saturday, at the invitation of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, I shall travel to Geneva for a meeting with him and my four colleague Foreign Ministers from the permanent membership of the Security Council to discuss both the draft in more detail and the wider issues of United Nations involvement in Iraq. I look forward to that meeting, and I shall of course report the outcome to the House.

Since the inception of the United Nations, no country has been more committed to it than the United Kingdom. No country has made a greater effort than the United Kingdom to ensuring that the UN is a central means by which the international community deals with the threat from Saddam's regime and the country's rehabilitation. We were the co-sponsor of three UN resolutions in respect of Iraq that have been passed in the past 10 months, and in the coming days we shall strive to secure a fourth.

The draft resolution that is under discussion is aimed at cementing the UN's presence in Iraq, enhancing Iraq's security and bringing forward the day when the Iraqi people can take full control of their own destiny. I urge the House to accept the amendment.