Iraq (Humanitarian Aid)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 7 April 2010.

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Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Labour, Streatham 4:00, 7 April 2010

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and for his exceptionally kind words. We are close constituency neighbours in south-west London.

The answer to his precise question is yes. The matter of direct air flights from the UK to the Kurdish region was raised with me, specifically flights to Erbil. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that Austrian Airlines has three direct flights a week and Lufthansa is about to start flights there. There is a desire on the part of the Kurdish authorities and Kurdish entrepreneurs to strengthen their business links with the UK, and they are certainly keen that such flights should be instituted. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to put that expression of desire on the record.

I return to my argument that DFID and FCO interventions in the area of government and the rule of law play a vital role in consolidating democracy in Iraq. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to offer a strong reassurance that such interventions will continue to form part our aid programme to Iraq.

Last week, as I was beginning to think about what I might say today, I happened to read an interview with Mohamed el-Baradei, the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog and perhaps a candidate in the next Egyptian presidential elections. Mr. el-Baradei offered a severe critique of the west's involvement in middle east politics, in the course of which he said:

"The west talks a lot about elections in Iran, for example, but at least there were elections-yet where are the elections in the Arab world? If the west doesn't talk about that, then how can it have any credibility?"

Actually, there have been elections in Iraq. Parliamentary elections were held in 2005, provisional elections were held in 2009, and parliamentary elections were held again last month. Each time, as far as we can see, they were freer and fairer than previously. This time, the elections delivered a result that may reshape alliances across communities and perhaps boost national reconciliation.

It is true, of course, that tensions still run deep. There are still appalling bombings by a perverse and apparently irreconcilable minority, yet the election in 2010 was unquestionably democratic, and democracies tend to be less cruel to their citizens and more peaceable to their neighbours. That was a prize worth winning. I hope that the UK will continue to give priority to helping Iraq strengthen its democracy.