HC Deb 07 June 2004 vol 422 cc21-37 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on political and diplomatic developments relating to Iraq.

Under a revised and accelerated timetable agreed on 15 November last year, and endorsed by the Security Council in resolution 1511, full authority will transfer from the occupying powers, the United States and the United Kingdom in just three weeks' time, by 30 June, to a sovereign interim Iraqi Government. That Government will be in office until 31 January next year, by which time national elections for a transitional Government and constituent Assembly are due to have been held. The transitional Government and Assembly will oversee, among other things, the drafting of a new constitution. with a view to its agreement and elections for a Government on the basis of the new constitution by the end of next year.

To facilitate that process, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, appointed Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi to nominate the interim Government. On 1 June, Ambassador Brahimi announced the appointment of Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawir as the new President; two deputy Presidents, Dr. Ibrahim al-Jafari and Dr. Rowsch Shaways; and a new Prime Minister, Dr. Iyad Alawi.

Dr. Alawi's Cabinet was also announced on 1 June in a joint press conference with Ambassador Brahimi. Twenty-two of its 31 members are newcomers—that is, not former members of the Iraqi Governing Council—and six are women. In an address to the nation last Friday, Dr Alawi identified his Government's priorities as the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty; security; economic revival; national unity; and preparations for elections.

Immediately following the announcements on 1 June, the Iraqi Governing Council dissolved itself and handed over its responsibilities to the new Government, including control of the 14 Ministries already under full Iraqi authority. The remaining 11 Ministries will be transferred by 30 June, at which point the coalition provisional authority will dissolve and the occupation will come to an end.

It is appropriate at this moment for me to record the British Government's appreciation of Ambassador Bremer, who heads the coalition provisional authority, and particularly of Ambassadors Greenstock and Richmond and all the staff in the British part of the coalition provisional authority for the contribution that they have made.

The announcement of the new interim Government was the fruit of many weeks of wide-ranging consultations conducted by Ambassador Brahimi and his team. The result is, I believe, a competent, professional and broad-based Government acceptable to the widest possible range of Iraqis and reflective of Iraq's diversity. The new Government have been welcomed by the United Nations, by the European Union, by many Governments in the region and by key figures in Iraq such as Ayatollah al-Sistani, the leading Shi'a cleric. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the outstanding work of Ambassador Brahimi and his staff; in congratulating all the members of Iraq's new Government on their appointment; and in offering the Government our full support.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Brahimi has made recommendations for the membership of a supreme commission, to be formed within days, to prepare a national conference to be held this July. The conference will include a diverse range of Iraqi voices in the political process, thus providing for the broadest possible representation. It is expected to elect an interim national council of about 100 members, whose role will be to promote constructive dialogue and national consensus; to advise the presidency and the Council of Ministers; to monitor the work of the Executive, including the implementation of laws; to have the power of veto over Executive orders; and to approve the national budget.

The United Nations will advise on the organisation of the national, regional and local elections, which are to be held no later than 31 January next year. We welcome the formation of an Iraqi independent electoral commission to prepare for those elections, with UN assistance. The commission's members have been recommended by the UN. I pay tribute to the work of Carina Perelli, head of the UN electoral assistance division, and her team for making all that possible.

As the House will be aware, the United States and the United Kingdom have proposed that there should be a new Security Council resolution to facilitate the transfer of sovereignty by 30 June. Drafts have been under discussion in New York and between capitals for some weeks. Those discussions with our Security Council partners have taken place in a constructive atmosphere, and I hope that the process may be brought to a conclusion very soon.

Key elements of the resolution affirm the full sovereignty of the interim Government and give the United Nations a lead role in support of the political process. The mandate of the multinational force is dealt with both within the text of the resolution and in an exchange of letters to the President of the Security Council from, on the one hand, the Prime Minister of Iraq and, on the other, the United States Secretary of State Colin Powell on behalf of the multinational force. The draft resolution provides that the mandate of the multinational force will expire in any event by 31 December 2005, but the Iraqi Government will have a clear right to review or to terminate it earlier if they so wish. The draft resolution and the letters lay down in some detail the nature of the relationship between the multinational force and Iraq's own security forces, and state the need to reach agreement on fundamental security and policy issues, including policy on sensitive offensive operations. I am placing the text of both letters in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, addressed the Security Council last Thursday 3 June in New York. He asked that the international community endorse and support the Iraqi interim Government as quickly as possible, made clear his support for the resolution and made a number of points about the provisions of the resolution, which are now being dealt with. The Security Council has been holding further discussions about the resolution over the weekend and will resume those discussions later today in New York. A revised draft text is due to be circulated to Security Council members later today. If it is—and, in any event, as soon as it is—circulated, I shall lay it before the House and place a copy in the Library of the House of Lords.

The biggest challenge that the new Government of Iraq will face is to build security. There will be those who will continue to seek to disrupt the transition to successful democracy in Iraq and to force decisions by the bomb, not by the ballot box; but the Iraqi Government are firmly resolved to defeat the men of violence, and we are resolved to help them to do so. The multinational force, including British troops, continues to work with the Iraqis to stabilise the country and to assist the process of reconstruction and political transition. The force is helping Iraq's own security forces to build their capacity. The Iraqi police force now numbers some 89,000 men, the Iraqi civil defence corps 29,000, the border police 8,000, and the facilities protection service some 74,000.

I pay tribute to the courage and bravery of all those in Iraq who are working to build peace and democracy. The British troops of the multinational force, along with many British police and civilians, are giving them vital and courageous help. There will be some difficult times ahead, but the path to a free and democratic Iraq is now clear, and the British Government will remain committed to helping the Iraqi Government and people to achieve that historic goal.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con)

May I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for giving me advance sight of it? I am sure that he will join me in paying a brief tribute to the late President Reagan, of whom it can truly be said that he left an indelible mark on history, and that he challenged the seemingly inevitable march of communism and won. We have lost a champion and a friend.

Recent events in Iraq have at last provided the basic elements of a working plan to deliver a representative and democratic Iraq, run by Iraqis, before the end of the year. This plan is long overdue and there is already a feeling of time lost, which has in turn led to increased tension and hostility on the ground. History will judge critically, as we have consistently from the Conservative Benches, the political incompetence of the Government and the instability that has flowed from their failure to plan adequately and early enough for the post-war reconstruction of Iraq and its return to democracy.

However, progress has been made over the last two weeks. We welcome the appointment of Prime Minister designate Iyad Alawi, President designate Ghazi al-Yawir, and the rest of the interim Government. We also welcome the endorsement of the United Nations for those appointments, which is something that we have long called for. The interim Government in waiting have made a good start, but they must establish their credibility by being genuinely representative of the people of Iraq. They must secure and retain the backing of the mainstream Sunni and Shi'a communities, and of the Kurds in the north. They must not be seen as placemen of the coalition, and the coalition must never act in such a way as to suggest that they are. I also welcome the latest draft of the United Nations Security Council resolution. It certainly reflects our desire for a clear and comprehensive plan that includes the United Nations, and we wish it a fair wind.

There remain, however, a number of crucial questions to which we seek full answers today. What is the distinction highlighted in the latest draft resolution between international law and what is called "international humanitarian law", and what implications could this have for the actions of our troops on the ground? Then there are the vital questions about the relationship between the interim Government and the multinational force after 30 June. The answers to some of these questions might be in the letters that the Foreign Secretary is placing in the Library of the House, but that is no reason for him not to answer them himself this afternoon, when he can be questioned further on the detail.

Apparently the interim Government can ask us to leave, but will they have a veto over what the multinational force can undertake operationally on the ground? If, for instance, the interim Government were to say that there could be no further deployments in Falluja or Najaf, would that be an end of the matter? Conversely, do they have a right to request that our forces should be deployed in particular places for particular purposes and in particular ways? What veto would our commanders have on such requests? Can we be assured that these vital outstanding issues will be settled and clear before the resolution is passed by the Security Council, so that there can be no arguments afterwards? I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will agree that absolute clarity on the chain of command is essential to the safety and security of our troops.

What chances are there of engaging further armed forces, with the backing of the United Nations, particularly from Arab or other Muslim nations, to help to provide security and training in Iraq? Where have we got to in the hunt for weapons of mass destruction? Given the accusations being made in America, and the recent resignation of the director of the CIA, George Tenet, would it not be wise, in the interests of public confidence, to put on hold the appointment of John Scarlett as head of M16, at least until the Butler inquiry has reported?

Finally, on the question of further British troop deployments, given the damaging uncertainties caused by persistent Government briefings and counter-briefings over recent months, and given the suspicion that the Government, for party political reasons, are withholding announcements of bigger deployments outwith our area of control until after Thursday's elections, can the Foreign Secretary categorically assure the House that between 11 and 30 June no further deployments will be announced for outside Multinational Division (South East)? It would be unforgivable were the Government, for party political and electoral considerations, to play fast and loose with the interests of our armed forces.

Once again, I commend our armed forces for the remarkable work that they are doing with such courage, skill and dedication, on our behalf, in Iraq. We wish them well. On their behalf, however, we want answers to these questions, not in prime ministerial press conferences, lobby briefings or lengthy, rambling interviews by the Foreign Secretary on the "Today" programme, but hero in the House of Commons, and we want those answers today.

Mr. Straw

Of course, I am happy to associate myself and the Government with the remarks made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the death of President Reagan, who was a historic figure in the United States and the west.

I listened with great care to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It would have been altogether slightly more impressive and consistent with his earlier position of supporting military action had he adopted a rather less cavilling and churlish approach. He was so anxious not to talk about the subject that for one moment I thought that he was going to talk about Europe, until I remembered the United Kingdom Independence party and the difficulties that that is causing the Conservatives.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me some questions about the amount of time that has been spent on developing this approach. I remind him that with the agreement of the Iraqis, we accelerated the whole time scale. Originally, the transfer of power was going to be made much later this year, running into next year. Following decisions that were made with the coalition provisional authority and the Iraqi Governing Council on 15 November, the current time scale was agreed. There was a lot of scepticism about whether it could be met in time, but it has been, and it was endorsed by resolution 1511. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me about what he says is the crucial distinction between international law and international humanitarian law—there is no distinction. At one point, international law is talked about generally, while at another, international humanitarian law is talked about because it is specific to the context.

On the circumstances in which the Iraqi forces and multinational forces will co-operate, the letter from Dr. lyad Alawi to the Security Council, which is also referenced by the letter from Colin Powell, deals with that in the second main paragraph on page 2—I provide that detail for the benefit of colleagues in the House who wish to look at it after this statement. It states: The structures I have described in this letter will serve as the fora for the MNF and the Iraqi government to reach agreement on the full range of fundamental security and policy issues, including policy on sensitive offensive operations. and will ensure full partnership between Iraqi forces and the MNF, through close coordination and consultation. It continues: Since these are sensitive issues for a number of sovereign governments, including Iraq and the United States, they need to be resolved in the framework of a mutual understanding on our strategic partnership. What we sought to do in these letters was to specify the framework of principles that should apply. By definition, since we are dealing with what will happen in the future, we cannot specify every single circumstance, but I do not believe that some of the difficulties that have arisen in recent months will arise under the arrangements. In any event, the Iraqi interim Government, as well as the transitional Government, after 31 January, have an absolute right both to call for a revision of the terms under which the multinational force operates and a right to call for its withdrawal. Taken together, those will be adequate protections to ensure that the Iraqis are fully involved in this partnership, but that commanders on the ground from the multinational force have proper operational control when they are involved in an operation.

A further report is awaited from the Iraq survey group, and my statement does not relate to it directly.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made a statement about the deployment of British troops just two weeks ago. If there are to be any further deployments—and for the moment it is a big if—my right hon. Friend will make a statement at the appropriate time.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress that has been made in building consensus, both in the United Nations Security Council and internally in Iraq. It is surely imperative that we give the new Iraqi interim Government the greatest possible degree of sovereignty, even if that means taking some risks.

Can my right hon. Friend comment on Mr. Alawi's statement to al-Jazeera over the weekend that there should be greater progress towards finding places in the new Iraq for former Ba'athists who are not guilty of human rights abuses? Is that supported by our Government and, perhaps more particularly, by the United States Government?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he has said. I should make it clear that no degrees of sovereignty are being transferred by 30 June; authority and sovereignty are being transferred, full stop. As for progress on the absorption of former Ba'ath party members who are not implicated in the excesses of the regime, we strongly agree with Prime Minister Alawi, and that view is now shared by the United States Government.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD)

It would be ungenerous not to acknowledge that there has been real progress in recent days, but does the Foreign Secretary accept that the ultimate verdict will depend on the final terms of the resolution, on effective and credible implementation of its provisions and, in the end, on its acceptability to the Iraqi people as a whole?

Can the Foreign Secretary tell us whether there are any differences of substance or nuance between Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government on security issues? Why is it necessary for matters concerning sensitive operations to be incorporated in letters rather than in the resolution itself?

The Foreign Secretary will recall telling me in correspondence that he expected the resolution to restore control of all Iraqi resources and assets to the Iraqi Government. Will that be achieved in the new draft resolution, or are there any exceptions? In particular, will the interim Government have power to renegotiate any contracts relating to oil or oil exploration in Iraq?

Finally, when does the Foreign Secretary expect the last British soldiers to leave Iraq?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the spirit of his remarks.

I think that an interim verdict will depend on the terms of the Security Council resolution and its acceptability in Iraq. I think that the ultimate verdict will depend on whether the process leads to a democratic, stable and secure Iraq; but it is my solemn hope and, now, my cautious expectation that that will be the case. Speaking for myself and, I believe, for many colleagues on both sides of the House, I think that if that happens—as I hope and expect it will—it will mean a great new beginning for the country that was so ravaged by three decades of tyranny under Saddam Hussein, in which hundreds of thousands of people died.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether there had been any differences of substance or nuance on security issues. There have been no fundamental differences. It will come as no surprise to the House that there has been extensive discussion, not only with other Security Council partners but with our friends in the United States Administration, about the precise wording of the resolution.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked why it had been necessary to include the details of the security arrangements in letters rather than in the resolution itself. That is because the agreement needs to be between the multinational force and the Iraqi Government rather than the Security Council, on which the Iraqi Government do not happen to sit and on which, in any case, they would sit in a different capacity. However, the letters themselves are annexed to the resolution. They are public, and we readily conceded to Security Council partners that they needed to see the text of the final version of the letters, as signed, before it was reasonable to ask them to vote for the resolution because, in practice, they form an integral part of the overall decisions that we hope will be made in the Security Council shortly.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks about the renegotiation of contracts. Oil has always been the property of the Iraqis, none of it has been used to pay for the coalition and it will continue to be the property of the Iraqis. He asks whether there will be the power to renegotiate any of the contracts. The Iraqi interim Government have accepted under the transitional administrative law a self-denying ordinance—it has not been imposed on them—meaning that they will not take actions that are irrevocable and that would tie the hands of the elected Government who will be in place after 31 January. I think that that is right, but subject to that—and it is quite a big subject—they will be free to negotiate their own contracts.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's last question was what will be the last date on which British forces will be in Iraq. The last date under the mandate, if it is passed, will be 31 January 2005. Whether any troops will remain after that period will obviously, above all, be a matter for the Iraqi Government at the time, who, by that stage, will be fully elected and operating under their own constitution.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab)

May I welcome the broad thrust of my right hon. Friend's statement, especially the strong stress that he placed on the role of the United Nations? Many of us in the Chamber—I suspect himself included—would have welcomed such a central role for the UN from the start. Those of us who have been critical of the occupation should recognise that the events of recent months have obliged the United States to accept a much bolder transfer of sovereignty than it had been contemplating. Given the extent to which nudging from Britain has moved it in that direction, I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Foreign Office.

Will my right hon. Friend clear up one point? A month ago, Ambassador Bremer said that the interim Government would not have the power to vary the laws that he brought in as presiding genius of the coalition authority. Will my right hon. Friend give me the further good news that the United States has also given ground on that point and that the interim Government will be able to amend the directives that they inherit from the coalition authority should they wish to do so?

Mr. Straw

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he said, especially about the importance of the United Nations—I know that he has always subscribed to that view. May I make a correction to an answer that I gave a moment ago? It h is been drawn to my attention that I talked about the mandate of the multinational force expiring on 31 January, but I should have said 31 December.

My answer to my right hon. Friend is the same as my answer to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). The transitional administrative law was negotiated between the appointed Iraqi Governing Council and the coalition provisional authority. The interim Government have said that they haw no intention of disturbing key elements of that because they do not want to pre-empt the rights of the transitional Government who will be in place, God willing, after being elected within a seven-month period. Subject to that, however, if they wish to make changes, they may do so because they are the sovereign Government of Iraq. The self-denying ordinance is not required by the Security Council and nor could it be required by the coalition, the role and authority of which finishes, full stop, on 30 June. As I made it clear in my statement, there will be laws passed by the interim Government that will go to the consultative council for supervision.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con)

Whatever the imperfections in planning and the difficulties of implementation, tho coalition's objectives behind what it has done and tried to do in Iraq are the promotion of stability in the middle east, the enlargement of freedom and the promotion of the Iraqi people's ability to govern themselves rather than being subject to an unelected tyranny. Does the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that the insurgency and insurrection that is currently going on in the middle east—not only in Iraq—is cynically designed to frustrate those objectives and to unnerve and divide those throughout the world who promote them? Will he assure the House that the Government will hold their nerve and draw the right lesson from President Reagan's life: when the free democracies show sustained strength in the face of an international threat, they eventually win?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It is clear, tragically, that there is a degree of insurgency—much of it fanned from outside Iraq, some from within—that is seeking to cause instability across the region without discrimination as to whether the people concerned supported or opposed the military intervention in Iraq. Saudi Arabia has taken the brunt of some of the attacks and I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I place on record our deep sadness at the news overnight of the killing of Simon Cumbers, a BBC cameraman whom I knew personally and respected. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I express our condolences to his family, his colleagues at the BBC and his friends, and in wishing Mr. Gardner the speediest of recoveries in the very difficult circumstances in which he finds himself.

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab)

The House will welcome the Foreign Secretary s confirmation that 11 of the 26 Government Departments are already in Iraqi hands and that the rest will be by the end of the month. Will he confirm that one of these Government Ministries is a Ministry of Human Rights, the only such Ministry in the entire middle east? Does he agree that the UN resolution will assist enormously in the 30 January passage of sovereignty, the 31 January elections in Iraq and the 31 December expiry of the mandate? Should not this House give its best wishes and say Godspeed to the United Nations in the hope that these things come about and that the insurgency and insurrection do not disrupt democracy for all the people of Iraq?

Mr. Straw

I agree with my hon. Friend and I can confirm that there is a Ministry of Human Rights—the only one, I think, in the middle east—which sits alongside the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice to proselytise and establish human rights of a kind that Iraqis have never known.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC)

Will the Government take heed of publicly stated opinion in Wales and Scotland in favour of a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops and their replacement by troops of useful countries, particularly from the Arab League?

Mr. Straw

Everybody, particularly the new Government of Iraq, believes that it would be utterly and wildly irresponsible to seek to withdraw British troops now from Iraq. There is no possibility of the British or other multinational forces being replaced by troop contributions from Arab nations. When the hon. Gentleman proposes that we withdraw troops from Iraq immediately, he needs to be aware that he is proposing the creation of a security vacuum that would come as a comfort only to the terrorists and insurgents and would be opposed by the overwhelming majority of Iraqis. In a formal letter to the Security Council, the Prime Minister of Iraq, Dr. Alawi, spelled out, in terms, that he believes that the multinational force is essential to the building of stability, peace and democracy within Iraq.

On the issue of a timetable, there is a timetable; it is the one before the Security Council, which makes it clear, in terms, that the mandate of the multinational force will end on 31 December next year unless it is determined by the Iraqi people to end it earlier.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab)

May I assure my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that many who opposed the war nevertheless accept that it would be irresponsible now to withdraw the multinational force, because that would lead to a power vacuum and almost certainly a civil war in a country that is already benighted with violence?

May I press my right hon. Friend, nevertheless, on the legitimacy of the new Government? In the end, what really matters will be whether that Government can show the Iraqi people the reality that it is in control of the situation. Although, as he told the House a few moments ago, the letters lay down in some detail the nature of the relationship between the multinational force and Iraq's own security forces, there is a need for that to be further fleshed out because we cannot afford any future ambiguity in that relationship. It must be quite clear that future Iraqi Governments will be able to condition the circumstances in which a multinational force operates, to save us from the kind of disasters that we have seen in recent months.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said at the start of his remarks. His view is widely shared, regardless of the original position that people took on the merits or otherwise of major military action.

I have the advantage of being familiar with every line of the letters that have been sent to the Security Council, in a way that other Members of the House are not, and I invite my hon. Friend to read through the letter from Dr. Alawi to the Security Council, which sets out—fleshes out, to pick up my hon. Friend's phrase—in as much detail as is possible in advance, the way in which the relationship between the Iraqi forces and the multinational force should operate. As I said in answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), it is not possible to anticipate every conceivable circumstance, but it is possible to set up the framework for a partnership, have in mind what could go wrong—frankly, we have seen some things go wrong—and learn from those lessons. Also, overriding all the day-by-day arrangements should be the simple imperative fact that, if necessary, the Iraqi Government—the interim as well as the transitional Government—can decide to require the multinational force to withdraw altogether before 31 December next year. It is that fact alone, that they have a veto on the forces remaining, which will change the nature of the relationship, in addition to the detail of the letters.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con)

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary shares my deep concern at the damage that has been done to the Atlantic alliance during the past 18 months by the Iraq war. In negotiating the new United Nations Security Council resolution, will he emphasise strongly to his counterparts in France and Germany the importance of using it as an opportunity to start to rebuild the unity and cohesiveness of the alliance, and the fact that if they do not do that, but continue to milk the situation and its difficulties for short-term domestic political advantage, they are likely to turn a short-term problem of the alliance into a long-term one?

Mr. Straw

It is the case that the transatlantic alliance has been under strain as a result of Iraq, as has the alliance within Europe—because this was not an argument between the United States and Europe but, fundamentally, an argument in Europe between those who took differing views. However, I have found in my dealings with my French, German and Spanish counterparts as well as with the Russian Federation, the Romanians and many others that there is real understanding about the need to come together. There is a sense of catharsis in the international community, and it was striking that President Chirac of France said yesterday in his address at the international ceremony to commemorate D-day: France is keenly aware that the Atlantic Alliance, forged in adversity, remains, in the face of new threats, a fundamental element of our collective security. I could not put the view of the British Government and Parliament better than that. We are going to see a new spirit of co-operation and cohesion in the transatlantic alliance once we have got this resolution through.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)

On 18–19 May, there was a tragic attack on the village of Makr al-Deeb, where some 42 victims, mostly women and children attending a wedding, were killed. Has there been any follow-up, who was responsible, and how in heaven's name can the Foreign Secretary praise Bremer, who made the catastrophic mistake of disbanding the Iraqi army and who was responsible for much of the difficulty in Falluja? Incidentally, that praise of Bremer is not in the script that has been given out to Members of the House, so it has obviously been added.

Mr. Straw

The latter point is true—I added that part out of my head, so my hon. Friend can see that I write my own statements. On the more serious—the very serious—point that he raised about what happened to these poor souls who died in this village where there appeared to be a wedding party taking place, that was in the area of American operations. The American Administration are investigating it, and I believe that they are doing so very fully.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)

I associate myself with the tribute to the late Ronald Reagan, who set an example of courage and political leadership that we should not forget today.

Can the Foreign Secretary explain a little more fully what he meant when he said that he hoped for cohesion in the Atlantic alliance once we have got this UN resolution through? Is not the important factor that it should be got through expeditiously and unitedly now? Is it not the case that Saddam Hussein was encouraged by the clear divisions among democratic countries in western Europe that ought to have known better? He was encouraged to hold out against UN resolutions that he ought to have obeyed long since, and we should not repeat or perpetuate that mistake. Should not all members of the Security Council approve the resolution expeditiously and promptly?

Mr. Straw

I hope that it will be approved expeditiously, but I was being cautious. There is no doubt that Saddam was encouraged by divisions in the international community. I do not lay the blame on one side or the other, as that would not be fruitful at this stage. It is important now to recognise that everybody, regardless of the position that they took in respect of the military action, has a very clear interest in giving full support to Dr. Alawi and his interim Government and in seeing these processes through and ensuring, through the support of the multinational force and the expanding Iraqi security forces, that security is developed and then enhanced and maintained in Iraq.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab)

The Foreign Secretary will recall that the Iraq survey group reported to the Congress of the United States that it had discovered extensive UN sanctions busting not only by companies but with the collusion of Governments. Why does he feel unable to disclose the names of the perpetrators in public, to the House of Commons, rather than offering information in private to members of the Foreign Affairs Committee?

What are the ground rules for private security companies, paid for by the British taxpayer, after 1 July? What laws will they be subject to, and what will be the chain of command and the rules of engagement?

Mr. Straw

I have not felt able to make the information available about individuals and Governments under investigation because to do so could prejudice criminal prosecutions at a later date—that is a pretty standard reason why such information should be classified—but I have made it available in confidence to members of the Foreign Affairs Committee. My hon. Friend is himself a member of that Committee. The private—

Andrew Selous (south-West Bedfordshire) (Con)

A distinguished member.

Mr. Straw


The private security companies operating in Iraq will be subject to the laws of Iraq. In some respects, where international crimes are involved, they are also subject to the laws of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend, as a distinguished member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, will recall that I published a Green Paper on the operation of such companies from the UK and whether we should introduce legislation. We came down against legislation because of the difficulties involved, but there is no doubt that in countries such as Iraq the operations of such companies, be they UK-based or based elsewhere, should be properly regulated, and that will fall to the Iraqi authorities.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)

Does the Foreign Secretary think that it would help the new Administration and the allied forces in dealing with hostility if a more significant role were given to Muslim nations in the vicinity? In particular, does he believe that Iran could play a meaningful role in helping Iraq to introduce democracy, given that for many years Iran has had an elected President and Parliament and has introduced many liberal measures, resulting, for example, in more than half of Iran's university students being women? Could not Iran play a really meaningful role in helping the situation in Iraq?

Mr. Straw

Each of Iraq's six neighbours, as well as other major countries in the region, has profound responsibilities in terms of helping with its stability and security. Iran—along with Turkey, its most populous neighbour—has a most important role, and I should like to put on record our appreciation of the constructive approach taken by the Iranian Government before Saddam fell and in the subsequent months. We look forward to Iran continuing to play that role, along with the other countries.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab)

May I welcome the commitment to UN-assisted elections taking place by next January? Can my right hon. Friend tell the House at this stage whether those elections will be subject to international monitoring by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe and other bodies that normally undertake such duties?

Mr. Straw

I am pretty certain that they will be, because they will be under UN auspices. I cannot be certain that the OSCE in particular will be involved, but I shall place more information about that in the record of the House.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD)

Following the Foreign Secretary telling my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East. Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) that the oil is the property of Iraq, can he say whether the occupying powers have any residual responsibility for maintaining the production and transportation of oil, given that Iraq is now producing less oil than in the days of Saddam Hussein and sanctions?

Mr. Straw

What the hon. Gentleman describes as residual responsibilities will arise principally under our responsibility within the multinational force to assist the Iraqis in maintaining security of oil supply—that is of paramount importance—and in respect of international contracts that have been signed by the coalition provisional authority, the Iraqi Government and various international companies to help to provide the oil. I should make it clear that flows of oil would be significantly higher were it not for the fact that terrorists have sought to attack the infrastructure and those working within the industry.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East) (Lab)

Although this issue understandably might not be in the forefront of my right hon. Friend's diplomatic thinking, will he—along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport—do what he can to enable British archaeologists and other scholars to make the best possible contribution to the international effort to support Iraqis in conserving the heritage of ancient Mesopotamia and of the early centuries of Islam? That heritage is not only theirs but ours, so it has great symbolic importance in terms of reconciliation.

Mr. Straw

As a matter of fact. that issue is in the forefront of my mind; indeed, I discussed it over the weekend with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. As my right hon. Friend says, the preservation of these archaeological sites is of huge importance to our understanding of our culture and history, as well as that of the middle east. We are concerned about reports of damage to some of these sites, and I should make it clear that they are being investigated urgently and thoroughly.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con)

Given that we attacked Iraq not to change its Government but because we were told that it possessed weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to us and our allies, the continuing search for such weapons is obviously a matter of great importance. What arrangements have been made for continuing the search after the Iraq survey group report to which the Foreign Secretary referred, who will control the inspectors in the longer term and to whom will they report? Can the Foreign Secretary assure us that the search—although currently fruitless, it is nevertheless very important—will continue in all eventualities after sovereignty has been transferred?

Mr. Straw

The mandate and the reporting chain for the Iraq survey group after 30 June remain something for discussion with the Iraqi interim Government. However, we expect the work of the survey group to continue.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op)

Would the Foreign Secretary risk speculating why some of the Jonahs, with honourable exceptions such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), are not prepared to acknowledge the remarkable political progress that is taking place, with a widely representative Government, including six women? Is it because that is more women than are on the Front Bench of either of the two main Opposition parties, or is it because they just cannot bring themselves to come round to the view that the coalition might actually be succeeding?

Mr. Straw

It may he both, but I hope that if this process works out, in six to nine months' time we may—we have to be cautious about this—see a democratically elected Iraqi Government. That will contrast with what would have been if no action had been taken, because for sure, Saddam Hussein would have still been there, re-emboldened and re-empowered to wreak his havoc and his terror on not only his own country, but the rest of the region.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con)

Given that even under Saddam Hussein there was a degree of self-determination for the Kurdish part of northern Iraq, will it be open to Dr. Alawi's interim Government to come up with a suggestion of a devolved or federated Government for the future of Iraq?

Mr. Straw

The drafting of the constitution is, and will be, a matter for the Iraqi people as a whole, through the processes that will, I hope, be endorsed by the Security Council. How the Iraqis develop their internal devolution arrangements is entirely a matter for them, subject only to the overriding international requirement of the Security Council that the territorial integrity of Iraq be preserved.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)

On the question of security, the Foreign Secretary has said that the draft resolution and the letters set out the need to reach agreement on the fundamental security and policy issues, including policy on sensitive offensive operations, but he does not make clear what happens if the two parties do not reach agreement. If there is no agreement, will the British and American troops be able to overrule the sovereign Iraqi Government? How sovereign is a Government who do not have the last word on military operations within their borders?

Mr. Straw

Not very sovereign—but that is not the case, because that Government will have the last word on military operations and, indeed, on the military presence, within its borders. Because of the way in which the arrangements have been developed, and the fact that the multinational force and the Iraqi Government have the same interest—that of establishing security and defeating terrorists—we do not anticipate that, in practice, there will be the kind of visceral disagreement that my hon. Friend describes. However, were there to be such disagreement, the last word would absolutely rest with the Iraqi Government, because under the terms of the draft resolution the Iraqi Government have the power not only to seek a revision of the mandate of the multinational force, but to seek to eject the multinational force altogether, in advance of the normal expiration of its mandate on 31 December next year.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)

Does the Foreign Secretary acknowledge the disproportionate share of responsibility that the United Kingdom is seen by the rest of the world as having for events in Iraq, in the light of the importance of our political and diplomatic support for the United States? Given that, and given the revelations by Sir Christopher Meyer that the Prime Minister fails to make Britain's case in private, as well as in public, with the United States, what confidence can we have that Britain will exercise satisfactory influence over the United States after 1 July, when we have so far signally failed to help it to avoid some of the more obvious mistakes that it has made in the conduct of the occupation?

Mr. Straw

We accept our responsibilities, because under the terms of the Security Council resolutions we were one of the two occupying powers under the coalition. We have always accepted our responsibilities and we have worked in a spirit of partnership with the United States and other Security Council partners.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op)

Any Foreign Secretary's role is, inevitably, to sell various mixed messages, but can the Foreign Secretary help me, as one whose mental agility is not as great as his, to understand this: if we succeed, as we hope we shall, in setting up a democratic Government in Iraq, which will be a beacon of democracy in the region, why would it be in the interests of near-neighbouring countries to help to set up something that would, inevitably, help to undermine their own oppressive regimes? Given that some of the countries with the most oppressive regimes are those to which we are most sensitive, can the Foreign Secretary explain for me the overall strategy?

Mr. Straw

Well, my hon. Friend will be familiar with what is coming as he and I attended similar schools in the days of President Reagan and before. We face in the middle east a transitional situation, to use that term precisely. The simple truth is that it is a parody to suggest that there would be an Iraqi democratic Government while all the surrounding Governments were dictatorships; t hat is simply not the case. A process of democratisation, of building representative government, has already taken place across the whole Arab region. Different countries in the region, such as Bahrain and other Gulf states, now have elections that are recognisably democratic by any standard. Jordan has recently had elections. We have arguments with Iran, but however else one might describe the Iranian situation, it is certainly not a monarchic autocracy. Among other countries, Egypt is in a state of transition, as, even, is Saudi Arabia; they are at different stages. I get no sense from my colleagues in Arab Governments that they are opposed to the democratisation of Iraq: they know that democracies have a much higher propensity to being peace-loving than authoritarian regimes ever have; and what they want, above all, after three decades in which they have been threatened by Iraq—some have had missiles fired at them and two countries have been invaded by Iraq—is a peaceful Iraq, which means a democratic Iraq.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con)

Does the Foreign Secretary have any evidence to suggest that the good will that will surround 30 June will be used by the United States or ourselves to encourage serious progress on the middle east peace talks, given that the road map was so important to us all before the decision to take action against Iraq was announced?

Mr. Straw

I very much hope that it is, although the hon. Gentleman will be aware of what has stalled progress on the middle east peace process, including, tragically, disagreements inside the Israeli Cabinet.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab)

Those of us who believe that Britain's involvement in the Bush-led war was unnecessary and has cost us dearly through the loss of 70 lives and financially, none the less accept that our involvement imposes certain obligations to stay in Iraq until peace is assured. How does my right hon. Friend react to the statement made by Plaid Cymru this morning that its policy is now immediate withdrawal of troops? Should not that be dismissed as a piece of cheap, opportunist electioneering?

Mr. Straw

Yes, it should, and I note that no Plaid Cymru representative is present in the House. It would be utterly irresponsible for British troops suddenly to withdraw. The people most at risk and who would suffer most would be the Iraqi people. Many more would be killed or injured as a result of peremptory withdrawal, and we shall not do it.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab)

On what date does the Foreign Secretary expect all British and American occupying forces to withdraw from Iraq? Have there been any discussions at any level regarding a permanent base in Iraq for regional purposes for either Britain or the United States after withdrawal of the occupying forces?

Mr. Straw

I answered my hon. Friend's first question earlier, when I said that the mandate of the multinational force would terminate on 31 December 2005. I cannot anticipate—I simply cannot—whether a fully elected Government of Iraq will ask multinational forces, including the, UK, to remain or in what numbers, except to say that if they were to do so, I would anticipate that the numbers would be many fewer than today. On my hon. Friend's second question, speaking for myself, I have seen no proposals for any kind of permanent base.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)

Is there not a distinction between legal authority, which should be transferred to Iraq on 30 June but may still have elements of the rubber stamp about it, and genuine political sovereignty, which will hopefully be achieved by 30 January next year? In achieving that, is not the role of the Iraqi independent electoral commission of considerable importance? What will be the United Nation's position in respect of achieving that goal? Will the UN be in sole control of the advise? That is a crucial role for the UN to play.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is right to say that overall legitimacy of the Government of Iraq will be much greater once they are properly elected. Everyone recognises the need for that, but we need a process for getting from where we were with the country under Saddam to where we want to be. The UN is playing a crucial role, particularly regarding the political process. The UN ran the arrangements—more than 1,400 candidates were involved—for the verification teams and the electoral commission, which will supervise the electoral process within Iraq. It is their call, not that of the coalition.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

Every hon. Member in the House will be delighted to see fair and democratic elections taking place in Iraq in January next year, but fair and free elections will depend on the paraphernalia of civil society being in place. That means active trade unions, active political parties, independent media and, of course, an accurate electoral register. Does the Foreign Secretary anticipate Britain providing significant support for putting all those in place?

Mr. Straw

We have already provided a good deal of support and we are happy to do so. Altogether, the British Government have provided £287 million worth of assistance to Iraq, covering all sorts of activities, including the sort of support that my hon. Friend mentioned.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend share my sense that we are now at a crossroads on this issue? Whatever the differences of the past, we can now all unite around the interests of the Iraqi people and the reconstruction of Iraq. Does that not mean that we all have to give support to the fledgling Government? Is it possible to do so while simultaneously using Iraq as part of the domestic political agenda—as just another football?

Mr. Straw

I entirely share my hon. Friend's views. It is impossible to do both and we all have a responsibility to back the new Government. As my hon. Friend says, we are at a crossroads. What lies ahead, if we all get behind it, is something that we have all dreamt about, regardless of our view on the military action—a stable, democratic and peaceful Iraq, able to take its place within the international community.