Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:22 pm on 22nd July 2008.

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Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs 1:22 pm, 22nd July 2008

My Lords, we, too, are grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in the other place. We join in the tributes paid to members of our Armed Forces and civilian personnel serving with them in Iraq and send our condolences to all the relatives of those whose lives were lost in that theatre.

We welcome the good news on the reconstruction of Iraq's infrastructure—the education and health facilities, water, electricity and so on—although we cannot help reminding the noble Baroness that we would not have had to do that if we had not embarked on the misguided and foolish invasion of Iraq some years ago. It is as a result of allied activities, which have destroyed so much of Iraq's infrastructure, that these operations are necessary now.

We also think it disappointing that no further timetable is given in the Statement for withdrawal or even an estimate of when our training role will end. What is the number of troops at Basra airport? Will they be brought back to the United Kingdom or serve elsewhere in Iraq when we hand over at the end of the year? The remaining handovers, which are scheduled to happen by the end of the year, will surely result in a predictable number of reductions of troops in Iraq. The noble Baroness could have given us some indication of what those numbers would be. It is very unsettling for the troops serving in the theatre not to have any idea of how long they will remain there and when their term of office will end.

The Statement contains references to the foreign militants crossing the border from Syria. Do we have any knowledge of who is organising and funding them? In our discussions with the Syrian Government, have we made any progress towards halting the operations and getting at the sources of their training and funding? Similarly, with Iran, what representations have we made to Tehran and what response have we had on the army and the training of terrorists? The reduction in the number of attacks on British personnel in Basra is an indication of some success in persuading both Syria and Iran not to engage in these operations, but is it not also a product of better political relations between the Sunni and Shia factions in Iraq? We do not hear anything these days about the Mahdi Army. Does that mean that it has been incorporated in the political process? I certainly hope so.

The Statement refers to al-Qaeda and gradually overcoming its forces. Is that meant to be a generic label or does it imply that there is some unification of the command structures among the militants still operating in southern Iraq?

The Statement says nothing about Afghanistan, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. As we progressively reduce the number of our troops in Iraq, is it the intention to support the operations in Afghanistan or will we repatriate the troops liberated from those operations to the United Kingdom?