HC Deb 20 November 2003 vol 413 cc42-4WS
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

On 15 November, Jalal Talabani, President of the Iraqi Governing Council, announced a programme and timetable for a new constitution and elections in Iraq. Under the plan, the Governing Council will draft a Fundamental Law by February 2004, which will be based on the respect of human rights, freedom of speech and religious tolerance. The Fundamental Law will apply for the transitional period until full national elections.

A Transitional National Assembly will be established by June 2004 through transparent and democratic caucuses at provincial and local level, facilitated by the Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The Assembly will elect an executive and ministers as the Iraqi Transitional Government by July 2004, by then, the progressive handover of executive and legal authority from the CPA will be complete, and the Coalition's legal occupation will come to an end. The Transitional Government will oversee elections to a Constitutional Convention by March 2005, which will promulgate a new permanent constitution for Iraq. A referendum on the new constitution will take place before full elections of a new representative Iraqi government at the end of 2005.

The programme announced by Mr. Talabani is an important and welcome step forward, and comes in response to the wishes of Iraqis themselves. It should enable the coalition to fulfil the shared goal of ensuring a progressive transfer of executive and legislative authority to the Iraqi people as soon as possible. It responds to the Iraqi people's wish that the body tasked with writing a permanent constitution be elected. The plan will bring an earlier end to the status of the UK and US as occupying powers, and will enable the Iraqis to develop their democratic institutions leading to full direct elections for a new government.

The plan announced by Mr. Talabani will also meet the requirement under UN Resolution 1511 for the Iraqi Governing Council to report to the Security Council by 15 December with a timetable and a programme for the drafting of a new constitution for Iraq and for the holding of democratic elections under that constitution". The Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan, has said he is heartened by the announcement. I have already spoken to him and stressed that we will work with him to ensure the UN plays a vital role as set out in Resolution 1511.

Alongside this political progress, everyday life for Iraqis on the ground is steadily improving. Over 14,000 reconstruction projects have been launched. Almost all 240 hospitals and more than 1200 clinics are open, as are almost all schools. More than 200 newspapers have appeared. Satellite dishes, which were illegal under Saddam's regime, are now freely available and widely used. Electricity production has surpassed pre-conflict levels.

This announcement does not mean any reduction of our long-term commitment to Iraq. We stand ready to assist the Transitional Government in the task of rebuilding the country and its civilian institutions. We hope that other countries, international organisations, particularly the UN, and NGOs will continue to support us in this task, as envisaged at the Madrid donors' conference. Our military contribution to the multinational force of over 30 countries in Iraq will also continue, in agreement with the Iraqi Governing Council and Transitional Government, until the Iraqis themselves are able to assume full responsibility for their own security. Already Iraq's own security forces—so far 40,000 police, plus the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps and the New Iraqi Army—are growing in strength. They are working courageously with the support of coalition troops to combat the reactionary forces who want to deny the Iraqi people the security, representative government and prosperity they deserve. They can be confident of our support for as long as they feel it is required.

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