Iraq

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 22nd July 2014.

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Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley 11:30 am, 22nd July 2014

What recent assessment he has made of the political, security and humanitarian situation in Iraq.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour, Ilford South

What the Government’s policy is on the future constitutional and political status of Iraq; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant poses a threat to Iraq, the region and beyond. I welcome the appointment of a new Parliamentary Speaker last week in Iraq, and hope a new and inclusive Government will be formed quickly. The UK has announced £5 million of humanitarian support for the people of Iraq.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

I was for seven years the special envoy on human rights to Iraq, and the Minister accompanied me on one occasion, so he should be better informed of that than most. Has he seen the report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights? She says:

“Every day we receive accounts of a terrible litany of human rights violations being committed in Iraq against ordinary Iraqi children, women and men, who have been deprived of their security, their livelihoods,” their education, their homes—and many of them, of course, have fled. What exactly are the British Government doing to help Iraqis at this time? The amount of money the Minister mentioned is totally insufficient.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

If I may, I shall first pay tribute to the work that the right hon. Lady has done. It was a pleasure to travel with her and she is hugely experienced in this area. Unfortunately, the chaos that we are currently witnessing in Iraq is allowing many humanitarian problems to exist and allowing human rights violations to take place. We are working with the Iraqi leaders, and the urgent priority is the formation of an inclusive Government that can command the support of all the Iraqi leaders in the communities, and jointly combat the threat of ISIL. We welcome the fact that Iraq’s new Parliament met on 15 June to appoint a Speaker. The right hon. Lady will know that now the Speaker is in place, a President and a Prime Minister can be appointed. Those are positive steps in moving forward.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour, Ilford South

Unfortunately, the Foreign Secretary is not here, but in his last appearance as Defence Secretary, he told me three times that the British Government were in favour of a unified state in Iraq. Is the reality not that a state of Iraq will continue only if there is the loosest possible confederation? Given the facts on the ground, we should be doing far more to support the Kurdistan region, which is democratic and pluralistic, at this time.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I was in northern Iraq last month and I was there when President Barzani made the statement of intent to move towards independence. We have heard no more details on that and we will not react to that until something more is forthcoming. However, Iraq needs to be united in tackling the challenges it faces, including the serious threats that are posed not only in Iraq but in the wider region. To achieve that, a new and inclusive Iraqi Government must be formed as quickly as possible, which includes the Kurds. The hon. Gentleman will know from his visits to the country that the Kurds have been distanced from what is going on in Baghdad, as have the Sunnis. Moderate Sunnis have indeed been pushed into ISIL. We are looking for a more inclusive Baghdad Government, which will unify Iraq.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

May I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position? It is a well deserved promotion. The Kurdistan Regional Government now have a 1,000 km border with ISIS. Their budget has not been paid since March by the central Government. Would the Minister’s Department look at what help we can offer the Kurdistan Regional Government? As John Kerry said, these people share our values. It is important that we support them in their struggle against ISIS.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

It is not just the payment for the peshmerga; funds from Baghdad have been withheld in other areas, too. The UK will not take sides in that dispute, but we have offered on a number of occasions to mediate if that would be helpful and the offer remains on the table. We believe there is potential for a win-win solution to be found that can benefit both the Kurdistan region and the rest of Iraq, and indeed Turkey and Britain, as they promote exports of oil.

Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood Conservative, Oxford West and Abingdon

Like Boko Haram and the Taliban, when ISIS rape and enslave women, it is strategic—they are terrorising whole communities—but when our outstanding former Foreign Secretary led an international campaign against such violence, it was labelled “trivial” by many in our press. Will the new Minister please reject that fundamental misunderstanding of how communities are terrorised in such conflicts, and will he commit himself to fighting violence against women and girls as a security as well as a humanitarian priority?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work and commitment in this field. I would be grateful for the opportunity to meet her, to discuss it in more detail. She will be aware that a girl summit is taking place at Lancaster house today, and it will be focusing on those very issues.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton

May I raise again the issue of Christians in Iraq? I do not think the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr Swire, answered the previous question in any detail. What are the Government doing in the international community and the UN and with the Iraqi Government to bring attention to the plight of Christians in Iraq, given the terrible threats made against them?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

There are threats to Christians, for example in the Mosul area, where they are experiencing intolerance and indeed brutality because of ISIL. That is a particular tragedy for Mosul, given that it has one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. We will work with the new Government in Baghdad to raise these matters further.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Does the state of Iraq have the necessary defence and security capability to recapture the territory lost to the caliphate forces?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My hon. Friend asks an important question. Because of the disparity in the way Iraq is currently operating—I have encouraged a more inclusive approach—there is a disjointed capability. The Americans have moved in with their advisers and are working very hard indeed to upgrade the authorised military capability, so that we do not need to lean on the militias, such as the Shi’ite militias, to tackle ISIL.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

First, I welcome the Minister to his post. What is the Government’s assessment of the nature of the relationship between Prime Minister Maliki and the Kurdistan Regional Government?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As I implied and as the hon. Gentleman is aware, there has not been a good relationship between Baghdad and the Kurdish region. An improvement in that relationship is a prerequisite of Iraq remaining unified.