Iraq (Humanitarian Aid)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:14 pm on 7 April 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Eric Joyce Eric Joyce Labour, Falkirk 4:14, 7 April 2010

I thank you, Mr. Howarth, for your forbearance in allowing me a couple of minutes; I also thank the Minister.

I thank my right hon. Friend Keith Hill; at the end of a pretty salubrious parliamentary career, he made a fine speech about Iraq. That is on top of his many other fine speeches. My right hon. Friend may be best remembered for being a close aide and support to one of our great Prime Ministers.

It was a great privilege to take part in the same scheme as my right hon. Friend and observe what was going on during the Iraq election. I went to Basra, and was hosted by the astonishing Alice Walpole, our consul general there; she runs a flawless operation. It was a super time. We had a one-day tour of Iraq-not long for a politician, but short for a soldier-and I saw much of what my right hon. Friend described. It was a good trip; we went round a bunch of polling stations, which seemed to be perfectly well run. There was enthusiastic participation and a pretty good turnout.

It was interesting from a broader perspective. We now know that Mr. Allawi got a larger share of the vote, but most people thought that al-Maliki, the current Prime Minister, would receive the larger number of votes. It was striking that the parties had to rely on support across the religious denominations. A Sunni could not demand Sunni votes, and Sunnis made it clear that if a politician demanded their vote because he was a Sunni or a Shi'ite he would get short shrift. As it was, Mr. Allawi's party seems to have done the best, primarily from Sunnis with Shi'ite support; for Mr. al-Maliki's party, it was the other way round. I was in Basra, and saw substantial support for Mr. al-Maliki. A coalition has not yet been put together, but we shall see.

The FCO staff that put together the programme that my right hon. Friend mentioned were super, as we have come to expect. Inevitably, I still get letters about my having been fairly vocal in support of the Iraq campaign from people who still will not take back their great opposition. I cannot put them right on all of those points, some of which are entirely valid.

We all know that the post-war reconstruction effort could have been a great deal better. However, as my right hon. Friend said, my right hon. Friend Ann Clwyd has done much work in that respect, and we can be sure of Britain's effort between then and now; it has been exceptional. The aid programme has been extremely successful, and the efforts of our diplomats in Kurdistan, Baghdad and Basra have been equally exceptional. In a way, we tend to forget about that, I guess because people's interests have moved across to Afghanistan. However, our hard-working diplomats and their support staff, and the contractors and security staff there, are all doing great work. I understand that, from a financial point of view, Basra in particular is the subject of some interest at the FCO. The Department cannot keep all its posts open, but I hope that its post at Basra can be kept going for the moment.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham for allowing me the great honour of speaking directly after him in his final debate. Perhaps we should reflect on the fact that in 1979, Iraq had a similar GDP to Portugal; within a few years of Saddam taking power, its economy was in pieces. With the elections, we started the long process of moving towards welcoming Iraq as a modern country, again similar to today's Portugal.