HL Deb 13 October 1994 vol 557 cc1001-4

3.22 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

What help they will offer to consolidate the democratic experiment in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, and to lay the groundwork for the elections which are planned for the spring of 1995.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we note the Kurdish Regional Administration's plans to hold elections in northern Iraq in 1995 in accordance with the arrangements set in place in 1992. We will look at requests from the Kurdish Regional Administration as they arise.

With our international partners, we remain committed to the territorial integrity of Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds have made clear that they are seeking autonomy within Iraq, not independence. The staging of these elections is entirely consistent with that aim.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I thank the Minister most warmly for agreeing to look at any request that she receives from the Kurdish administration. Does she agree that the double sanctions imposed by the United Nations and Saddam Hussein have placed great strains on the Kurdish people of northern Iraq? In addition, there has been interference by neighbouring powers and uncertainty caused by the present political status of the territory. Should not they be given credit for the great steps that they have already taken in establishing a democratic parliament? If Iraq is to throw off the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, is it not essential that the Kurds should be firmly establishing their electoral processes so that they can provide a model for the rest of Iraq and give people experience of representative government? In addition to entertaining favourably the requests that the Government are likely to receive, will they enlist the help of the European Union and the United States in forwarding the democratic experiment?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, when the elections took place in 1992 in northern Iraq that was the start of the process. Given the difficult circumstances, it went well. I am therefore well aware that the Iraqi Kurds may need international advice and support in the 1995 elections, as they received in 1992. As the noble Lord knows, I am sympathetic to that.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is right to say that there are many regional sensitivities. In saying that we support autonomy for the Iraqi Kurds, we do so fully conscious of the fact that these elections must be within Iraq. The Iraqi people are suffering further difficulties which the Iraqi National Congress is trying to bring to the fore. We are giving the Iraqi National Congress every encouragement in its efforts to form a united representative opposition to Saddam Hussein's regime.

As regards sanctions, the situation suffered by Kurdish people and Iraqi people in other parts of Iraq is all the worse because Saddam Hussein has rejected two United Nations offers; not only the Security Council Resolutions 706 and 712 mechanisms but also the flushing out of the Turkey/Iraq pipeline, which would have allowed it to gain the money for exports in return for humanitarian aid. Implementation of either of those would have meant a great deal of help for the ordinary Iraqi people.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in August the all-party human rights group, led by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, visited the Kurdish region of northern Iraq? It was most impressed by the work being carried out by the humanitarian aid organisations, many of which are funded by my noble friend's department. Is she aware that many of the staff of those organisations have advised us that the democratic experiment could be greatly strengthened if priorities began to move away from emergency relief towards longer term construction and redevelopment of the region? Will she bear that in mind in considering future priorities?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend asked a fundamental question. We shall be delighted to be able to assist those in particular in northern Iraq who wish to commence the rehabilitation and development of their areas. We are contributing £10 million this year in addition to the £66 million we have given over the past three years. At the moment we would find it very difficult to work in a more long-term manner because of the difficulties in providing the materials needed for long-term rehabilitation. We cannot get those in because of Saddam Hussein's refusal to implement Resolutions 706 and 712.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the House owes thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who during the Recess made a notable contribution to ending what was a disturbing conflict among the Kurds in northern Iraq? We should thank them for what they did.

Secondly, may I encourage the Minister to continue to try to do good in recognising the special needs of the Kurds in northern Iraq? They are suffering a double handicap of sanctions, both internationally and from Saddam Hussein?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for what they did following the intra-Kurdish fighting in the summer. I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that the situation is now more stable. However, peace between all parties is fragile. It is therefore advisable that we reach an early lasting agreement between the Iraqi Kurds and all those who have been involved. We believe that in order to do that we and our international partners must continue to maintain the political and material support for the Iraqi Kurds. That we are doing, but we cannot say how far and how long it must continue. We do it in a way which we hope will allow the Iraqi Kurds to use the help to generate more sustainable development in the longer term.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, does the Minister recall that one of the Security Council Resolutions demands that Iraq ceases its repression of the Kurds and that Saddam Hussein has done nothing to conform to that? We are investing large military resources in deterring Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Therefore, will the Minister do all that she can to ensure that that investment is used to add to the pressures in bringing about the results in the Kurdish territories of Iraq to which she referred?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord the assurance that he seeks. Indeed, we are conscious that the action we have taken in the past few days must undoubtedly continue for some time until we can be sure that Iraq is complying with the undertakings that it has given.

I can tell your Lordships that the signs of withdrawal are a good deal better today than they were yesterday. But as I have said on many occasions, that withdrawal needs to be maintained because there is no reason for Iraq to proceed with sending its troops towards the Kuwaiti border. Only when there is stability in that region shall we be able to do the many things that we should like to do to help the ordinary Iraqi people. Without stability there is no way in which the long-term development of Iraq can proceed, whoever is willing to help.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, if Saddam Hussein removes his troops from the southern border to the northern border and then goes over the 32nd Parallel, will my noble friend confirm that the British Government will be as diligent in protecting the Kurds as they are when protecting the Kuwaitis?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend is right. The allies are watching the situation in the north as well as in the south. We are keeping in touch with the Iraqi National Congress and the Kurdish parties. This afternoon my officials are meeting the Iraqi National Congress to discuss the situation. Our commitment to maintaining security in northern Iraq should be in no doubt. We wish to continue to provide stability there through Operation Provide Comfort and the no-fly zone. Therefore, I believe that my noble friend can be assured that that is well in hand. We hope that Saddam Hussein would not be so foolish but we cannot rule out such a threat to the north.