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Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend; I wish he was always there to remind me. This is an important point and fairly sensitive to describe. My understanding is that the television station hit last night also had a military connection. Bearing in mind that very careful targeting is central to the coalition's aims in this campaign, one of the reasons why television studios or centres have not been hit is that they were considered too close to civilians. I am told that a way has been found around that. That is why the damage was done to the particular television station last night. But the frustration that the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, expresses is one I think we all share.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, does the Minister not agree, while not advocating censorship of our broadcasting media, that it would be a good idea for the Government to suggest that it is neither in good taste nor compassionate to keep showing pictures of
Lord Bach: My Lord, the noble Baroness tempts me and I cannot resist the temptation. She is absolutely right. I shall not enter into a general criticism of how the media have handled events so far. They have a job to do and, in many ways, they have done it extremely well. On that particular matter, those sections of the media that have shown the pictures can be criticised. Undoubtedly, putting those prisoners of war before the media was a gross breach of the Geneva Convention, but we should not be surprised that Saddam's regime encourages such breaches. I hope that after that rather poor beginning in terms of allied prisoners of war, it will not be repeated.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister to send from me and from all the ladies of the War Widows Association of Great Britain our deepest love and our greatest sympathy to the widows and families of all the servicemen we have lost in Iraq.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, will the noble Lord bear this thought in mind because I think that it is very encouraging? The numbers of casualties have been absolutely tiny in this war. More people have been killed on the roads in England during the past week than have been killed in battle. In half an hour, a squadron of the 4th County of London Yeomanry was wiped out at Villiers Bocage in 1944. In 218, 30,000 Romans were killed in three hours at the Battle of Lake Trasimene. We have had a stupendously great victory so far. Our soldiers have done brilliantly. Just a minor point. The forebears of my noble friend Lord Vivian were not allowed to continue the pursuit at Waterloo because there had been a big blue-on-blue by the Prussians shooting up the Oxon Bucks Light Infantry, so the Prussians continued. There is nothing new on shooting our own side, tragic though it may be. Surely, we should congratulate people on the infinite care and lack of casualties, both to ourselves and to the enemy, in what we have achieved so far.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. I thank him for his comments. One of our main aims is to ensure that casualtiesno matter where they come fromare kept to an absolute minimum. Every fatality is a tragic loss. I hope that the number of casualties remains low, but I would be foolish to forecast that that will continue to be the position. War is a dreadful thing and will undoubtedly lead to casualties. The noble Earl prefaced his question with the words "so far". Each casualty is terrible, but so far there have not been as many as expected. We have a long way to go and we have to keep our nerve.
Lord Blaker: My Lords, there seems to be an increasing tendency for members of the Iraqi armed forces to abandon their uniforms and dress in civilian clothes while keeping their weapons. Is that not likely to make it more difficult for our forces to distinguish between such people and genuine civilians whom they are instructed not to injure if at all possible. If this is true and results in more civilian deaths, is it not clear that the fault will lie not with our side but with the Iraqis? Will the Government and the American Government make this very clear, by all means possible, to the world and to Iraq?
Lord Bach: My Lords, as always, the noble Lord makes an extremely good point. Such tactics, which appear to be being employed, are completely ruthless, as one would expect. The coalition seems more concerned about civilian casualties than the Iraqi regime, whose citizens these people are. It is clear that in some of the southern towns and cities about which we have heard so much, the intensity of the regime has dominated people's lives. We are seeing still the intensity of that domination in the way the Iraqi authorities are behaving.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, many will have welcomed the Prime Minister's statement yesterday that we will not make the same mistake we made in 1991 by failing to support the uprising that took place then. He said that we would not fail the people of Iraq this time. Given the tyranny and the brutality to which the Minister referred, can he tell the House the current situation in regard to the uprisings of resistance in Iraq, not least in Basra.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I can say little more than I have said so far. As the Prime Minister said earlier today, the picture is confused. There may have been an uprising in Basra but, as yet, we do not have a clear picture of its scope or scale or where it will take us. However, coalition forces are engaging groups of enemy and other paramilitary forces as they try to flee the city. Once matters become clearer we shall look to assist and exploit the situation in order to liberate the brave people of Basra and allow humanitarian aid to flow into the city. The noble Lord can rest assured that the people of Iraq will not be left in the position they were 12 years ago.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, I add further expressions of gratitude and admiration from these Benches for the courage and professionalism of our servicemen and women and send profound sympathy to those injured and bereaved so far and offer our prayers for them.
Can the Minister elaborate further on the restoration of the water supply to Basra? Has the International Committee of the Red Cross been involved in helping to restore the water supply? Does the Minister see a possibility of other NGOs being able to be involved fairly soon in areas of Iraq where relative peace has been re-established? Can he say more about his expectations of the role of NGOs and how soon they will be able to operate?
Lord Bach: My Lords, we know that in Basra a high order of humanitarian needs existed well before the conflict began a week or so ago. I am not in a position to give the right reverend Prelate more specific information. Our policy is clear. We want to see humanitarian aid going into Iraqinto Basra in particularas soon as possible. We shall have to establish a secure environment before we can do so, and that is what we are working to achieve.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for being absent during the opening moments of the Statement. Is it not inevitable that the extraordinary news coverage that is taking place, together with the insatiable demands of the various networks for more and more news, has led directly to a feeling of impatience and that something has gone badly wrong? In that connection, is it not worth remembering that, although the land campaign in the previous Gulf War took four days, the entire campaign took 42 days to achieve a much more limited objective? Perhaps I may offer this advice to the Minister when dealing with this impatience that may lead to confusion and to a feeling that perhaps the campaign is failing. There is obviously a heavy load on the Minister and his colleagues to inform the people. The media will not changethey will continue to press and to demand more actionand he will have to convey the messages. In conveying those messages, may I suggest that it is very important that all the government and military spokesmen under-claim rather than over-claim and follow any rumour. In the famous and tragic fog of war, it will give easy propaganda victories to Saddam
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