War against Terrorism

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 4th November 2004.

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Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 2:30 pm, 4th November 2004

I am pleased to introduce for this afternoon's debate the seventh report from Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The report is the fifth in a series on foreign policy aspects of the war against terrorism produced by the Select Committee since the tragic events of 9/11. It covers a broad range of issues, from the political and security situation in Iraq to Russia's stockpiles of chemical weapons. Indeed, we made 74 conclusions and recommendations.

I have always believed that such Select Committee reports are useful in allowing Committee members to gain expertise in the field. We produce them not only for the wider public, but for colleagues in both Houses of Parliament. I was delighted that the report was hailed in a debate in the other place in September using glowing superlatives that I would be reluctant to use myself. I am sure that Mr. Moore would underline the remark made by the then leader of his party in the House of Lords that the report was "brilliant".

As usual, as part of our inquiry, we heard oral evidence, received written evidence from a range of witnesses, and held discussions with senior officials in New York, Washington DC, Moscow, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some members of the Committee were also able to continue our series of visits to Iraq.

My aim today is first to introduce the report to the Chamber and then to update it. We should recall that the Committee drew its conclusions in the middle of July. An interesting feature of foreign affairs is that events move so speedily. Since then, there have been several key developments in this moving picture. There have been elections, as the Prime Minister mentioned yesterday, not only in Afghanistan, to which I shall refer in a moment, but in the United States. Both elections may be relevant to the matters that we are discussing. Equally, there have been events concerning key leaders such as President Musharraf, and the possibly serious illness of President Arafat, who is in intensive care.

Iraq has become a battleground for al-Qaeda, with appalling consequences for the people of that country. We state that the violence stems from several sources such as members of the former regime, local Islamists and criminal gangs, as well as al-Qaeda. The lack of law and order in some areas has been particularly damaging and has affected the credibility of the coalition. Clearly it is the aim of those who take hostages, blow up pipelines and attack electoral officials to make the country ungovernable and, in effect, to create anarchy. Surely it is the aim of the rest of the world community to isolate, so far as we can, those who can be brought into the tent from the fundamentalists or wreckers.

The Iraqi security forces have made significant progress, but they remain a long way from being able to maintain security. They are also being targeted. There was the appalling incident on 23 October when about 50 army recruits were killed in an apparent ambush—again, part of the campaign by the insurgents to destabilise the country. Until the Iraqi forces can maintain security, foreign forces are likely to be required. Indeed, we hope that following the elections in January, with a new legitimacy for the Government of Iraq, the outside forces will be able to move increasingly into the background and into a supportive role.

United Nations Security Council resolution 1546, adopted in June, gives the multinational force a mandate to be in Iraq

"at the request of the incoming interim Government of Iraq."

It is surely regrettable that countries other than the United States and the United Kingdom have failed to send significant numbers of troops to Iraq, which makes the strain on our forces more intense. It would be particularly beneficial if Islamic states could be persuaded to add their forces. What are the Government doing to encourage other states to send forces to Iraq? Perhaps the result of the election in the United States has made it more difficult for certain countries to respond, but all would be affected if there were a significant failure in Iraq.

We know that British personnel play a vital role in Iraq, and their safety is a serious concern, especially with the increase in the number of kidnappings. Thinking of the dreadful murder of Ken Bigley and the capture of Margaret Hassan, I ask again: what are the Government doing to safeguard the security of British personnel in Iraq?

On the political developments in Iraq and the role of the United Nations, the process of wide-ranging consultation overseen by the United Nations plays an important role in the formation of the Interim Government, but the work of the United Nations is being severely hindered by the security situation. That is understandable, given the tragic events of August 2003 when the then UN leader in Iraq was blown up with so many of his staff.