Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 9th November 2004.

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Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 11:30 am, 9th November 2004

What assessment he has made of the impact that the result of the US presidential election will have on UK foreign policy in Iraq.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

We will continue our pattern of close co-operation and consultation with the United States Administration on all matters of common concern, including Iraq.

The crucial challenge now for the whole international community—and above all for the people of Iraq—is fully to implement Security Council resolution 1546, which lays down the timetable for elections to be held by the end of January. Work on these elections is well in hand; however, a hard core of terrorists and insurgents is currently seeking to prevent the Iraqi people from exercising their democratic right to free elections. Tragically, those terrorists refused to negotiate a peaceful solution, which is why the Iraqi Interim Government found it necessary to order the current military action in Falluja.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Leaving aside Falluja, it has been an astonishing week in Iraqi politics. There were the tragic events surrounding Camp Dogwood, and in Palestine an apparent power vacuum may well influence the outcome of events in Iraq. On top of all that comes Sir Stephen Wall's devastating announcement this week that in his view the war had no basis in international law in the first place. Is it not time that we had an urgent and fundamental review of our entire position on Iraq?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

If it is the hon. Gentleman's view that, regardless of the position individuals took at the time of the military action, we should walk away from Iraq and hand it over to the terrorists and insurgents, let me tell him that that is certainly not the view of the Iraqi people or of the whole international community. What fine British forces, including the Black Watch, are doing, alongside contributors from 30 other members of the international community, is seeking to implement a Security Council resolution passed unanimously, which laid down that those multinational forces had the duty

"to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq . . . including by preventing and deterring terrorism, so that . . . the Iraqi people can implement freely and without intimidation the timetable and program for the political process and benefit from reconstruction and rehabilitation activities".

I very much hope that the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman is not the view of Conservative Front Benchers.

Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies Labour, Llanelli

My right hon. Friend referred to the Iraqi elections. Is it the case that any party or grouping in Iraq is free to put forward representatives to stand in that election, or are there some restrictions? If there are restrictions, who is entitled to draw them up and lay them down?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

There are, I believe, some limited restrictions in respect of former senior members of the Ba'ath party. That aside, the decisions are in the hands of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq under the supervision of the United Nations, particularly Carlos Valenzuela and Mrs. Perelli. I am absolutely clear that the process for elections is satisfactory and that the atmosphere for them will also be satisfactory, provided—a big and important proviso—that the terrorists and insurgents can be persuaded by one means or another to allow the Iraqi people to have their say in those elections.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State for International Affairs, Shadow Foreign Secretary & Deputy Leader, International Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

In referring to Iraq, may I start by paying tribute to our courageous forces who have been in action there this week and by offering our sympathy to those who have been wounded and to the families of those who have died? Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that the Prime Minister will use his forthcoming visit to the President of the United States to press certain elements of policy in relation to Iraq? In particular, will he press for a substantial plan for reconstruction and job creation to provide hope for the many unemployed and resentful Iraqis who are currently ready recruits to insurgency?

Secondly, alongside our military representation, will the Foreign Secretary press for the appointment of a senior British political figure to provide high-level political advice within the joint councils of the Interim Government and the multilateral forces? Can the Foreign Secretary urge the Prime Minister to make sure that, on this occasion, Britain's voice is not only heard, but heeded?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his expression of sympathy and condolences to those members of the Black Watch who have been killed in action south of Baghdad. Our hearts, prayers and thoughts go out to the families and we salute the extraordinary courage and fortitude shown by the Black Watch and all other units of the British forces in that theatre.

The Prime Minister will indeed be discussing Iraq when he meets President Bush on Thursday and Friday. I have to say that there are already well-developed plans for reconstruction and job creation, and many of them are working. There has been a large increase in employment and in GDP in Iraq. What is holding back Iraq's development is the terrorism and insurgency. That is why it has to be dealt with.

On senior political advice, the Iraqis know that their Government are independent and sovereign, albeit appointed and approved by the United Nations. It is important for Iraq to have elections. I have the highest confidence—I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman does, too—in our senior ambassador in Baghdad, Edward Chaplin, and all his colleagues.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State for International Affairs, Shadow Foreign Secretary & Deputy Leader, International Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

Will the Foreign Secretary now concede that the precipitate disbandment after the war of the Iraqi armed forces, the Iraqi police and much of the Iraqi civil service created a security and employment vacuum, which has, in the event, been filled by violence? Will he accept that that was an error, for which the price is now being paid on the ground? Will he therefore also urge the Prime Minister to press on the President the need for a more accelerated and better rewarded process of recruitment, training and deployment of Iraqi police and internal security forces to fill that vacuum and thus allow for an earlier phased reduction of multilateral forces, including our own?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

It is really important that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not seek to make the victims of the violence appear to be its perpetrators. Ever since the end of the major conflict in April 2003, there has been violence in Iraq because of the activity of the terrorists and insurgents. We must be absolutely clear that they are the cause of the casualties. There are no incidents or casualties in those provinces of Iraq where there is no insurgency. Everybody needs to recognise that central fact.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

I recognise that those who kidnap, torture and behead their prisoners certainly do not want democratic elections in any circumstances. However, would it not be useful for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to explain to President Bush at their meeting this week that winning hearts and minds in Iraq will not depend only on military campaigns, however successful they are? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the international community is watching events in Iraq very closely indeed?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Winning hearts and minds is fundamental, and that is well understood by Prime Minister Allawi and his colleagues in the Iraqi Interim Government. That is why, to my certain knowledge, they went to very extensive lengths to try to secure peaceful solutions to the problems faced in Falluja. I was with Prime Minister Allawi when he was engaged in similar activities in respect of the insurgency in Sadr city. Thanks to his flexibility and forbearance, a settlement there was reached while I was in Baghdad four weeks ago, and it has stuck. That is what he wanted for Falluja, as did we, but the world has to know that the military action tragically taking place there now does not stem from a lack of effort by the Iraqi Interim Government. It is a direct result of the intransigence of the terrorists and insurgents, who literally are holding Falluja hostage in an attempt to prevent the elections from taking place.

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

May I associate myself and my party with the Foreign Secretary's sentiments in respect of the Black Watch? Not the least of my reasons for doing so is the fact that the regiment recruits in my constituency.

Will the Foreign Secretary say what influence UK foreign policy has on the US Government, especially in relation to American forces' actions in Falluja? The Black Watch regiment is inevitably associated with those forces now. Does he agree that we must ensure that those actions are proportionate and consistent with international law, and that they do not alienate the people of Iraq or cause unnecessary civilian casualties?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

First, I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he said about the Black Watch, and for his expression of condolences. I appreciate that the deaths and injuries suffered by soldiers in such difficult circumstances is a trauma for the whole of the community in those areas where there is recruitment to the Black Watch. In saluting the soldiers, we also salute the courage, forbearance and support provided by their families.

In respect of the action in Falluja, the Iraqi Interim Government have been in charge of military strategy since the passage of UN resolution 1546. It was Prime Minister Allawi who ordered the Falluja action, and Iraqi national forces are working alongside US forces. The right hon. and learned Member will know that the US Government have gone on record repeatedly as saying that they subscribe to their obligations under international law, as do other state parties to the UN charter.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire

When Iraqis and others oppose the presence of foreign troops in Iraq, is not it entirely legitimate for them to demonstrate, publish their ideas, and run relevant candidates in the coming elections? However, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is entirely illegitimate to use terrorist techniques, the purpose of which is to keep those foreign troops in the country so that the conflict can continue?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend is entirely right. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, everybody should take note of the opinions being expressed by him. He opposed the military action, but I commend him for the approach that he has taken since, which recognises that we have to join together to secure a peaceful outcome for the people of Iraq. It is ironic, to say the least, that the terrorists say they are fighting the so-called occupation—it is not that—by the multinational forces when the only reason why those forces have to be there is to support the Iraqi people because of the insurgency.