Iraq

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 21st June 2005.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee 2:30 pm, 21st June 2005

If the Government will press for (a) new elections to be held in the Chaldo-Assyrian and other non-Kurdish minority areas in northern Iraq and (b) the establishment of an autonomous administrative region for the Chaldo-Assyrians in northern Iraq.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The national elections held in Iraq on 30 January are internationally recognised. The Chaldo-Assyrians participated and won seats in the Transitional National Assembly. Regional self -government is a matter for the Iraqis to decide. The transitional administrative law guarantees the administrative, cultural and political rights of all minorities, including the Chaldo-Assyrians.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

Does the Minister accept that the Chaldo-Assyrians are one of the most fragile and vulnerable Christian groups in the middle east; that, in fact, 150,000 of them were prevented from voting in these elections; and that their position has actually got worse since the invasion? What will his Government and other Governments with a responsibility for Iraq do to ensure that, in future elections, these minority groups are indeed allowed to exercise the democratic rights over which we went to war?

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I respect the hon. Gentleman's view on this matter. I was certainly not aware that such a large number of Chaldo-Assyrians were prevented from voting and I would greatly appreciate seeing the hon. Gentleman's information about that. However, the drive for an autonomous administrative region for the Chaldo-Assyrians is not Iraq-based. The Chaldo-Assyrians in northern Iraq rejected the idea of such an autonomous administrative region as they fear that it would make their community more, not less, vulnerable to attack. It now seems to be an issue that the UK-based Chaldo-Assyrians, not those in Iraq, are pursuing.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I attended a meeting yesterday with the high representative of the Iraqi-Kurdistan Assembly and I read the speech of Massoud Barzani, the new President of the autonomous region, in which he welcomed all the people, including the Chaldo-Assyrians, who have places in the assembly of northern Iraq. They are happy to be there and have made no demand for a separate assembly.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am very glad to hear that. I know that my hon. Friend is very much aware of what often happens in circumstances like these when a balkanisation occurs with added, rather than fewer, tensions. Iraq can do without that.