Iraq — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:43 pm on 18th December 2008.

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Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 2:43 pm, 18th December 2008

My Lords, I thank noble Lords opposite for welcoming the Statement. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, I am sure that it will be greeted with relief by the service men and women who do us proud, and of course by their families. We do indeed owe a great debt to our Armed Forces. I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for saying that our troops will be, and should be, leaving Iraq with their heads held high. I am sure that they will do so. I also pay tribute to the interpreters and the many other civilian men and women who have worked with our troops in Iraq. They did a fine job.

I shall deal first with the inquiry and the lessons to be learnt. Yes, of course there are many lessons to be learnt about what happened in Iraq, about the things that we did not do as well as we should have done and about the things that we did wrongly. But also such an inquiry should look at the things that we did correctly. We have done good things in Iraq and that should not be forgotten. I agree that one of the lessons we must learn is that in such situations there must be a comprehensive solution and that all the arms of government—DfID, the Foreign Office and the multilateral agencies—must work together. That is an important lesson that we must now have learnt and that we must implement in Afghanistan to ensure that the outcome there is one that we all want.

I have been asked whether there is going to be an inquiry and when it will be. It is clear that there will be an inquiry; there is agreement across the House that there should and must be an inquiry, and that we must learn from our mistakes. But today is not the proper time to consider what the inquiry should look at and when it should take place. The fact is that it should and must take place when the last of our troops have left Iraq. What should be included in the inquiry is for another day.

The noble Baroness asked who we were handing the situation over to in Iraq. We are handing over to Iraqi service men and women and Iraqi police. We believe that they have the ability to maintain stability in that country. Of course the United States will be there, but it will be in the Basra region maintaining a base for the supply routes with Kuwait, which will be important for its withdrawal. It also needs a presence there to ensure that it is aware of what is going on, for its own security.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to the difficult decision to go to war—a decision that was painful for everyone involved—but we must not forget that Saddam was an evil tyrant. Too often we forget that. He mentioned Guernica and war crimes. That is a simile too far.

Are British companies benefiting from the new Iraqi prosperity? Yes, they certainly are, especially in Basra. Since April 2008, DfID has facilitated 18 visits to Iraq by 14 potential investors. That has led to proposals worth up to $9 billion. So our business men and women are getting in there, and I pay special tribute, as did the Statement, to Michael Wareing and his efforts on behalf of British business there. I understand that British trade and investment have a presence in Baghdad and that my noble friend Lord Mandelson will be visiting Iraq in the new year.

The naval commitment is already in force. We are training colleagues working in the Iraqi naval services. Initiatives in education, health and investment are already taking place. The noble Baroness said that UK troops must enjoy the same legal protections as US troops. The UK legal agreement with the Iraqi Parliament is not the same as the US agreement because our tasks are very different from those of the US. Our agreement is for a transition to a normal relationship while completing specific tasks. Both the service chiefs and the Prime Minister agree that our agreement provides the necessary legal protections for our troops.

The noble Baroness asked about the Government's assessment of Iran's activities in southern Iraq. We encourage all Iraq's neighbours to respect fully its sovereignty, to support the development of democracy in Iraq and to reject violence and criminality—and we certainly call upon Iran to do so in the whole of Iraq. She also asked about the diplomatic relations of Arab countries with Iraq. We are doing everything possible to ensure that all Arab countries take up proper diplomatic relations with Iraq.

I am grateful for the comments of noble Lords opposite and I look forward to further questions. I, too, received a Christmas card from the supporters and families of the hostages; I was glad to be reminded of them. I cannot comment on any discussions that are taking place but this is a useful opportunity to remind ourselves that these people are being held.