|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
10 Apr 2003 : Column 414continued
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that the Government will continue to work towards a political settlement in Iraq which enables our troops to come home as soon as possible and that we have learned the lessons of the mistakes of the Kosovo conflict which have left our troops there four years later? The prospect is that our troops will be home from Iraq a long time before they are home from Kosovo.
Mr. Straw: Yes is the answer, but there is a big difference between Kosovo and Iraq. Part of the problem is in determining the status of Kosovo. That is still unresolved. Is it a state or part of the former Republic of Yugoslavia? No or very few institutions were functioning properly in Kosovo whereas Iraq has an institutional base. We do not want to stay a day longer than we are needed, but we will stay as long as is necessary. That is the same for the United States. The whole purpose is to liberate Iraq, to deal with the weapons of mass destruction, to help support and sustain a secure and stable Iraqi Administration and developing democracy, and then leave.
Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): My right hon. Friend knows that BBC Monitoring Service, based in my constituency, has provided and will continue to provide an unrivalled, swift and unbiased news and information service from the region. Will he offer a message of congratulation to the staff there who have been providing that service in the last difficult weeks and months?
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): It was necessary to have a national understanding of the reasons for Britain to be part of the coalition. May I publicly acknowledge that one of the important factors in that was the public decision of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) to stay in the Government? That has helped many people to understand that the purpose of the action is to benefit the Iraqi people, both in and outside Iraq.
In the coming months, will the Foreign Secretary give attention to whether far more can be done to spread the message around the world that very few wars are fought between sides that are both reasonably democratic, and very few high-level and persistent civil wars occur in countries whose Governments govern with the assent of the people?
The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) makes an important point about democracy. Democracy is not only right in itself, but the greatest bulwark against terror, terrorism and tyranny. The events in Iraq in the past few days are fascinating to those who take an interest in the history of humankind. There was a regime that had immense power, but only the power that is exercised down the barrel of a gun; remove that, and all the power crumbles into dust. By contrast, democracy, the power of the spirit, lasts and lasts.
Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): By some estimates, as much as one fifth of Iraq's population has fled the country in the past 20 years. Some Iraqis are in Britain today, and many of them either had or have acquired skills, professions and experience that would be invaluable in the rebuilding of their country. Will the Government be in a position to assist any Iraqi citizens who, of their own free will and in due course, wish to return to Iraq to contribute to the rebuilding of their country?
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the 4 million people who were forced to leave Iraq. Their number is an indication of the desperate state of that country. It is early days, so I cannot make any promises about the type of programme that we might establish to get people back to Iraq, but I remind the House that we did that in respect of Kosovo and Afghanistan, and we shall of course take that experience into account.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I join the Foreign Secretary in his tribute to the forces, but will he include the Australians, who have often been forgotten, and perhaps even the Kurds, who have been advancing from the north with the Americans?
I understand the extent of the upheaval in Iraq, but I am concerned about media reports of one officer suggesting that, if it proves necessary, some Ba'athists might take on police activities again. We must be very careful about that. Based on our experience of people who have been involved in terrorism seeking to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland, we doubt that the people of Iraq will readily accept those who have persecuted them in the past continuing in such a role.
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman raises the important and difficult issue of distinguishing between the leaders of the terror and those who went along with it because that was the nature of the society. We will have to make use of many people in the middle and lower ranks of all the services who remain in Iraq so that administration can continueindeed, that is an obligation on us under the various conventions and texts of international law. Our armed forces initially, and then the interim authority, will have to make difficult judgments about who are genuinely culpable and who can be allowed to get on with their jobs once they have shown loyalty to the new Government or Administration. That is a task that must be undertaken.
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend started well, but as ever[Laughter.] Of course I cannot give a date[Hon. Members: "Why not? Give a date."] He knows very well that I cannot give a date. I have already said in answer to a previous question that our troops will not stay in Iraq longer than is necessary. We have no interest in them staying longer than is necessary.
As for oil, yes, some have suspected that oil is an issue, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has categorically answered those suspicions on many occasions, saying that if our sole interest had been Iraq's oil, we would have spared ourselves any humanitarian concern and taken the short cut to doing a deal with Saddam Hussein. The action has nothing whatever to do with oil. President Bush and the Prime Minister have repeated their commitment that the oil wealth and revenues of Iraq should be used for the Iraqi people alone. That is what will happen.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): Does the Foreign Secretary believe that without a UN resolution, the coalition will represent "an occupying army" with no legal right to reconstruct Iraq? That is the view of the Secretary of State for International Development, who is in her place; is it the view of the Government?
Mr. Straw: The position is that the coalition forces have every lawful right to act in accordance with the various legal texts to which I have already drawn attention. Those rights and powers are extensive, and it goes without saying that everything that our forces and civilian personnel, and those of the United States, do will be strictly in accordance with international law.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, especially his comments about the need for a resolution of the Israel-Palestinian issue. No one doubts his commitment or that of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the middle east peace process, but a degree of scepticism persists about the depth of the US Government's commitment. Will he state whether he believes that the Americans are prepared to face up to the Israelis on the question of illegal settlements? Without their removal, there can be no unified and viable Palestinian state. Will he also give an assurance that the timetable accompanying the road map is not negotiable and will not be stretched into the distant future as a result of backstage pressure from the Israeli Government?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comment. Achieving a peace raises difficult issues for all the parties concerned. There are difficult issues for the Government and the people of Israel, because they will have to deal with the questions of settlements, refugees and east Jerusalem. There are difficult issues for Arab
As for the motives and commitment of the United States Government, I believe what I see with my own eyes: a President of the United States who is completely committed to what he says he will do. He is a man of his word and I believe that he will fulfil his commitments, first, to publish the road map, and then to exert the same energy to implement the road map as our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has exerted in respect of Northern Ireland, which is a huge amount. He knows the importance of delivering justice to the Palestinians and security to the Israelis, not only for those people, but for the security of the whole region.