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My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been in contact several times with Foreign Minister Downer to discuss the situation in Iraq and in particular the deployment of additional Australian forces. We certainly welcome the Australian decision to deploy 450 troops to al-Muthanna, one of the four provinces in southern Iraq in the UK's area of responsibility.
Is my hon. Friend aware that on four recent occasions in Question Time in the Australian Parliament the Australian Foreign Secretary has used my involvement with the organisation Labour Friends of Iraq in an attempt to undermine the stance adopted by the Australian Labour party? However, that has led only to establishing better links between Labour Friends of Iraq and the Australian Labour party. As in Britain, people, whether for or against the invasion, can unite in helping the emerging Iraqi trade union and labour movement to play an active role in the development of civil society and democracy in that country.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will forgive me if I do not delve into Australian electoral politics, given that we have got a bit of that going on in this country at the moment, but I genuinely congratulate him not only on forming Labour Friends of Iraq, but on the significant contribution that he has made to the House over the past 18 years. I disagree with him over the decision to go to war with Iraq, but I respect his view, and I think that he respects mine. However, as he has demonstrated by his actions, whatever view we took on the war, it is crucial that we now work together to unite to help the Iraqis to build a free and peaceful Iraq, and I believe that his efforts in that regard represent a positive step forward.
On Iraq's future, I spent some time out there about three weeks ago, and I was reminded by many people of the need for the infrastructure to be rebuilt as soon as possible. I realise that, in the less secure areas, such as Baghdad, that is impossible at this stage, although there is a huge task ahead: it is estimated that $55 billion needs to be spent between now and 2007, but only $2.5 billion has been spent hitherto. May I urge on the Minister the need to consider the possibility of putting in new infrastructure as soon as possible in the more secure areas, such as the south, Basra and so on? That is fundamentally important to keep everyone on board. By the way, the importance of this issue was confirmed by the head of the UN mission out there.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. It is critically important that we redouble our efforts to improve the infrastructure in Iraq. Things are improving, and the Department for International Development is committing £40 million to a project to improve water supplies, sanitation and other aspects of the infrastructure. That project, which will start in April, is just one part of our overall commitment to rebuilding Iraq.