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14 Apr 2003 : Column 617—continued

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): Our armed forces have fought one of the swiftest and most successful military campaigns in modern times, and they are now winning hearts and minds in Iraq in building public order and in keeping the peace. I should like, on the Opposition's behalf, to pay tribute today to their skill, professionalism and courage, and to keep in our prayers and thoughts both those who have lost their lives, and the families who now grieve.

The fighting, as the Prime Minister said, is not yet over, but the world has been rid of an evil tyrant and an evil regime. The people of Iraq will at last have an

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opportunity to choose the Government whom they want, and to live, we hope, in peace and freedom. I should like also to congratulate the Prime Minister. He has carried, we certainly believe, a heavy burden in the past few weeks, but he will have been comforted throughout by the conviction that he was doing the right thing for Britain and for the rest of the world.

I should like to ask the Prime Minister about four specific issues: public order in Iraq, the humanitarian crisis there, its future government, and the wider prospects for the middle east. But before I do so, perhaps he could answer a question about another specific and relatively urgent issue. I understand that there are reports that the wife of Ian Seymour, a Royal Marines commando who was killed in a helicopter crash in Kuwait during the conflict, has been told to pay back his salary for the rest of the month and to move out of the home. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is a poor way to treat a family who have sacrificed so much, and will he ensure that this decision is reversed, and that no other bereaved family is treated in such a way?

On public order, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary said this morning that when tyrants fall, looting always follows, and we have seen pictures, particularly in Baghdad, of the looting of hospitals and shops, and even of the museum. The Prime Minister talked about the actions that are being taken. Will he now guarantee that no troops—certainly no British troops—will be withdrawn until Iraq achieves an acceptable level of stability and security? Can he also tell us whether other coalition countries have been asked to contribute to policing in Iraq, and, if so, what their response has been?

On the humanitarian crisis, can the Prime Minister confirm that only one hospital in Baghdad now remains open, and will he ensure, in line with what he said, that whatever drugs, medical equipment, doctors and nurses are needed will be flown in, if necessary, from our own field hospitals in Kuwait? The whole House will have been moved by the pictures of the plight and tragic case of Ali. Now that Medevac has confirmed that it can evacuate Ali to Kuwait, will the Prime Minister confirm that there will be no difficulty in the RAF's flying Ali or other, similar cases to Britain, if that is required medically?

The Prime Minister will also be aware that a humanitarian crisis is still unfolding. When does he believe the electricity and water supplies will be restored, perhaps in full? When does he believe the aid agencies will have a secure enough environment to return to the work that they say they are pledged to do?

As for the future of Iraq, the Prime Minister knows that oil revenues are essential to the country's reconstruction. Is he now pressing for the lifting of sanctions on all sales of oil? If so, when does he think that will happen? Does he agree that the welfare of Iraq's people should come before the repayment of state debts run up by Saddam's regime, and does he also agree that putting those state debts aside should be part of a new Marshall plan for Iraq?

The Prime Minister spoke about the three phases of reconstruction, but he knows that there are two views on a United Nations resolution and the interim Iraqi authority. The first, which appears to have been held last week by his Secretary of State for International

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Development and some others, is that a UN resolution is needed to make that authority legitimate; the second is that such a resolution is not needed. I asked the Prime Minister last week, and I must ask him again, whether he shares the view of his International Development Secretary.

Let me now ask about the wider prospects of the middle east. Does the Prime Minister accept that there is a danger that the coalition will give out mixed messages, particularly with regard to Syria? We understand that the Prime Minister has spoken to President Assad, and that he has sent a Minister to speak to the regime directly. Meanwhile, the American Government have said:

Is the Prime Minister's view the same as the Administration's in Washington?

In regard to the middle east peace process, we welcome the moves by the new Palestinian Prime Minister, Abu Mazan, to establish his Cabinet, and also Prime Minister Sharon's reported concessions on the settlements. There are, however, reports that Yasser Arafat has very recently refused to accept some of the Cabinet candidates proposed by Abu Mazan. Does the Prime Minister see that as a retrograde step, and does he believe that it will delay the publication of the road map that is so needed to help stability in the region?

The war may be drawing successfully to a close, but a challenge at least as big now faces us—the reconstruction of Iraq and its restoration as a nation that believes in justice, the rule of law and the freedoms and rights of its own people. I assure the House that Conservative Members will be as resolute in seeing this through as we were in the prosecution of the war.

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind words, and for his support over the past few weeks. Let me say to him personally that there must have been times over those weeks when the issue presented, let us say, a tempting target for any Opposition, and it is to his credit that he remained steadfast in his support of the action.

Let me try to deal with the right hon. Gentleman's points in the order in which he raised them. I understand from the Secretary of State for Defence that the facts about Mrs. Seymour are not correct, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that because if they were correct they would be wholly contrary to normal practice, we will make sure that whatever needs to be done there is done.

Of course the British forces will stay until there is proper security in the country, although obviously we hope to ensure that some of the policing is done by local people as soon as possible. That is why it is encouraging that joint patrols are already taking place. Although people may find this strange, much of the problem for Iraqi citizens came from the special security forces, not the ordinary civil police, if I may put it like that. Many of those people could perform an adequate and good task for the future of Iraq. Other countries are already offering help in relation to policing and security.

As we speak we cannot be sure of the exact situation relating to each of the hospitals in Baghdad. What I do know is that the American forces are trying to take

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special responsibility for protecting the hospitals and getting medical supplies in, and they will do their very best to ensure that that is done. It is difficult, because certain parts of Baghdad are not yet safe. It is worth bearing in mind the fact that both our soldiers and some of the American soldiers have been put at great risk when they have wanted to get on with the ordinary, normal business of protecting the population, but have found that the environment is not yet permissive enough for them to do so. We are well aware that that is a priority for us to tackle.

In relation to the evacuation of Ali Abbas or anyone else, we are in touch with the authorities in cases, such as his, which are not in the zone under our control. We will do whatever we can to help him and others in a similar situation. Within the past 24 hours, two Iraqi children have been flown out to the UK for medical treatment, but they were both from inside our area of control. We are working with the US forces to do what we can for Ali and others.

On electricity and water, one of the problems is that power has been sabotaged as the Iraqi special security forces have left particular areas. We are trying to repair it and we are working with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to do so as quickly as possible. In some parts of Basra, water and electricity have never been fully available to all the local population, but it is important to secure as great an availability as possible. I think that I am right in saying that the pipeline from Kuwait to Umm Qasr has already provided some 4 million litres of water. We are trying to repair the infrastructure there as quickly as possible—or to improve it, since it was often in an extremely bad state in the first place.

We obviously want to see sanctions lifted as quickly as possible, which will allow the Iraqi interim authority, once it is established, to operate far more freely. We should make as speedy progress as we can on that. The debts of countries were discussed at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings at the weekend and are being looked at by the Paris Club. I hope that people are generous in recognising Iraq's needs for the future.

In respect of the Iraqi interim authority and the UN, the issues have been somewhat superseded by the fact that we have agreed a process through which we will work with the UN Secretary-General to try to ensure that the right names and people come forward. In the south of the country we have already started the idea of a joint commission to get the right people to come forward—similar to what happened in Afghanistan—but in the end it will have to be endorsed by the United Nations. That was agreed several weeks ago and remains the case. I believe that, with good will, the problem can be well managed. In a sense, the IMF and World Bank meetings at the weekend went better than they might have gone, which is important.

In relation to Syria, the issue concerns any attempt by Syria to harbour people who are leading members of the Iraqi regime. When the US or anyone else talks about holding them to account, they mean in respect of that matter. I spoke to President Bashar Assad over the weekend, and he assured me that they would interdict anyone crossing the border from Iraq into Syria. I believe that they are doing that. The Foreign Office Minister will be present in Damascus to have further

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talks on the issue. Some of the wilder surmises in the media at the moment are simply not correct: there are no plans whatever to invade Syria.

As for the Palestinian Prime Minister and his Cabinet, it is important to recognise that he has to be satisfied that he has the right Cabinet in place. I have read reports, but cannot verify them, about some disagreement between him and Chairman Arafat. I hope that that is not the case. The sooner that Cabinet can be put in place, the sooner the road map can be published and we can get started on a matter of vital importance. It may be that the liberation of Iraq provides a new context in the middle east, as well as Iraq itself, in which we can make progress on a lasting middle east peace process. I certainly hope so, and the sooner the Palestinian Cabinet is in place, the better.

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