HL Deb 01 July 2004 vol 663 cc362-5

11.17 a.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans there are for a NATO force to be deployed to Iraq to support the new government after the handover of power on 30 June.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean) ):

My Lords, there are no plans to deploy NATO troops as part of, or in place of, the multinational force in Iraq. However, in a letter of 2 June, Prime Minister Allawi [BARONESS SYMONS OF VERNHAM DEAN] specifically asked for NATO help in training Iraqi security forces. It was agreed at the NATO summit in Istanbul that NATO would respond positively to this request.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Clearly security is the highest priority in Iraq. In the light of that will Her Majesty's Government use their influence with other NATO members to ensure as many as possible contribute to the training and equipping of the Iraqi armed forces? Unfortunately, Afghanistan is not a good test case for that happening.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, of course security is a very important priority. The noble Lord said it is the highest priority; it is certainly a foundation stone on which other priorities have to be built. Sixteen NATO members are already putting troops towards the multinational force. The statement issued by the heads of government at the end of the NATO summit made it clear that further work would need to be done, both on the issue of training and on other requests from Prime Minister Allawi over equipment and other matters. The North Atlantic Council has been asked to consider those matters. I do not take quite such a gloomy view over the position of Afghanistan.

Lord Richard

My Lords, can my noble friend give us some idea of the scale and scope of this training? How many people is it hoped will be trained? In which country will they be trained? How much of the training is to take place inside Iraq and how much outside?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, in answering the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, I make it clear that further work is being undertaken on this issue and that the North Atlantic Council has been tasked on that by the heads of government. There are questions about where this training should take place; whether it should be in Iraq or outside Iraq. Indeed, such training as is currently under way, certainly as regards police training, takes place both within the country and elsewhere. There may have to be a mix.

There are currently 200,000 Iraqi nationals involved in security operations. Some have already received training, others still need to be trained, but this is obviously a formidable task and work is being undertaken not only by the NAC, but in conjunction with the Iraqi Government over the best way of tackling this issue.

Lord Garden

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree with the call made by the NATO Secretary-General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, at the Royal United Services Institute on 26 June for nations to consider common funding for such operations? We cannot expect volunteers if they also have to pay the costs disproportionately. Should we not be pushing that agenda forward now?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the NATO Secretary-General made a fair point. Clearly, the costs of what has happened in Iraq have fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of the willing so far. Therein we have the dilemma: this has been a coalition of the willing and, in undertaking that work, the coalition has also undertaken the cost. But that does not mean to say that in the new era that has begun, with an Iraqi Government now in charge of their own country, a sovereign country, other nations may not now want to consider whether they would like to help to shoulder some of that burden.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, for the wider world, what is important in all that is undertaken in Iraq is that it is being undertaken under the authority of the United Nations? Therefore, although we welcome the contribution to be made by NATO, with its special capabilities, does she not agree that it is tremendously important to make it manifestly clear that anything that NATO does is ultimately politically accountable to the United Nations?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I associate the United Kingdom Government with the desire of the wider world, as my noble friend puts it, to acknowledge that what is now happening in Iraq is happening under the authority of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546. So I hope that in making that point my noble friend is not excluding Her Majesty's Government. The important point for us to concentrate on is that the training and discussions around it, has been triggered not by NATO, but by a specific request from Dr Allawi. Dr Allawi's letter of 20 June is clear on that point; it is clearly a letter to the NATO Secretary-General; it has been responded to in the positive manner that I have already described to your Lordships.

I do not think that we can say that NATO has direct responsibility to the United Nations on the matter, but we can say that the multinational force operates under the auspices of the United Nations and we hope that that will all be done with the maximum of international co-operation.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, yesterday, the new Iraqi Deputy Minister of Health told me that 2,000 children a day are still dying in Iraq because lack of security is impeding the building of hospitals and the distribution of drugs? Is it not very sad that NATO is being impeded from providing the bigger role that Mr Allawi and others want and that has been requested of the Secretary General by the apparent decision of the French that they do not want NATO to become further involved? Can she explain why France, which is not even a full and proper member of the integrated command structure of NATO, is being allowed to obstruct measures that would clearly help Iraq to recover, and would save children's lives?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I was not aware of that particular part of the conversation that the noble Lord had with the new Iraqi Deputy Minister of Health, but the noble Lord was kind enough to tell me privately that he had had such a conversation. I certainly know that the health of very young children, and perinatal mortality for women, in Iraq are extremely difficult issues.

The noble Lord said that it is the French who are impeding a wider security role. I am bound to say to him that it has recently become a bit of a media sport to cite points allegedly made by leaders or Ministers of different countries to suggest that they mean different things from each other or are impeding a wider position. The point on which to concentrate is that President Chirac, President Bush, and every other leader of a NATO country has agreed that training is necessary. Not only that, they have agreed to task the North Atlantic Council, as a matter of urgency and on the basis of a report by the Secretary General", to consider, further proposals to support the nascent Iraqi security institutions in response to the request of the Iraqi Interim Government". So further work on that point is being done at the behest of all the NATO leaders.