Iraq — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:50 pm on 18th December 2008.

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Photo of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Spokesperson in the Lords, Work & Pensions 2:50 pm, 18th December 2008

My Lords, the Prime Minister's reference in his Statement to a phase of reconstruction is very welcome. The excellent job that our Armed Forces have done should now leave a phase to open up where reconstruction and commercial activity can recommence.

There is a sense in-country in Iraq that we are concentrating exclusively on Basra. Anyone who knows anything about Iraq knows that Baghdad is the crucible of the country; it is the nexus and the focus of all national life, culture and everything else. I can say with conviction, since I have first-hand knowledge, that the British Trade International support there consists of one low-grade person; she is very good and works very hard, but that situation is completely inadequate for the phase we are about to enter.

I am pleased to hear that the Secretary of State for Trade is going there in the new year. Will he make sure that he goes to Basra and that the embassy mission there is left with an adequate amount of professional support to encourage businesspeople to go, and to assist them with travel? Travel to Baghdad is quite difficult at the moment, and to get there people need Foreign and Commonwealth Office help. At the moment the FCO is actually discouraging people from going because it believes the situation is too dangerous. It is not too dangerous for our international competitors, and it is time we started taking an active interest in commercial development in Baghdad.