HL Deb 23 October 2003 vol 653 cc1777-80

3.24 p.m.

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

In light of the most recent bomb incidents and deaths in Baghdad, what view they take of the overall security situation in Iraq.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, much of the country is remarkably stable. Attacks against the coalition are largely concentrated in a particular area north-west of Baghdad. Overall, the Iraqi people welcome the presence of coalition forces. Nevertheless, we accept that significant challenges remain, which we are resolved to meet. We are giving the Iraqis a greater role in security and we are taking urgent steps to ensure the supply of basic services on which the support of the Iraqi people depends.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she agree that, with respect to Iraq, the media exaggerate the difficulties and ignore the successes? Would it not be helpful if the Minister provided your Lordships with a sanitised version of the regular situation report that she receives in order that we may be better informed?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree that the difficulties are exaggerated. There have been a number of significant successes, particularly with respect to reconstruction. There are now some 13,000 reconstruction projects across Iraq and we recently agreed a £20 million construction fund for the south. Regular reports are placed, for example, on the DfID website, but I shall check with my colleagues to ascertain whether there is any further information we can give to noble Lords.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that recent events in Najaf underline the importance of disarming various militias—for example, one called Al Madi, connected with a Mr Al Sadr? Does she further agree that the murders of certain prominent Shia clerics urgently need to be investigated?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree that we need to disarm the militias. It is also important that Iraqis take responsibility for their own security. In that respect, police numbers now stand at some 40,000 and will progressively rise to 70,000 by the end of 2004. I also agree that the sooner we find those responsible for some of these attacks the better it will be for the security of the Iraqi people.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, how much influence do we have over CPA policy on the development of Iraq? The Iraq survey group is clearly under American command without substantive British influence. I was told by a Washington contact the other day that the Pentagon had vetoed the idea put forward by the British that Sir Jeremy Greenstock should formally be the deputy in the CPA to Paul Bremer. Is this an American-led occupation in which the British go along under American command, or do we have any substantive influence in its future direction?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, of course we have influence in regard to CPA policy. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, will be aware that CPA South, for example, is led by Sir Hilary Synnott, who is a former Foreign Office diplomat. We have a number of staff who are working in different areas of CPA activity and giving support to Iraqi Ministers and ministries. The noble Lord will also be aware that there will be discussions about future policy and that there will be occasions on which the advice that we give is not always the advice that is taken. That is the nature of the situation we are in. For example, the governing council may well choose to go down one road when perhaps the members of the coalition would have advised it to go down another.

Lord Rea

My Lords, as regards security, will my noble friend look at the issue of food security, which has a slightly different meaning but which is, I believe my noble friend will agree, equally important? Can she confirm or deny whether a member of the CPA recently said that it was going to dismantle the food distribution system in Iraq—which has been a highly efficient combined operation between the United Nations and the Iraqis over the past 10 years—as the CPA disagreed with it because it was socialist in principle?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am not aware of that. The food distribution systems have been restored and have been a great success. What may be happening is that, because the Oil for Food programme that is linked to the distribution pipeline is coming to an end, discussions are going on about the next stage in relation to distribution. I shall try to find out more about the matter and write to my noble friend.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is some good news coming out of Iraq at the moment? Only this morning, we heard the news that 10,000 new enterprises have been started since the end of the war. We also wish well the efforts of the Minister's colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who has gone to Madrid to work with the Madrid donor conference. We hope that the substantial sums already pledged by the British Government, and even more by the Japanese Government and the Americans, do their bit in rebuilding the basic infrastructure.

Does my noble friend Lord Attlee not have a substantial point, however? These things come out in dribs and drabs. Would it not be helpful to have something—I hesitate to say a dossier—that gives a coherent account of exactly what is happening on the positive side in Iraq, although that is overshadowed by the security difficulties? Is not the real need, even beyond aid and getting local enterprise going, to re-establish the rule of law and to overcome all the various groups trying to undermine it? Does that not mean that we should be putting every effort into localising the police and reintegrating the former Iraqi soldiery into a proper army so that they can look after their own security and the coalition troops will not have to walk around the streets being targets for pot-shots by terrorists?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there is regular reporting put up on the DfID website. I shall quite happily write to the noble Lord giving him details of that. There have been reports in between those reports that were placed in the Library of this House and in the Library of another place. A coherent strategy is in place.

With respect to the Madrid donor conference, we will be pledging more than £300 million, in addition to the money that we have spent on humanitarian aid so far. We have paid a huge amount of attention to localising the rule of law. The goal is to have 70,000 Iraqi police officers by the end of 2004. There will be 3,000 police officers trained every eight weeks at a facility in Jordan. The reintegration of the army is also going ahead.