HC Deb 25 March 2003 vol 402 cc137-41
1. Mrs Liz Blackman (Erewash)

What recent discussions he has had with representatives of the Kurdish people about the situation in northern Iraq. [104459]

2. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

What plans he has to ensure long-term stability in Iraq. [104460]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

I know that the whole House will join me in extending our profound condolences to the families of the servicemen who have been killed in the conflict or who are missing in action.

Coalition forces are making steady progress towards our objectives. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelled out to the House yesterday, we are determined to pursue this campaign in a way that minimizes the suffering of ordinary Iraqis and safeguards the wealth of the country for the future prosperity of all its people; and to make this an action not of conquest but of liberation.

On the situation in the north, Ministers and officials are in regular contact with Kurdish leaders and with the Government of Turkey.

On long-term stability, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out last week our vision for an Iraq which is stable, prosperous, at peace with itself and its neighbors and able to play a full role in the international community.

Liz Blackman

Yesterday, many Members posed questions to the Prime Minister on their concerns about Turkish incursions into northern Iraq. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will recognise that those anxieties are especially heightened by the massing of Turkish troops on the border. What efforts are being made to ensure that this potential disaster is thwarted and that the Truks, as well as the Kurds, realise that such moves would serve to benefit them neither now nor in the future?

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend raises an important issue about the stability of the border area between Turkey and the Kurdistan-controlled part of Iraq and the need for restraint both by the Kurds and Kurdish leaders and the Government of the autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq and by the Government of Turkey. As I have indicated, we have held extensive discussions not only with Kurdish leaders but also with the Government of Turkey. I spoke face to face with Foreign Minister Gul at the European Council in Brussels last Friday and we continue to urge the Turkish Government to show maximum restraint and to understand that, as my hon. Friend says, it would not serve their interests any more than the interests of those within the Kurdish area if aggressive military action were to be taken by Turkish forces.

Ann Winterton

How long does the right hon. Gentleman expect it to take for good governance to be established in Iraq post-conflict, bearing in mind that resources will be available from frozen assets and potential oil revenues to establish humanitarian and regeneration priorities? Moreover, does he agree that it would be wholly unacceptable for countries that refuse to join the coalition to free Iraq from tyranny to benefit commercially from its reconstruction?

Mr. Straw

I cannot give any indication of when we anticipate that the military action will be concluded—that is the nature of warfare. On the establishment of good governance thereafter, we believe that can happen pretty rapidly. The Iraqis are a talented people; they have a basis for public administration and reasonable communications. Unlike Kosovo or Afghanistan, Iraq is a rich country and billions of dollars are lying idle in escrow funds in New York—United Nations funds—because the Iraqi Government have failed to unlock them. I am optimistic about the establishment of good governance as soon as the conflict is over.

Ann Clwyd (Cyncn Valley)

Is it not the case that the Turks have also been helpful to the Kurds of northern Iraq in the past by allowing their bases to be used for the planes that police the no-fly zones, so some gratitude should be shown to the Turks at the same time as saying to them very clearly that there is no reason for them to cross the border into northern Iraq? There is no perceived threat any longer from the PKK since its leader was locked up two years ago; nor is there a necessity to provide refugee camps inside the Kurdish border of northern Iraq when there is no perceived refugee movement towards the border with Turkey.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who correctly acknowledges from her position of great authority on this subject that the Turkish Government have played a constructive role to try to calm tensions between the Turkish community on one side of the border and the Kurdish community on the other. We look to them to continue to do so. In my discussions last Friday with Foreign Minister Gul, he went out of his way to explain that the Government of Turkey had done their very best to keep contact and maintain co-operation with Kurdish leaders.

On refugee camps, the situation on the ground has changed markedly compared with 1991, when 500,000 Kurdish refugees went across an undefended border into Turkey because at that stage that area of Iraq was under the control of Saddam. Now it is not. None the less, we acknowledge the anxieties of the Turkish Government about refugees, which is one of the many reasons why we maintain such close contact with them.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

May I first associate the Opposition with the Foreign Secretary's condolences to those who have lost loved ones in action in Iraq?

Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that post-Saddam Iraq will be run by a genuinely representative Administration, who will preserve and foster new democratic systems such as that in northern Iraq, will avoid creating permanent and subjugated minorities and will not been seen merely as a surrogate for rule by America, Britain or both? How confident is he that the United Nations will become involved in the reconstruction of Iraq and the stability of its Administration? The liberation of Iraq is being won by America, Britain and the rest of the coalition, despite the French and the European Union. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that any UN participation in reconstruction will actually reflect hat fact?

Mr. Straw

I am confident that the Iraqis will be able to establish good, representative governance. That confidence is based on the innate talents of the Iraqi people, but specifically on the agreement that was reached in the Azores between Prime Minister Aznar, President Bush and the Prime Minister, who agreed—this was reflected in the motion passed by the House a week ago—that we would seek the adoption of a new UN Security Council resolution that would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian aid and reflect and endorse an appropriate post-conflict Administration for Iraq. There are differences in the EU about the conflict, as is well known, but I am glad to say that a constructive approach to the provision of aid and humanitarian relief was shown by our EU colleagues at the European Council meeting last Thursday and Friday.

Mr. Ancram

What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made about the effects of the war on the wider region? What information has he received about the possibility of disruptive intervention in Iraq by Iranian militia, and what plans are there to forestall that? What hope is there that Turkey as a friend and colleague in NATO will work, if not under the coalition, at least with the coalition in any use of its armed forces in or around northern Iraq? What steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to persuade Iraq's Arab neighbors that a benign and prosperous Iraq, instead of pumping poison into the surrounding region, could help to spread prosperity and peace throughout the Arab world?

Mr. Straw

To take the last point first, it is well known that, in public, Arab leaders—for example, at the meeting of the Arab League in Cairo yesterday—with the single exception of Kuwait have taken a public position of criticising coalition action. However, that public position disguises a very wide range of private opinions held by those leaders and, indeed, by those on the street as well. I think that once the coalition action has been successful, we will see a very significant shift, both by the leaders and by those on the street.

On the reports about Iranian militia incursions into Iraq, we have no basis of evidence at all to substantiate what we regard as poor reports in the media. I have seen no evidence about that whatsoever. Moreover, we have good relations with the Government of Iran, and only last Thursday I was in touch with the Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharrazi, talking about this and other matters.

On Turkey—well, Turkey is an important NATO ally, and it has faced its own difficulties about the extent of military co-operation, which we understand. At the same time, its Parliament has agreed to overflight facilities for US and UK forces.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)

The Arab leaders will have heard the British Foreign Secretary just publicly brand them as liars, but on that subject, the British military spokesman said to the BBC yesterday, "We expected a lot of hands up, but it hasn't quite worked out that way." Is not the Government's problem that the weapons of forgery, plagiarism, fabrication and lies that they have fed the people of this country and the world have become boomerangs, which are now cutting, alas, not the bodies of the donkeys who sent our people into battle, but the lions who are having to stand and fight in defence of the British Government's lies, forgery and deception?

Mr. Straw

I would find my hon. Friend's extravagant rhetoric more convincing if only I did not recall that he used exactly the same rhetoric in respect of the military action in Afghanistan, and predicted that there would be a world war that went on for at least a year or two years—

Mr. Galloway

You said it would be over.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Galloway

A year ago, you said it would be over.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman put the question. I cannot help the reply that he gets. He cannot complain about the reply.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon)

Over past years, Iran has been host to 3 million Afghan refugees and about 500,000 Iraqi refugees. One can therefore understand its reluctance to have an open border towards any refugees resulting from the current situation. Would the Secretary of State not agree that any post-Saddam Iraq, in terms of humanitarian aid, must take into account the situation with Iran? What discussions has he had with the Iranian Government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees about the possibility of the establishment of up to 10 camps run by the Iranians within Iraq?

Mr. Straw

I have had no specific discussions with the Iranian Government about the establishment of such camps. As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have made a great deal of effort in the past two years to improve relations with the Government of Iran. Indeed, I have visited Tehran on three occasions in the past 20 months, and I look forward to further visits. The Iranians, of course, know more about the terror and evil of the Saddam regime than almost any other peoples in the world, because they lost so many innocent people, not only through conventional warfare but through chemical warfare, during the Iran-Iraq war, and they have suffered from instability on both sides of their border. The issue is therefore the subject of continual discussion between me and my colleague and friend Kamal Kharrazi, the Iranian Foreign Minister, and, day by day, between our ambassador and his staff and the Iranian Foreign Ministry and other ministries in Tehran.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

I have said to my right hon. Friend previously that one of the principal reasons why I am against the invasion of Iraq is that the down side will inevitably be greater than any benefit. In relation to the question that he was asked about northern Iraq, we all know now that Turkish forces have crossed the border, although probably 2,000 to 3,000 Turkish troops have been there for a number of years. The real crunch will come when Turkish forces inevitably get involved in a military combat with the Kurdish forces. In the representations that my right hon. Friend has made to the Turkish Government, has he indicated whether Britain and America would be prepared to take military action on behalf of the Kurds against the Turkish invading forces in the north?

Mr. Straw

I understand that my hon. Friend has a different point of view from ours, and this is an issue of trying to balance the advantages and disadvantages of military action. I do not, however, share his view that Turkish forces will "inevitably" get involved in military action against the Kurds. That is a distant possibility, and we are using every endeavour, in co-operation with the Government of Turkey and Kurdish leaders, to ensure that that does not happen. I would only say that the experience of northern Iraq gives me very great optimism about the future of Iraq without Saddam Hussein. Despite all the opposition to the no-fly zones and that action, it is incontrovertible that the introduction of the no-fly zones enabled there to be a Kurdish autonomous region. On every single indicator, in terms of child health, schooling, nutrition and freedom, that Kurdish autonomous zone, freed from the terror of Saddam Hussein, has been infinitely better than that part of Iraq that remains under the cosh of Saddam Hussein.

Forward to