HC Deb 30 March 1955 vol 539 cc379-85
Sir A. Eden

I will, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, make a statement on the Turco-Iraqi Pact.

I have to inform the House that Her Majesty's Government have decided to accede to the Pact of mutual co-operation between Iraq and Turkey which was signed in Bagdad on 24th February. At the same time, we propose to conclude with the Government of Iraq a special agreement for mutual defence cooperation under Article 1 of the Pact together with supplementary exchanges of Notes. The texts of these documents have been agreed with the Government of Iraq and were initialled in Bagdad this morning. They are being published in a White Paper which will be available in the Vote Office when I sit down.

It is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to deposit their instrument of accession on 5th April, thus bringing the Agreement and its subsidiary exchanges of Notes into force on that date. Her Majesty's Government will place on the Order Paper a Motion asking the House to agree to this course of action.

As I told the House on 8th March, it has been our aim to forge a new association with Iraq which would bring our relations into line with those which already exist with Turkey and our other partners in N.A.T.O. The Agreement which we have now reached with the Iraqi Government carries out that aim. It is based on the concept of co-operation between equal partners which it has been our purpose to establish generally in our relations with Middle East countries.

The central theme of the new Agreement is that there shall be close and continuous collaboration between the armed forces of the two countries. There will be joint planning and exercises in peacetime so that if ever there were to be an aggression against Iraq we should be in an effective position to give help. We shall advise and give technical assistance in establishing an air defence organisation, including a radar warning and an aircraft reporting system. We shall be able to stock military stores and equipment in Iraq for use in war. Repair workshops and storage depots will, where necessary, be maintained for the benefit of Iraqi and British forces. There will be British advisers and instructors to assist in the training of the Iraq Army.

We shall also provide personnel to assist in the training of the Royal Iraqi Air Force and to offer continuous consultations regarding methods and techniques of training at all stages. There is provision for mine watching and mine clearance, and we maintain our present facilities for overflying, landing and servicing our aircraft in Iraq.

As part of these arrangements, the airfields in Iraq which are now occupied by the Royal Air Force will pass under Iraqi control, and the British squadrons now stationed there will be progressively withdrawn. But it is agreed that Royal Air Force squadrons shall visit Iraq, in particular, for the purpose of joint training at all times. British Service personnel will remain in Iraq to service British aircraft, to install, operate and maintain facilities and equipment, as well as to assist in the training of the Iraqi air forces. These men will be commanded by British officers acting in close liaison with the Iraqi officer in command of each establishment. They will enjoy the appropriate immunities, and provision is made for the requisite services and accommodaton for them.

The installations at the airfields which are required for our use will remain British property. The remainder will either be sold to the Iraq Government or to other purchasers. Where we maintain an interest, they will be handed over to the Iraq Government under mutually satisfactory terms and conditions.

Thus, we shall be furnished with all the necessary facilities and arrangements to enable us to carry out our part in the defence of Iraq and the Middle East. At the same time, we have established a free and equal partnership which truly reflects the relations we desire with the Iraqi people, and which will, I believe, stand the test of time.

This Agreement marks a new departure in our relations with Iraq. We have moved away from the bilateral arrangements laid down by the 1930 Treaty, which, as the House knows, would in any event have terminated in 18 months' time and which now comes to an end by agreement. Instead, we have been able to evolve a system which can serve as the foundation of a general defence arrangement in the Middle East. We warmly welcome the part which our Turkish allies have played to make this new arrangement possible. We hope that it will eventually include other countries in the area. I wish to make it clear that in acceding to the Pact we are not associating ourselves with the letters which were exchanged at the time of its signature between the Turkish and Iraqi Governments on the subject of Palestine.

We have not forgotten the levies and civilians who, for many years, have given faithful service to the Royal Air Force in Iraq. We hope that many of the levies will join the Iraqi armed forces and that many of the civilians will be able to continue in employment at the airfields. I can assure the House that we shall care for those who do not, including the Assyrian Christians; and in this respect also we have had the assurance of the co-operation of the Iraqi Government. Proper arrangements will be made for pensions, gratuities, vocational training and resettlement in Iraq in all suitable cases.

The Pact to which we are acceding is fully in accord with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. It is a purely defensive arrangement which respects the independence of the countries concerned and their neighbours. It is my hope that these arrangements will lead to increased stability and security throughout the Middle East.

Mr. H. Morrison

I do not propose, on behalf of the Opposition, to pronounce upon the merits of this Agreement at this stage, because, obviously, we must study the White Paper which the Foreign Secretary says will be available in the Vote Office. Nevertheless, it is an achievement of considerable importance, within the limits of the policy set down, on which, no doubt, the Foreign Secretary has worked with patience and energy. I gather that a great deal of credit is also due to the Prime Minister of Iraq for the courage and patience which he has exhibited. However, I reserve judgment on the fundamentals of the Agreement and its details until we have an opportunity of studying the White Paper.

In the course of the Foreign Secretary's statement he said: It is based on the concept of co-operation between equal partners which it has been our purpose to establish generally in our relations with Middle East countries. On this point I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government are considering entering into any similar arrangements with the State of Israel, which is a Middle East country. They are apprehensive about these Agreements—it is inevitable—between us and Egypt, us and Iraq, and us and Jordan, because Israel is in a state of near-seige and open to the possibility of aggression.

This Pact is bound to cause them some apprehension, whatever its merits may be. I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he is aware of these apprehensions and whether the Government will contemplate any similar or appropriate arrangement with the State of Israel.

Sir A. Eden

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks and I am glad that he has mentioned the position of Israel in relation to this Agreement, because it is important. I myself would take the view, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman takes the view, that when this Agreement is studied it will be seen that from the point of view of Israel it is, as I believe it to be, truly a desirable development—that is, the Turco-Iraqi Pact and now our accession to it—because it is the first time that an Arab State is looking in directions other than simply towards Israel. It seems to me that it is a development of very real importance. This is, as it were, the northern tier of defence arrangements which have been made.

As to whether arrangements could be made covering other Arab countries and Israel, I think the right hon. Gentleman will understand that it would be rather difficult for me to go into that now. All I would say is this: the most important objective which we must have in the Middle East, surely, is to bring about a settlement, if by any means we can, between Israel and the Arab States. Unless and until we can do that, although we now have a good northern tier of defence in this arrangement, there will never be the real substance of agreement between the countries who live behind it to give it lasting solidity.

Mr. A. Henderson

May we take it that the Foreign Secretary's reference in his statement to a general defence system does not exclude Israel or any other Middle East country, but is intended to mean what it says—a general defence system? May I ask him a question about the Assyrian Christians? He knows that they have rendered excellent service to the R.A.F. There are about 7,000 of them, they are a community of their own and they represent a very special problem; and, while we are gratified to know that the Government of Iraq intend to cooperate in settling them, can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Government will give very special attention to the special problem relating to the 6,000 or 7,000 Assyrians?

Sir A. Eden

Yes, Sir. I quite agree with everything which the right hon. and learned Gentleman says. We have given very special attention to this problem of the Assyrian Christians. We have made arrangements about them which, we are confident, are satisfactory and we have had assurances from the Prime Minister of Iraq himself about it. I share the right hon. and learned Gentleman's feelings. As to the first matter, I do not think I can very well go beyond what I have said. I do not think it would be wise to do so at present.

Major Legge-Bourke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the announcement which he has just made is deserving of the warmest welcome from all hon. Members and, indeed, from every country in the Middle East as well? Is he aware that this Pact is about the strongest step which we could have taken to strengthen defence for the free world in the Middle East? In welcoming his remarks about Israel, may I ask him whether he will give particular attention to seeing whether it is possible to use some of the Arab refugees for any works of a defence character which may be involved in Iraq as a result of this Agreement?

Sir A. Eden

The last point would, I think, be a matter for the Iraqi Government. I think the House well knows that the Iraqi Government are, in fact, handing over large sums of their revenue just for this kind of development work.

I should like to associate myself with what the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said about the statesmanship which Nuri Pasha is showing not only in encouraging this Agreement but even more in caring for his people and making arrangements for their happier and more prosperous lives in their country.

Mr. Strachey

Would not the Foreign Secretary do much to allay the not unnatural Israeli apprehension in this matter if he made it clear that he would always use our new position as ally of Iraq under the Pact to moderate the sometimes very aggressive statements of the Iraqi Government about Israel and divert their defensive efforts in other directions, as he said?

Sir A. Eden

I think that a little geographical examination would show the Israeli Government that the purpose of this Pact lies in a different direction. As they are very intelligent people, I should have thought that that would have given them comfort.

Mr. Benn

Does the right hon. Gentleman tell the House that the Turco-Iraqi arrangements are mainly directed against the Russians and not against Israel? Would he not go further and repudiate, as far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, all those aspects of the Pact which are directed against Israel?

Sir A. Eden

No aspects of the Pact can possibly be said to be directed against Israel-none. There was, quite separately, an exchange of letters, and I have been quite specific to the House in saying that we do not associate ourselves with that particular exchange of letters. I think we must keep a fair sense of balance in this matter.

Mr. de Freitas

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that, so great is the debt which we owe to these Christian levies, that, in spite of the assurances of the Iraqi Government, if, by chance, certain of these levies do not wish to settle in Iraq, we must ask whether the Government will consult other Governments of the Commonwealth to see whether they could not be settled elsewhere?

Sir A. Eden

Yes, Sir. We have gone into that and I shall be glad to give the hon. Member fuller details on the subject if he would like them. There are about 2,000 levies-troops-and, speaking from memory, about 5,000 civilians now; and we hope that a large proportion of civilians will continue to do the work which they are now doing on the camps and that the levies will be absorbed into the Iraqi Army. That applies to those who want to be absorbed. We have undertaken to care for those who do not want to be absorbed and, if necessary, ourselves to produce the finance to make sure that they are looked after. I can give an absolute assurance that we will look after these people.

Mr. Gough

Would my right hon. Friend confirm that this agreement will in no way affect the independence of Kuwait and, in fact., will have the opposite effect of strengthening that small Arab State?

Sir A. Eden

It has nothing at all to do with Kuwait. This discussion is spreading far beyond the boundaries of Iraq. This is a British accession to a Turco-Iraqi Pact and, with respect, I think we ought not to wander all round the Middle East.

Mr. Paget

Is this system of free cooperation between equal partners the same principle as used to be described by hon. Members opposite as the policy of scuttle?