HC Deb 13 July 2004 vol 423 cc1238-40
3. Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber) (Lab)

What his assessment is of progress made so far by the Iraqi Interim Government. [183356]

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

Good progress has been made since the Iraq Interim Government took over sovereignty on 28 June. Security remains the major challenge, but as Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari spelled out to EU Foreign Ministers yesterday, the new sovereign Government are cracking down on crime and terrorism, accelerating reconstruction, and preparing for elections by January 2005. We are proud to be a leading supporter of their efforts.

Mr. Stewart

Does my right hon. Friend share my view that the acid test of the Interim Government's success is how it changes the lives of ordinary Iraqis, such as those in Basra whom I visited last year? The key is to secure the economy by ensuring that the pipeline operates efficiently. The Iraqi Prime Minister has said that every bomb that blows up a pipeline takes food out of the mouths of ordinary Iraqi children. Does my right hon. Friend agree?

Mr. Straw

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The saboteurs, criminals and terrorists sought to justify their destruction of parts of Iraq's infrastructure on the basis that they were attacking the occupying forces of the United States and the United Kingdom. It was never true, but that excuse has now gone. They are attacking the lifeblood of the Iraqi people. Notwithstanding that, there has been a significant increase in oil production, an increase in electricity generation and a great improvement in the number of jobs generated in Iraq in the past year, and we look forward to the continuation of that success.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con)

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that an important aspect of the work of the Interim Government in Iraq is to ensure good relationships with the Kurdish north, to ensure that a devolved Administration works there and to ensure that senior Kurdish representatives are included in the Government not just now but for the future to maintain a united Iraq?

Mr. Straw

Yes. One of the striking things about the new Iraqi political sentiment is that ideas of Kurdistan becoming a separate sovereign country have disappeared almost altogether, and all the Kurdish representatives whom I meet are fully committed to maintaining Iraq as a sovereign nation within its existing borders.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab)

Given the increasing difficulties for women in Iraq, can my right hon. Friend tell the House what progress has been made towards registering women's votes? Will any special measures be introduced to enable women to vote safely when the full democratic elections take place in Iraq in January?

Mr. Straw

Of course we recognise the particular problems faced by women in Iraq, but one of the striking things about the new Government is their commitment, which they have put into practice, to increase women's representation. Six of the 30 members of the Government are women. That may not be a sufficient proportion, but it is greater than in many Governments across Europe.

The electoral process has been led by the United Nations and Mrs. Perelli. The election commissioners have now been appointed. There is a big challenge to register electors, both men and women, but I believe that the process will be undertaken sufficiently for elections to take place by the end of January.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con)

I join in wishing success to the Iraqi Interim Government in restoring control of Iraq to the Iraqis. However, it appears that recently considerable numbers of Iranians have entered Iraq, many through the British-controlled sector, and have remained there. Can the Foreign Secretary give any indication of their numbers? Are there any connections between them and recent incidents of terrorism and insurgency in Iraq? Does he agree that it would be highly damaging to the credibility of the Interim Government if Iran were in any way seeking to exercise undue influence over political developments in Iraq? How do the Government propose to help the Iraqi Interim Government to combat that?

Mr. Straw

I agree with the last sentiment expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. Generally, we have had good co-operation with the Iranians, including the establishment of border posts along the sector that we previously controlled. Following 28 June, the whole of the border is now under the control of the Iraqi Government; we are there as forces in support. All the neighbouring countries are seeking to exercise some influence over Iraq, but again one of the striking things about the Iraqis, including the Shi'a, is their own sense of being Iraqi and their wish to ensure that they determine Iraq's future, and that it is not determined by other countries.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)

As the Interim Government came a bout as a result of the war with Iraq, and as we went to war because we were told that the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction that could be used within 45 minutes and were a threat to the world, if no weapons of mass destruction are found will the House be right in expecting resignations from some of the highest levels of Government?

Mr. Straw

I will not anticipate the outcome of the Butler report, which will be published tomorrow, but I remind my hon. Friend that we took military action because Saddam had flagrantly violated 12 years of Security Council mandatory resolutions and that the whole international community, including China, France, Russia and Syria as well as the United Kingdom and the United Stales, declared in Security Council resolution 1441 that Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security by reason of its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, its long-range missile systems and its defiance of the United Nations. I believe that the international community was right to make that judgment when it did, in November 2002, and—in the light of subsequent events—it would be right to make that judgment today.

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