HL Deb 13 October 2004 vol 665 cc263-6

2.45 p.m.

Lord Dykes asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their latest assessment of the prospects for properly run elections in Iraq in January 2005; and what role is anticipated for United Kingdom ground forces in providing assistance.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we are pleased that the Interim Government remain committed to the holding of elections in January 2005, which we see as a vital part of the political process agreed in Security Council Resolution 1546. Technical preparations by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq and the UN are proceeding well, as the Foreign Secretary saw during his visit of 4 to 6 October. UK troops, as part of a multinational force, continue to support Iraqi security forces and will assist with security in the runup to the elections in January.

Lord Dykes

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that Answer and while also still awaiting a full government apology for this illegal war, is she not very concerned that the chaos in Iraq and US incompetence will ruin the January elections and further endanger the lives of our soldiers, mainly in the south-east?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, on his first Starred Question and its timely nature.

Noble Lords


Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I look forward to being given a hard time by the noble Lord in the future.

We are confident that the elections are on course. The Iraqi people want them. Every Iraqi opinion poll has confirmed that. The UN also is confident that progress is on schedule and the Interim Iraqi Government are doing everything they can to make sure that those elections take place in January.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, as this is the first time that we have mentioned Iraq since the House returned, I send on behalf of these Benches our deepest condolences to Mr Bigley's family. Terrorists such as Tawhid wal Jihad cannot be appeased; they can only be fought.

In light of the recent accusations of electoral fraud in the elections in Afghanistan on 9 October, what lessons have been learned in combating electoral fraud and malpractice? Are not such accusations proof of the very real need to step up the expert electoral support provided by the UN in the Iraqi elections, especially as there are only eight election experts working in Iraq?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I associate myself with the condolences of the noble Baroness to the family and friends of Ken Bigley.

On the Afghanistan experience, we know that Afghanistan held its first democratic presidential elections on 9 October. That was a great achievement because, despite earlier fears, there were relatively few incidents of violence and intimidation. Of course there will be lessons to be learnt—the noble Baroness is absolutely right about that. For instance, complaints about technical issues such as the failure of the indelible ink are being investigated by an independent panel. As the noble Baroness rightly said, those and other technical issues will need to be considered in the context of the elections in Iraq. On the UN advisers, we hope that by the end of this month, there will be 25 in Iraq.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, what help has been sought from the Organisation of Islamic Countries in providing security during the elections?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the multinational force will be providing security during the elections. The UK part of that force will do so in the south and in Basra. I do not have details about a specific request for help, but I shall write to my noble friend about that.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, is the Minister aware of reports in some American newspapers that the Americans are extremely unhappy that the British have not provided more support for American operations outside the British sector? Are the British forces responsible for their own sector alone or are they intended to answer requests for assistance from American forces?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, UK troops, in the context of the multinational force, have a jurisdiction in the south and Basra. I shall write to the noble Lord if their responsibilities go beyond that with regard to multinational force 1. As for providing security for the elections, we have given the United Nations a pledge that we shall form part of the UN protection for advisers.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, is not the noble Baroness in danger of giving a rather complacent impression of what is happening in Iraq today? Is it the Government's view that for elections to be held successfully in January, all Iraq should be under the effective jurisdiction of the present Government? Could she imagine circumstances in which elections are held, even though some cities in some parts of the country, including some parts of Baghdad, are not under the control of the Interim Government?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I hope that I have not given the impression that we are complacent. A great deal of work is being done to ensure that security is stepped up. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, that security is absolutely vital.

The Government of Prime Minister Allawi has a three-fold strategy for this very question. First, there must be political outreach, particularly to leaders of the Sunni community. The area of the Sunni triangle is one of the areas that the noble Lord encompassed in his question. We must reach out to many of those leaders to bring them in from the edges of insurgency. Secondly, Iraqi military capability must be strengthened—some 200,000 Iraqis have now been trained. Thirdly, reconstruction efforts must be speeded up, especially in the Sunni areas.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet

My Lords, would my noble friend the Minister agree with me that, although the trade union movement in Iraq is still very much in its infancy, it is being supported by the TUC and by UK unions and has a tremendous role in delivering democracy during the elections and supporting the activity of our troops?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. The fledgling trade union movement in Iraq has a great role to play, in assisting not only in the political progress towards elections but also in the great reconstruction efforts towards improving the economy. There is some progress in assistance for trade unions in Iraq. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions organised a highly successful fact-finding mission earlier this year, partly funded by the FCO, which looked at the state of trade unions in Iraq.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, is the Minister aware that during her rather long reply to my noble friend Lord Hurd—

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we must move on to the next Question.