HL Deb 28 January 2004 vol 656 cc289-312

8.27 p.m.

Lord Rea rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the total costs to date in economic and human terms of the recent conflict in Iraq and the likely future costs of the occupation, reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am delighted that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell has chosen this short debate in which to make his maiden speech.

My noble friend Lady Symons knows that I have been asking questions about Iraq ever since she has been in the House. This debate is another instalment in that series, and I am sure that there will be others.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, for kindly publishing his report today, since this short debate will focus on the events that followed the faulty, but apparently not sexed-up, intelligence that the Government received about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. As we all know, the handling and quality of that intelligence is the real question behind the Hutton Inquiry rather than the sad death of a government scientist.

Dr David Kay has now reported that weapons of mass destruction have probably not been a serious threat since 1991. Scott Ritter, the American former UNSCOM chief inspector, told us that clearly in 1999. He was a main player, successfully detecting several Iraqi attempts to conceal prohibited weapons. However, his government chose not to believe him and used character assassination tactics against him.

Full and accurate figures for the human cost of the war, particularly for Iraqi casualties, are not available. I hope that my noble friend has had access to more comprehensive information than I have.

First, let us consider the economic cost. The financial cost to the United States was covered in two supplemental budget requests last year, together amounting to 150 billion dollars, equivalent to 4.4 per cent of the already grossly overspent federal budget. Of that, military costs in Iraq amount to some 118 billion dollars, over twice the total world spending of 52 billion dollars on development assistance, and more than enough to achieve the eight global millennium development goals aimed at eliminating extreme poverty. How different the world attitude to the United States would have been if that sum had been spent that way. Bin Laden would have been outflanked, whereas now he will find additional willing recruits for Al'Qaeda.

For the United Kingdom's operations in Iraq, the Chancellor put aside £3 billion in March last year and, at Madrid, we committed £544 million over a three-year period for reconstruction. I am sure that the Minister will have more up-to-date information on current and future costs. Although modest compared to the United States, £3.5 billion—and probably at least £5 billion by the time our troops are withdrawn— is a sum that we can ill afford, especially when the Chancellor is under criticism from the OECD for excessive borrowing.

The human cost in terms of deaths of coalition military personnel is well known. To date, 140 US deaths took place up to May and more than 360 in the subsequent eight months. The United Kingdom figures for the same periods were 33 and 17. Figures for the number of coalition wounded are not announced but, according to the independent Iraq Casualty Count, they amounted to 2,400 by November last year. Most of those are severe and will lead to lifelong disability. In addition, there is a high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder and an increased suicide rate among military personnel who have served in Iraq.

Iraqi civilian casualties have not been officially counted, but the independent Iraq Body Count project estimated that between 7,900 and 9,700 had been killed by US military actions. Fewer were killed by British forces, but I know personally of "mistakes" in and around Basra that had tragic consequences. Many Iraqi civilians have been seriously injured but the numbers there are even more difficult to assess. One source estimated at least 20,000 by July. But deaths and injuries have continued to increase daily due to terrorist attacks and unexploded ordnance, including cluster bombs. In addition, there may be delayed deaths from cancer due to the use of depleted uranium shells in both Gulf Wars. So far, that is not confirmed, but many reports by clinicians in Basra of an increase in the incidence and severity of cancer there urgently need to be independently investigated.

The number of Iraqi military deaths in combat is also unknown. As General Tommy Franks elegantly put it: We don't do body counts". Informed estimates range from 9,200 to 13,500 and possibly more, and the number of severely injured may be 20,000 or more. Those numbers would have been far higher if the war had not been so short and troops had not melted into the background when faced with overwhelming force.

Overall casualties were thus in the region of 20,000 to 25,000 dead and 50,000 wounded. Those figures are lower than in some wars but are still a major cause of enduring human misery and disability, mostly affecting Iraqis, including many women and children. The families of those 70,000 people will have bitterness in their hearts towards the occupying forces and the governments who sent them, however pleased some of them may be that Saddam has been captured. That applies even if the final count is considerably lower than the figures that I have given. The suggestion that Saddam in power might have killed an equal number over the next few years will not console them.

Apart from damage to people, there is widespread damage to housing, power supplies, water and sewage systems due to the war and subsequent looting. They were not in a very good state before the war. It is almost certain that there will be prolonged effects on the health of Iraqis, particularly children, who are the most vulnerable. UNICEF already reports a sharp rise in malnutrition, which, before the war, was starting to improve. The World Bank reported in October: Serious environmental and health risks associated with contaminated water supplies … burden the already severely distressed health system … raw sewage is being discharged into rivers and waterways". Perhaps my noble friend will have time to tell us how non-governmental organisations, DfID and the armed services are helping to repair Iraq's damaged infrastructure.

One cost that is very difficult to assess is the effect on our future relations with the Arab world. Although some said that the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad, there has been little sign of improvement in the Arab-Israeli dispute since the war. The border with Iran is not controlled, and there is evidence of Islamic fundamentalist infiltration. My noble friend's assessment of this problem would be welcome, as would her opinion on Turkey's possible response, should the Iraqi Kurds achieve greater autonomy, which is what they want.

I hope that my noble friend will also tell us about moves, which are ongoing, to involve the United Nations in preparing for elections and give us a best and worst case assessment of the likely duration and costs of the continued occupation of Iraq.

Operation Iraqi Freedom did indeed result in a lot of freedom in Iraq. There is no Saddam, but also no taxes, no customs, no army and no border controls. There are intermittent electricity supplies, little fuel and few basic services. Those who are lucky enough to have jobs are better paid than before the war, but there is still massive unemployment, poverty and terror. That is all as a result of a war with no international legal justification that was initiated because of a presumed threat from weapons of mass destruction that have never been found.

Senator Edward Kennedy put the case in no uncertain terms on 4 January when he said: Week after week after week we were told lie after lie after lie". Surprisingly our Prime Minister appeared to go along with those lies. And such is his apparent sincerity and persuasive power, that all except two members of the Cabinet—or perhaps I should say one and a half— went along with him. He would be widely respected if he could bring himself to admit that he got it wrong on weapons of mass destruction and the war that resulted. A reverse gear is useful sometimes when one is in a cul-de-sac. The families of the service men who have died or were injured and the people of Iraq are owed a profound apology. I hope that that will soon be forthcoming.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay

My Lords, I welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell to the debate and very much look forward to hearing his contribution.

Iraq has been under partial British occupation for the past nine months. British troops conquered and now control a large swathe of the south. But what are Britain's role and voice in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad? How is power shared—if at all—between Britain and the United States in the CPA, and what say do we have in vital decisions about Iraq's economic future? Those are important questions for scrutiny by the House. I shall concentrate on them tonight, and I look forward to full and frank answers from the noble Baroness.

The CPA's very informative website announces on its home page that, it is led by the United States and the United Kingdom". What exactly does that mean? Is the CPA appointed by and accountable to the United States Government only, or is it also accountable to us? Do we have nomination rights, and if so, to which positions?

The Foreign Secretary, in his letter of 15 December to my right honourable friend Sir Menzies Campbell said that, about 150 personnel are currently seconded by HMG to the CPA. They are selected by HMG for their suitability and availability. In some cases, particularly for more senior posts, appointments are agreed with CPA colleagues". However, consultation is a two-way street. If the CPA is led, as it asserts, by the United Kingdom as well as the United States, were we consulted before Paul Bremer was appointed? What can we do if we are unhappy with his performance in office? Does Sir Jeremy Greenstock have executive authority or an official title within the CPA? Have our Government requested one for him? To what extent does the CPA devolve responsibility to Britain in southern Iraq?

On the management of the economy, the CPA makes no secret of its mission to remould Iraq's economy in an aggressively free-market Western image. Its private sector development division has specific responsibility for developing a privatisation programme for state-owned enterprises, for developing foreign investment and for helping to introduce an entrepreneurial attitude. Looking at its website today, one sees that it features the Business Opportunities in Iraq Index, giving comprehensive sales packs called State Owned Enterprise Profiles, for 45 of the largest companies in Iraq. Today's choice special offer is, Ninawa and Samarra—manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, mainly generic versions of branded drugs, supplied 60% of Iraq's market, with good potential for profitability in a free market and exports … high margins … many technologies under its belt to keep supplying highly profitable products without incurring high research and development costs … motivated staff and workforce. High levels of know how and good brands. The facilities are modern". So hurry, hurry while stocks last. That should make a pretty tasty morsel for one of the big drugs companies backing President Bush's re-election campaign.

The CPA's policy is pre-emptive privatisation of Iraq's economy. Is it being developed and pursued with the active involvement of British members of the CPA? If we are serious about building a democratic Iraq, how can Her Majesty's Government support that? Those are not decisions to be taken by a temporary foreign administration; decisions about how to run the country should be taken by an elected Iraqi government. Unlike cowboy movies, Mr Bush, one has to accept that democracy means that the good guys do not always win in the last reel and the guys who win do not always do what one wants.

The annual Iraqi budget issued in October makes chilling reading for many of the half a million Iraqis employed in public sector enterprises. Clearly, many of them will be closed. The budget states: The transition of Iraq's economy to one driven by market forces will involve significant restructuring". It refers to, the hardship associated with this necessary but difficult process". At the same time, the CPA, through Order 39 signed by Paul Bremer last September, has opened up, all economic sectors except the natural resources sector in all parts of Iraq to foreign investment, with full and immediate remittance of profits, dividends, royalties and interest out of Iraq", subject only to a proposed 15 per cent company income tax. No wonder that just after Order 39 was signed, the Iraqi Governing Council trade minister, Mr Alawi, was quoted in the International Herald Tribune as saying: Now we face the prospect of free-market fundamentalism. The Iraqi people are sick and tired of being the subjects of experiments". The Foreign Secretary's letter to Sir Menzies Campbell also states that Order 39 on foreign direct investment, was produced following consultation with the IMF and the World Bank". How long were those bodies given and was the order amended in any way as a result of any representations that they made? Were Her Majesty's Government, as the other leader of the Coalition Provisional Authority, consulted as well? If so, what was our response and what effect did it have?

Last February, even before the attack on Iraq, President Bush suggested that Iraq could become a "dramatic and inspiring example", as the Middle East pushed towards economic openness and free trade. The United States, of course, has its own highly selective definition of free trade, excluding such trifles as steel and food. But if the invasion of Iraq was really to remove a dictator and let the Iraqis decide their own future, how can Britain allow Iraq's assets to be flogged off first to foreigners? Why should the CPA impose free-market fundamentalism on Iraq in Britain's name?

I have stuck tonight to the economic aspects of Britain's role in the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq and the actions being taken partly in Britain's name there without any clear scrutiny or authority from Parliament. Other noble Lords may press for more answers on the costs of Iraq to the British taxpayers, as the noble Lord, Lord Rea, has done already, and the apparent reluctance of the CPA to award any significant reconstruction contracts outside the magic circle of the well connected giant US corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton. Those are important areas of concern. But first our Government must set out fully and convincingly the legal, moral and operational basis of British involvement in running Iraq. Otherwise many people here and around the world will see Britain as little more than a fig leaf while the Americans force out-and-out capitalism on the people of Iraq whether they want it or not. What a mockery that makes of democracy.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rea for introducing the debate. I look forward with anticipation to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell.

The questions the debate raises are very important. I was one of those who opposed the war from the beginning. There were many who felt as I did. We were often accused of being anti-American. We are not. It is becoming clear that there are numerous Americans who feel the same way. Take the attack on President Bush's State of the Union speech by a leading Democrat, referred to in the current issue of the House Magazine. She said: The President led us into the Iraq war on the basis of unproven assertions without evidence. He embraced a radical doctrine of pre-emptive war unprecedented in our history, and he failed to build a true international coalition". It now seems unlikely that any weapons of mass destruction will be discovered. It is being acknowledged that they may in fact never have existed—at least in recent times—and that the Iraqi Government could well have been speaking the truth when they said that they no longer possessed weapons of mass destruction. We were told by Government Ministers at the time that no one could possibly believe a syllable of that. So there was the war—on the basis that Saddam Hussein was a threat to everyone, including ourselves and the United States.

The Motion tonight, however, seeks information from the Government about the costs of this venture; not only the economic costs, but the cost in human terms.

So far as concerns the economic costs, it is clear to everyone that this has been a very expensive exercise, and continues to be so. We know that the United States now faces a substantial budget deficit, despite the fact that President Bush inherited a budget surplus from his predecessor. He has had to seek further funding. It is alleged that the total costs so far are in the region of 160 billion dollars.

On our costs, the Foreign Secretary has said that British troops may have to stay in Iraq for a number of years, even if there are elections later this year and it becomes possible to hand over sovereignty to an Iraqi Government with some claim to popular support.

There have been references to the Chancellor's war chest, with the inference that the cost to Britain is manageable. But is it? There is concern about public services. The necessary improvements may require investment. There are social costs associated with an ageing population. I have criticised the lack of expenditure regarding care of the elderly, particularly those requiring long-term residential care. To improve facilities would cost a fraction of what the Iraqi conflict is likely to cost.

We have not heard much from the Government about economic costs. I hope we may learn something tonight. Turning to human costs, we know of course about our casualties and those of coalition forces. I believe that the American deaths—now more than 500—exceed those of US deaths in the first Gulf War. These seem likely to continue.

We hear little, however, about Iraqi casualties. Various figures have been mentioned—sometimes 10,000 deaths or 16,000 and occasionally even more. As to injuries, it does not seem possible to arrive at any reliable figures. I have heard it said that children are killed or injured every day by cluster bombs, since these remain after an attack and are lethal. Moreover, they appear to have been used in urban areas.

We have very little information about the losses sustained by Iraqi forces. Yet we know from descriptions of the fighting at the time that many must have been killed or injured since the Iraqis possess no aircraft capable of providing a defence, and so the coalition dominated the skies. That led to the slaughter of masses of ill-armed Iraqi soldiers. It is likely that we shall not get reliable information for some time.

We did not get much information about this issue after the First Gulf War, at least for a number of years. There is a rather horrifying description of the slaughter of Iraqi troops—many of whom were young conscripts—in the first Gulf War in John Simpson's recent book, The Wars Against Saddam. He says that it was nine years before General Schwarzkopf would say even roughly how many soldiers he thought Iraq had lost, and when he did speak he put the figure at tens of thousands.

Referring to some of the battles, John Simpson said: It wasn't a battle at all, merely the slaughter of tens of thousands of Third World soldiers armed only with weapons incapable of penetrating American armour". That was the first time around. It seems unlikely that Iraqi soldiers fared any better in the recent war.

It would also appear that napalm was used on Iraqi troops—something that some US soldiers did not at all like; they said so to the press. Moreover, we have little idea about what happened to Iraqi troops: what were their casualties and what happened to those, if any, who were captured. The Government must have some idea and perhaps we shall be told tonight.

As for civilian casualties, I had an opportunity recently to meet an Iraqi doctor whose family had suffered in the war. He was a surgeon working in a hospital in Basra. Believing Anglo-American statements that civilians would not be targeted, only government installations and military sites, he gathered together his extended family to stay with him in his house in Basra. One evening, while he and his wife were out—he was working in the hospital—his house suffered a direct hit in a bombing raid. The entire family—11 of them—died. Four of his children died in the house; he has one remaining child.

He showed me a photograph of his family. He is staying in this country for a while. He says that he loves his country, but that the tragedy that he has suffered is so overwhelming that he cannot go back there for some time. He wants to live and work here. He is a sophisticated, highly civilised man with excellent English who is apparently highly qualified. I am sure that he would be welcome to work here, but his experience was so utterly dreadful that I did not know what to say to him.

I have on occasion asked whether there will be any compensation for the civilian victims of the war, but have been told that that is impossible, at least for those killed or injured during the war. Frankly, I do not know why. All we can do now is ensure that there is no repeat performance of such military intervention on the basis of misguided intelligence, and that everything possible is done to ensure that Iraqis are able to rebuild their shattered lives and have a government with at least a degree of popular support.

I hope that my noble friend will not again tell me that had we not gone to war Saddam Hussein would have killed more of his people than have the coalition forces. That is a morally dubious argument, especially as the bulk of Saddam's victims met their fate when he was an ally of the West—during and after the war with Iran. Moreover, there seems no good reason why we should add to the number of Iraqis killed or horribly injured. As we know, regime change is not within the United Nations' mandate. Diplomacy and economic pressure are sometimes better ways to deal with unacceptable regimes than sending in the B52s, especially without United Nations support.

I find it surprising that it is apparently assumed that people who have seen their country devastated by bombing—who have lost homes, relatives and, usually, jobs, and who have seen the collapse of the civilian infrastructure as a result of war—would want to support Western-style government and embrace the culture of those who they feel have been responsible for their suffering. That has not happened in Serbia, where, in recent elections, the population has given much support to the extreme nationalist party, which is anti-West and opposed to sending indicted war criminals to The Hague.

So let us hope that there will be no more military adventures at the behest of President Bush—costly in human life and for the economies of the countries concerned. I await with interest the Government's response to the questions posed by my noble friend.

8.53 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell

My Lords, I am grateful for my welcome to your Lordships' House and for the great kindness extended to me by Black Rod, the Clerk of the Parliaments and all their staff for the helpful induction last week. Perhaps I should first issue a disclaimer that any early failure on my part in observation of the traditions and protocols of the House will be solely my responsibility. I also say thank you for the personal welcomes that have been extended to me from Lords Temporal and Spiritual; they are much appreciated. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, for tabling the Motion.

Costing of things is prevalent in all spheres of life and in government policy. For example, in health, economists try to assess costs and benefits to calculate whether prevention or treatment of various diseases and conditions represents good value for money. In the field of the environment, others try to put a value on the preservation of rare species or landscapes and then compare that with the benefits in reduced journey times of building new roads. Whatever strengths there may be in this approach and analysis—at the least it should ensure we are sensitive to the implications of what we do or do not do—we should also be aware of the limitations.

There are two chief limits. First, some things, including perhaps the human costs mentioned in the noble Lord's Question, defy quantification in monetary terms and cannot simply be priced in and counted in with other things. This would be true also of certain benefits too. Freedom and justice, for which the war was allegedly fought, cannot be priced. Secondly, while we should be ready to count the costs we should not think that costs and benefits simply can be traded one against the other. There are certain things we have a duty to do, such as to uphold justice, and certain things we should not do, such as intend the death of the innocent in war. We may need to do those things—or not to do them—even at considerable cost. Most significantly, the human costs of all concerned include social, emotional and spiritual dimensions.

The security situation continues to be an important impediment to reconstruction. Lack of security is affecting the daily lives of Iraqis in many parts of the country but most notably in Baghdad. Shootings, lootings, kidnappings, vehicle hijackings and an upsurge in common criminality have increased alarmingly. Widespread looting, including strategic items essential for the provision of water and electricity, continues apace.

Perhaps we should not be surprised that those who just under a year ago were the subjects of a tyrannical regime and then on the receiving end of the "shock and awe" of the coalition forces should find it hard to establish the rule of law as we understand it. There are many in Iraq who, although they rejoice at the fall of Saddam Hussein, still bear the scars of body, mind and spirit inflicted as a result of the war. These human costs defy quantification.

Neither can we ignore the less obvious cost of the undermining of friendships which are all the time developing across barriers of race, language and religion within the United Kingdom caused by the controversial background to the war.

The more the coalition troops are themselves under threat and the more they have to engage in counterinsurgency operations, the more difficult it is for them to provide security for Iraqi civilians. This corrosive climate of insecurity does not provide the context for developing democratic processes and institutions. It erodes trust and creates a climate of suspicion. I am encouraged, therefore, that the training of Iraqi security forces is now recognised as being of the highest priority by the CPA.

Faced with such a wide range of challenges in Iraq, I must pay tribute to the courage, professionalism and steadfastness of those who have served or are currently serving in Her Majesty's forces. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families at this difficult time, never forgetting those who have lost loved ones.

As a bishop, I would also want to pay tribute to the work of the chaplains of all three services in their support of the Armed Forces personnel both during the conflict and as they continue to serve those who remain in the theatre.

Neither should we, in considering costs, ignore the cost to many members of the armed services in terms of conscience. The men and women of the services are not unthinking automatons and many were profoundly disturbed by the ambiguous justification for the war.

Security is not just a matter of concern to local Iraqis nor to coalition forces, or the CPA. It is a significant factor in the consideration of those aid and development agencies operational in Iraq. The attacks on the UN and Red Cross offices allied to the death of a mines advisory group employee suggest that many Iraqis fail to differentiate between these organisations and the coalition forces. This is not surprising given that many NGOs started work in the centre and south of Iraq immediately following the war. They are unfortunately tainted by association.

This problem has not been eased by the tendency of the coalition forces to prosecute what they believe to be a humanitarian agenda. Pictures of coalition forces distributing non-food items in Basra, immediately following the conflict, have contributed to the narrowing of the humanitarian space for organisations to work in. As a number of NGOs have made clear, coalition forces should not try to do this work themselves, but should provide the humanitarian agencies the space to fulfil that agenda.

It is therefore regrettable, though understandable, that Christian Aid and other NGOs have significantly reduced their presence in Iraq. Even Christian Aid's partners, such as the Iraqi Kurdistan NGO Network, a Baghdad-based organisation, have been forced by the situation to work slowly and carefully. The work of such NGOs is often a target for attack. CARE reports that the sabotage of infrastructure means that one-off repairs often end up being repeated two or three times to keep an installation going. All this adds to the economic and human cost of reconstructing and rehabilitating Iraq. Let us hope that the United Nations can help to orchestrate even greater collaboration of international effort in helping Iraq on the way to finding, and playing, its proper role among the families of the nations, while at the same time continuing efforts to create a viable Palestinian state.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, for introducing this debate. We are blessed with a robust system of democratic government in this country. I have no doubt that this issue will be a recurring theme on this House's agenda, and I look forward to contributing to future debates on this issue and on other issues.

9.1 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, it is an honour to be the first to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell who has given us a fluent and balanced assessment of the situation in Iraq, which shows his considerable experience of world affairs. He has worked in Africa, and more recently he has been Archdeacon of London at St Paul's. His interests are rugby football and chamber music, among others. He has said that he wishes to speak on asylum seekers, gun laws and on other issues, including Nottingham, for which he has a particular affection. I sincerely thank the right reverend Prelate, and I hope that we will hear more from him soon.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rea, for bravely choosing this subject on today of all days, when the Government's star is rising high in the sky, but also for bringing it firmly down to earth with a focus on the Iraqi people, which is what that report was originally all about. The Hutton report shows the Government unbowed, but still reeling under public criticism of the necessity for war, such as we are hearing tonight. We can understand why. Whatever tyranny there was in Iraq, whatever Hutton has proved, people remain confused about the reasons for a war that many people believe was illegitimate and without the explicit approval of the United Nations.

Far from a free Iraq, they see on their television screens a land occupied, divided, fought over and still suffering from inadequate public services. Instead of welcoming smiles, they see the continual anxiety caused by rocket attacks, car bombs and suicide. Wherever the rule of law is introduced, the lack of permanent security, unemployment and the frustration caused by acute material shortages seem to conspire to restore anarchy. With rising costs, shortages of fuel and medicines, taps that are often empty, lights that are often switched off, the people still wonder whether they were better under the dictatorship.

If the US and the UK between them, with their considerable international muscle, are still unable to bring peace and security, let alone shared resources to that once wealthy country, how can the Iraqis look forward to a new life, let alone truly democratic elections within two or three years? An illegitimate war or a war that is generally perceived abroad as illegitimate means that the rest of the world is not prepared to subscribe to solutions. It is the opposite of the peacekeeping in Afghanistan, where nations willingly joined in a wider coalition and the atmosphere with regard to national and international action has correspondingly improved. Many soldiers who gallantly fought in Iraq must now wonder when exactly the peace will begin. At times, I cannot help wondering, as, I am sure, some of the troops have, whether it would not have been better to finish the job in Afghanistan first. Of course, that is water under the bridge.

Apart from the gunfire and frequent bombing incidents, there is still a fundamental lack of trust between coalition troops and the local population that will take months to rebuild. The current issue of Newsweek describes the aggressive attitude of many US troops, about which we read frequently in our newspapers, betraying their lack of training and knowledge of, for example, the Islamic culture. Without a secure environment, humanitarian agencies will be unable to do their work. Without the visible reappearance of the United Nations, the coalition seems doomed to remain an army of occupation, so long as enough Iraqi gunmen survive to ensure that it cannot succeed.

With unemployment becoming more visible and with an increasing number of demonstrations in the streets, the situation is bound to be aggravated. Even with the partial UN return that is now under discussion—obviously, we hope that it will take place—the US will no longer be able to seek a rapid exit strategy. The Iraqi Governing Council is weak; the likelihood of summer elections is fading; and there is a real prospect of coalition forces remaining in Iraq beyond the US elections, perhaps for two or more years.

So much is speculation, and the noble Baroness is certain to present more positive images that will reassure us. What is not in doubt is the suffering of the Iraqi people under any regime, including the present one. The reports that I receive are similar to what we heard from the right reverend Prelate and suggest that most Iraqis still struggle to survive. I acknowledge the help of CARE International, of which I am an associate member. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, mentioned malnutrition, with the end of the UN Oil for Food distribution last month. Until a new system is in place, many destitute families no longer have any guarantee of food supplies. Fuel is short, with long queues and many resorting to the black market. Electricity is unreliable, with only two Italian-made turbines functioning at the main Dora plant, largely because of a dispute between Bechtel and Siemens. Although, according to Middle East International, that has been resolved, it has caused months of delay, not least in pumping vital fuel to terminals and refineries that will eventually get the country back on its feet. Those are problems of our making; they are nothing to do with the Iraqi people or Saddam Hussein.

Serious shortages of medical supplies have been reported by UN staff and Medecins sans Frontieres, with some areas having no essential drugs. Distribution problems have never been as bad, according to Dr Nima Abed, director of preventive healthcare at the Ministry of Health. Whatever the evils of the old regime, healthcare, including medicine, was almost completely subsidised, and patients paid less than a dollar to visit a doctor. Unless a new health service can be put in place, the poorest will suffer under the new coalition. They are, as in the least developed countries, at the mercy of private operators.

I have one or two questions for the Minister. The first relates to the subject raised by the right reverend Prelate: security. I am speaking about Baghdad. Perhaps the Minister could refer the problem back to the coalition. She will remember the concerns of NGOs, which I expressed many times in the context of Afghanistan, about the blurring of humanitarian and military aid. I am told that unmarked white vehicles carrying CPA staff are distributing aid. That is not so surprising, as soldiers have to distribute humanitarian aid, and we have seen that role well performed by our soldiers in Basra. White is often the colour used by the UN and others to distinguish aid vehicles. But these staff are also carrying weapons. Is it not increasing the danger to humanitarian work of all kinds that armed men are now to be found bringing aid? Protection, one admits, is often needed for convoys in post-conflict situations, but for armed individuals to be acting as relief workers is surely compromising the wider community, the majority of whom are Iraqis working with the United Nations and other agencies. I would not mention this if it was not a concern seriously expressed by the aid organisations which are there, many of which have been there for several years.

As a trustee of Christian Aid, I feel it may be helpful to quote from a recommendation it made more than a year ago: Christian Aid believes the UN and the international community at large must address a potential breakdown in social order in the immediate aftermath of any regime change in Iraq. Therefore, the issue of short-term and long-term protection of Iraqis must be addressed. It would be essential that the form of protection adopted had the acceptance of the Iraqi population". I have three other questions. Can the Minister comment on the changeover from the Oil for Food system and confirm that the United Nations will continue to monitor food supplies? What is the current role of the coalition in delivering humanitarian aid and will the office of the US humanitarian co-ordinator now give its full support to a new United Nations body, such as UNOCHA, without any political interference? That question coincides with the one raised very pertinently by the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott. Finally, what participation does the UK Department for International Development have in this process?

9.12 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, after a day in which many of us have spent a lot of time reading and then commenting on pre-war decisions, it is quite refreshing to turn to the post-war record and the question of future commitments. I am one of those who believes that we can debate for some time the legitimacy and the wisdom of going to war. Nevertheless, we all share a common interest in ensuring that the current occupation and the rebuilding of Iraq is a success. We also have to recognise how immensely difficult that is proving and how difficult it will be.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, asked about Iraqi casualties so far. I think we have learnt from other conflicts that honesty in recording and reporting who has died and where they have been buried is a very important part of rebuilding confidence in the international community. So that is an important part of rebuilding Iraq.

As for the Iraqi economy which was damaged further by the war, we have to recognise that it had already been damaged very considerably by sanctions over the previous 10 years, by the two wars that Iraq fought against Iran and Kuwait, and by the obscene imbalance of Saddam Hussein's spending. Huge amounts were spent on those palaces, while very little was spent on building up the economy and welfare of the people.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, also asked about the costs to the coalition so far. Again, we recognise that one of the costs of going to war without a second resolution has been that those who took part—above all, the United States and Great Britain—have had to carry a much greater share of the burden this time around than we did for the first Gulf war, from which, some people even said, the United States came out almost with a profit after the financial contributions of other states. Can the Minister tell us how far that is now changing? I note that on current figures, the overwhelming majority of members of the European Union and NATO have troops contributing to the rebuilding of Iraq. Even the Icelandic Government have Icelandic coastguards working on bomb disposal in southern Iraq. Does that mean that the responsibilities and financial costs are being more widely spread? Does it also mean that influence over the decisions is becoming a little more multilateral?

We recognise that the state of Iraq after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime is awful. There are mines and unexploded ordnance all around the place, and the administration and the state itself have collapsed. Basic services and forces have to be rebuilt, and the mutual mistrust of the different religious, ethnic and tribal groups is deep. The bitter experience of state-building that this country has witnessed in the past 30 or 40 years shows us how long it takes to rebuild a state. Our experiences of Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia so far show that it takes 10, 20 or 30 years—a generation or more—to rebuild trust once it has been destroyed. Our experience of Northern Ireland shows that even when government have taken office we cannot be entirely confident.

I am one of those who believes that our interventions in south-western Europe were entirely justified and that we have to maintain our commitment there. The setback in Serbia, to which the noble Baroness. Lady Turner, referred, is a setback to democratic forces partly because those forces have been so very badly led—but it is a real setback that we have to work through and work round.

It will be a very long haul in Iraq, in very imperfect circumstances. First, clearly, one needs to establish security. Also, at the same time, there is a desperate need to re-establish a sense of legitimacy and shared national community. Those two things have to be done together, but they also have to be done in circumstances in which it is evidently not going to be possible or desirable to maintain a foreign occupation or foreign authority in Iraq for very long. We are looking for the best available solution rather than the best solution. That is likely to be impaired elections with the considerable disorder and considerable continuing mistrust within the country that follows from that.

I have some questions for the Minister, which I hope that she can answer. First, what is now the nature of the British commitment, both military and economic? Do we see this as necessarily as long term a commitment as we have made in Bosnia and Kosovo and in south-western Europe, or do we see it as one that will be increasingly shared? It is obviously an aim of US policy to have most American troops out of Iraq in the next year or so, with their place taken by troops of other nations. Is that what we see happening with Britain, or do we expect to have a really substantial number of British troops still in Iraq for some time in the future?

Secondly, to raise the question that my noble friend Lord Oakeshott and others have asked, what is the degree of British influence over the CPA? It is never entirely clear to any of us how far this is a US-led occupation or one in which others are allowed occasionally to get a word in edgeways. The explicit unilateralism of the Bush Administration does not give us much room for confidence. I saw in the Financial Times a number of references to British companies being invited to bid for some of the contracts, and being entirely shut out of them. Will the Minister tell us whether any British companies have been awarded any of those rebuilding contracts? I share my noble friend Lord Oakeshott's mistrust of the process of privatisation, which does not seem a legitimate process of privatisation with the Coalition Provisional Authority, as it is rightly named.

Thirdly, what is the British attitude to the role of the UN in what is now going to be a rather more rapid transition back to Iraqi control? We all understand that the question is very delicate and that dumping difficult issues in the UN Secretariat's lap is not necessarily the best way in which to restore the battered authority of the UN.

Fourthly, what is the British and, I hope, also the European, attitude—I hope that the Minister can assure us that we are actively concerting our policy with our European friends—to the future of Iraq within the region and to the interaction between developments within Iraq and the region as a whole?

Many of us have read the two UNDP reports on human development in the Middle East and recognise that the idea of helping the authoritarian states of the Middle East through economic and social development is a necessary part of what we all have to do. But how one pushes democratisation on the Middle East is itself a highly contentious question. I read of think-tanks in Washington talking about coercive democracy, meaning you force them to be free, push regime change, force elections on them and then you can leave and they will be good capitalists afterwards. We all know from our experience in the western Balkans that things do not work like that.

The Bush Administration has just doubled the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy. That is one of the more helpful instruments of American foreign policy. What are the British and European governments doing about helping to promote changes in education not just in Iraq but in Saudi Arabia, Syria and elsewhere if this is the strategy that we wish to push on to the region? As was evident in the rather tense debates in December when the current Iraqi Governing Council Foreign Minister visited the UN, we all recognise that the surrounding states are actively concerned, and extremely nervous, about the implications of what happens in Iraq for their own future. Therefore, there has to be a broader strategy towards the region as well as towards the rebuilding of Iraq. We do not yet see that. We hope that Her Majesty's Government are working on it.

9.22 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, this has been an excellent and important debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rea, on sponsoring it.

I should like to reinforce what the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, rightly said about the excellent maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell. I very much hope that the House will be treated to many more such good speeches from the right reverend Prelate in the future.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Paul Boateng, reannounced on 13 November that the Chancellor had set aside £3 billion to cover the cost of the war and reconstruction in Iraq. Despite the Defence Secretary's assurances that the costs of the war were being met from this £3 billion contingency fund, it emerged that in fact £100 million was spent from the MoD's already restricted budget.

During the first 11 days of the war £90 million worth of munitions were fired by British forces. From the start of the war to the end of March—11 days—over £847 million was spent in total on troops, munitions and supplies. Thirty million pounds worth of equipment was lost in battle or accidents. An RAF Tornado, a Challenger 2 main battle tank and two CVR(T) light armoured vehicles were lost to friendly fire incidents in which, very sadly, five servicemen were killed and another five were injured.

The Iraqi environment brought its own costs. Fourteen million pounds worth of ammunition was written off after being stored unprotected in high temperatures. The 15 Lynx anti-tank helicopters achieved only 53 per cent availability against an average of 66 per cent availability for the British military helicopter fleet as a whole, due in part to the operating conditions. Pre-war cost cutting led to high levels of vehicle cannibalisation. Of equipment not deployed to the Gulf, 36 per cent of Chieftain engineering vehicles were plundered for spares along with 29 per cent of the more modern AS90 self-propelled guns and 22 per cent of the Challenger 2 fleet.

Some £510 million was spent on urgent operational requirements and £140 million to address stock shortages, presumably not on the most competitive terms. Against sums like that the £4.1 million spent on an air defence suppression capability for the Tornado F3, which was never deployed, looks like small change.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, mentioned cluster bombs. The Brimstone advanced anti-amour weapon can avoid the worst aspects of cluster bombs and is a much more accurate system. Can the Minister confirm when Brimstone will finally be accepted into service? I understand that she may not have an answer tonight, but it would be helpful to have a letter on that important point.

So far, the cost of the operation in Iraq appears to be £3.8 billion, taking total spending on the war on terror to more than £6.3 billion since 2001. Each month, military operations in Iraq cost between £100 million and £200 million. If those figures are wrong, I am sure that the Minister will correct them.

It is easy to focus on the financial costs of the war in Iraq, but they must be outweighed by the human cost of the lives lost and the families bereaved. I echo the praise of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell for our Armed Forces in Iraq.

It does not appear that there were weapons of mass destruction after all; whether there was the intent on the part of Saddam Hussein to revitalise earlier programmes will be debated for months, if not years, to come. Harder still to quantify is the effect on other areas of Britain's overseas involvement. Our financial ability to provide development aid to other parts of the world has been reduced. There has been much discussion of the assertion that the cost of the operation in Iraq has taken funding away from other DfID projects. The noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council, when International Development Secretary, admitted that projects in middle income countries such as Brazil would be affected by Iraq's reconstruction costs, including a £50 million cut from those middle income countries over the next two years to fund Iraq's reconstruction.

I share the emphasis of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on the importance of rebuilding Iraq. It is extraordinary how unprepared the Government were, in the words of the National Audit Office, for the consequences of the collapse of the Saddam regime. On 3 February last year the Prime Minister said that, we are well aware that we must have a humanitarian plan that is every bit as viable and well worked out as a military plan".— [Official Report, Commons, 3/2/03; col.26.] That turned out not to be the case. The right honourable Clare Short, Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, former International Development Secretary, accepted that there were "poor preparations" for post-conflict Iraq, despite our Benches continuously underlining the need for a comprehensive plan for securing 3 new Iraq.

The status of the UN as an institution has been weakened. Relations between most of Europe and the US, although mending slowly, are still fragile. Those are all costs with an immediate impact on trade and a possible longer term impact on the ability and willingness of the international community to react to future crises.

There are growing concerns over the way that the US Government have awarded contracts for reconstruction and infrastructure projects mainly to US companies—without tender. Although DTI Minister Mike O'Brien has said that British companies could and should be awarded more projects, the US continues to award contracts to US companies, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, pointed out.

There are problems with who should sign the contract. Should it be the Coalition Provisional Authority, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, or the Iraqi Governing Council? Which has legitimacy? If the CPA signs, will the contract still hold after the IGC or the future elected government take over? More worryingly, there are claims of corruption. The Financial Times has reported that two CPA officials and the IGC's Minister for Communications are being investigated over bribery allegations surrounding the issue of mobile phone licences.

Late last year, it was claimed that a Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg Brown and Root, had overcharged the US for oil deliveries it had been appointed to oversee. The commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, General Robert Flowers, exonerated the company, but a new agency, the Defence Energy Support Centre, has been set to oversee fuel deliveries to troops instead. It has since been reported that the Pentagon is now considering an investigation into fuel prices.

Can the Minister confirm the value of contracts awarded by the MoD to US companies in 2002 and 2003? Could she further confirm the value of defence contracts awarded to British companies by the US Department of Defense over the same period? I accept that she will not have answers to those two questions tonight.

Saddam Hussein's regime has been a costly one indeed. And a clear lesson is that despots are better dealt with sooner rather than later, whether in Iraq, Zimbabwe or North Korea.

But there are benefits also. A murderous tyrant has been removed from power and a powerful signal has been sent to other totalitarian leaders of the dangers of defying the major democracies of the world. Witness the improvement in relations with Libya.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned the "oil for food" programme. Also important is the restoration of Iraq as oil producer. The estimated cost of 50 billion dollars is less than two years' revenue. Full oil production will contribute about 1,200 dollars a year per capita GDP.

The recovery of Iraq's oil industry has been hit by delays in assessing foreign reconstruction funding. Output is, at 2 billion barrels per day, still only 80 per cent of pre-war levels and 15 per cent is re-injected into the ground because of export bottlenecks. The CPA has said that the oilfield's reconstruction is its top priority and hopes to produce 2.5 million barrels per day by mid 2005. The Iraqi Governing Council is counting on projected oil revenues of 12 billion dollars, increasing to 19 billion dollars in 2006, to help pay for the country's reconstruction, but it is feared that the delay in providing funds to reconstruct existing infrastructure will reduce the amount of oil produced.

The forthcoming elections in Iraq are crucial to the future stability and prosperity of that troubled country. The test will be whether the forthcoming government represents the wishes of the majority Shia population while respecting the needs of the minority Sunni and Kurdish populations. We now have a good idea of what the cost of failure will be; the value of success to the people of Iraq, to the Middle East and to the world as a whole is much greater.

9.33 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Rea for what he described as the latest instalment in the long-running debate he has conducted with government Ministers on important questions about Iraq. I congratulate him because in a short debate he raised an enormous number of questions. I shall do my best to answer them.

I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell on a well-researched and very well-argued contribution which was delivered with the great conviction so characteristic of his colleagues on his Benches. We look forward to hearing more from him in the future.

Much as I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on the rights and wrongs of what happened recently in Iraq, I strongly agree with him that this is a long haul and that the issue excites an enormous range of practical and political questions.

This range of questions was very ably demonstrated by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, in his very thoughtful contribution in dealing with issues of hard costs, what has really happened and what we can quantify. Then there are the softer costs and dealing with the issue of good will.

I have a short time in which to try to deal with the matter. I suggest to your Lordships at the outset that as the Minister responsible for our relationship with Iraq, I offer noble Lords a briefing on the wide range of issues. In order to do justice to the enormously wide range of questions raised that is the best way in which I can try to pull the threads together. I shall do my best now. I do so in the knowledge that we shall try to have a meeting about this very soon in order to deal with a number of the issues which I shall not be able to deal with now.

At the heart of my noble friend's Question is how we quantify what has happened in Iraq over the past few months; what the balance sheet will look like at the end of the day. What financial resources have been spent and what has been the human cost of the conflict? What more are we to expect as regards those costs? Those are important questions. I shall do my best to deal with those matters.

It is also very important to focus on a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, about the gains to the Iraqi people and the international community more generally following our decision to enter the conflict. The balance sheet must take into account the costs on the one hand and the gains on the other and also consider what would have been the price of non-intervention.

Undoubtedly there are many different points of view. I say to my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden that I respect her views. She has been clear, unequivocal and consistent throughout the whole debate. But I too am consistent in disagreeing with her profoundly. I freely acknowledge that many will agree with her, but it is important to set out some of the facts as we have them.

The cost of military operations in Iraq has been published as part of the annual report and accounts of the Ministry of Defence. Operating and capital equipment costs for the year 2002–2003 totalled £847,211,000.

Perhaps I can say a little more about our military losses as well. I am very sorry to say that there has been a total of 56 fatalities since the start of hostilities. Thirty-nine of them occurred in action and 22 fatalities have been sustained since 1 May, 12 of them taking place while in action. According to the Department of Defense website, as at 26 January the US has sustained 514 fatalities of which 355 occurred in action. The US has suffered 376 fatalities since 1 May of which 240 occurred in action. In addition, five Bulgarians, two Thais, 19 Italians, 10 Spaniards, one Polish officer and two Japanese diplomats have been killed in action. Two contractors from South Korea and one from Colombia have also been killed in action.

We mourn the losses of all these brave service people, civilians and diplomats. For my part I also mourn the loss of the Iraqi military and civilians. I do so with enormous regret in that we cannot give an accurate figure about the civilian losses of Iraqi people. I know that a number of noble Lords are concerned about this. As many noble Lords will know, it is a question which is raised regularly in another place as well. I know that the Prime Minister is concerned about it and is getting a more accurate figure. We will do our best to get an accurate figure. I am sure that noble Lords will understand that at a time of military conflict there is great confusion and security issues surrounding obtaining information. It may take some time to get that information and it may not ultimately be as accurate as we would wish. What I can say is that considerable care was taken and indeed continues to be taken to limit civilian casualties in any engagement involving our Armed Forces. As a Minister who served in the Ministry of Defence, I know from personal experience that all Ministers in this country who are involved in decisions on targets and military action are made very much aware of their personal responsibilities in that respect.

I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, on the question of the loss of capability of equipment and how we will replace some of that equipment. I have also made a note of the issue that he raised in relation to Brimstone.

The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, raised questions about the financial issues. I shall try to deal with some of those factual issues. In doing so, I stress to your Lordships that many of the costs that I shall talk about accrue not so much from the conflict itself as from the years of neglect that preceded it under Saddam's regime. One of the difficulties that we experienced was in trying to separate out those costs. When I first started to talk about these issues to my colleagues in our own Government and in Iraq itself, we quickly discovered how difficult it was to allocate costs to Saddam's regime, and then to the period following it, in terms of how we would do our accounting.

The World Bank and the UN carried out a needs assessment on Iraq in 2003. That assessment estimated that the financial needs for Iraq's rehabilitation would be about 55 billion dollars over the next four years. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that 73 countries which attended the very successful Madrid Donors Conference in October 2003 have now expressed interest in this matter. Thirty-three billion dollars was pledged by way of grants and concessional loans to Iraq for the period 2000–2007. Additional pledges were made in the form of trade credits and assistance in kind. It was particularly pleasing to see pledges from some of the major economic powers, such as Japan, as well as from less wealthy countries but none the less important partners. That confirms the confidence of the international community in the prospects for Iraq's future.

In relation to some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, I should say that my right honourable friend Hilary Benn was closely involved in the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, whose members include the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development. They are responsible for monitoring the use of funds in the development fund for Iraq, and they will ensure international transparency over the use of Iraq's oil revenue. That comprehensive, international board is not run by an American clique—I think the noble Lord was rather worried that it was—or even a coalition clique, but it is broad based. As the Foreign Secretary said in Davos, Iraq's oil will be used for the benefit of all her people instead of being held hostage to the ambitions of the extravagance of a ruling élite.

We should not forget that Saddam ran up an exorbitant and extremely complex debt, which is estimated to run at about 120 billion dollars. James Baker's recent tour of European, Asian and Middle Eastern creditors created a consensus in relation to the need for substantial debt reduction for Iraq, and we believe that the vast majority of Iraq's debt will need to be written off in order to assure a sustainable solution. On debt, as on other aspects of reconstruction, the United Kingdom is providing a considerable contribution in terms of its financial and political effort.

On contracts and privatisation, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that we are talking about many different contracts. It would be very difficult to deal with the list from the Dispatch Box now, but it is one of the issues that we may be able to cover more comprehensively in the kind of briefing that I have suggested.

It is almost impossible to attempt in any real sense to calculate the costs in economic or human terms. One has to ask what is attributable to this conflict, as opposed to the other two conflicts in which Iraq has recently been involved, and what is attributable to the years of repression and the use of chemical weapons on Saddam's own people? We should not forget the full extent and nature of the crimes committed by the former regime. Some of the evidence relating to that is only just emerging. Some 270 mass graves have been reported. Estimates of the number of people buried reach some 300,000, although I suspect that we shall not know the real figure until a systematic investigation takes place of all the regime's activities.

On 10 December, the Iraqi Governing Council announced the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute senior members of the former regime who are suspected of having committed crimes against humanity. That is a real gain in terms of Iraq coming to grips with its own past in its own way. We have heard some truly horrible eye-witness accounts of the execution of families, children and helpless civilians. Those are revolting and heart-breaking descriptions.

Therefore. I cannot agree with my noble friend Lord Rea that the people are not consoled by the ending of this ghastly regime. When I go to Iraq and when I see Iraqis, as I do, around Europe and here in this country, I find it very hard to find anyone who does not welcome the departure of Saddam's regime. I make no apology for asking what the cost would have been if we had not done what we did and if the coalition had not taken action. Would there have been more mass graves, more missing people, more threats against neighbours and defiance of the United Nations?

Now, Iraq can look forward—not to mothers being beheaded in front of their children and not to unspeakable torture of children carried out in front of their parents-but to peace, stability, prosperity and democracy. As the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, said, we must look at the gains.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, indicated that the problems are still profound. Of course, he is right; I fully acknowledge that. However, I believe that he must also look at the less gloomy side. We should consider the 17.000 construction projects, large and small, which provide more jobs and higher salaries than was the case under Saddam's regime. Let us look at the servicing of power facilities and at the water and sanitation projects which are providing cleaner water to 14.5 million Iraqis.

Specifically, I say to the noble Earl that we should look at the 240 clinics and hospitals which have now reopened; at the introduction of vaccination programmes around the country; and at the estimated 3 million children under the age of five who have been vaccinated. Let us look, too, at the 3.6 million children now in their primary schools or the 1.5 million attending secondary schools. In some parts of the country, the figures are higher than they ever were under Saddam Hussein. We have also seen Iraqis coming to this country benefiting from our Chevening programme, and we hope to arrange further exchanges of that nature.

The right reverend Prelate raised a very good point in relation to security. Criminal offences are now declining. There are more than 45,000 non-partisan Iraqi police on the streets and extensive police training is taking place. I can give your Lordships many, many figures on that. However, I believe that the right reverend Prelate was right to focus on Iraq's own security capability, which is building up. The 27 battalions of the non-political New Iraqi Army have graduated and are being deployed. There are also developments in the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps, whose numbers, we hope, will double to approximately 36,000.

I have my eye on the clock and I know that time is short. However, the noble Earl raised very important questions about armed individuals in relation to aid. I believe that the noble Earl must consider what our real alternatives are. Are they to send aid with an armed guard, which he considers to be deplorable, or to send no aid? Or are we to send the aid workers without guards and thus fail in our duty to protect those who are distributing the aid? These are terribly difficult questions. We are conscious of the point that the noble Earl raised and I believe that it is one on which we should have further debate.

I could say much, too, about the gains in the political sphere. I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor of Hever, covered that point very well. We all agree on the need to hold elections. The only matter in question now is the form that the elections should take. We all know that there is a disagreement within the Iraqi hierarchy about that. Ayatollah al-Sistani takes one view; the Sunnis take another; and the Kurds take another. I assure my noble friend Lord Rea that we have warmly supported the intervention of Kofi Annan. He has confirmed that, once he is satisfied about the security arrangements, he will send his team to Iraq to examine the feasibility of holding elections in the near future.

I also take the point that there are issues for Iraq's neighbours, and I have discussed those issues with many of them. The United Kingdom attaches enormous importance to preserving the territorial unity of Iraq because we believe that the only long-term viable solution is one of a unified Iraq at peace with herself and her neighbours. That must mean discussion with neighbours about the way in which that will be done.

There have been financial costs and costs in human terms. But I think that most people—including most Iraqis— would agree that painful though those costs have been, they have been and should be worth while. Compared with the horror of what went on before, Iraq has gained immeasurably. It has gained in a practical sense from the financial support that it receives from the worldwide community. It has also regained its standing in the world. It is regaining its identity and the control of its democracy. It is regaining the asset of living under the rule of law. It is regaining its schools and hospitals. And, it is also regaining in the dignity that it is able to return to its people.

House adjourned at nine minutes before ten o'clock.

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