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Iraq: Humanitarian Assistance and Reconstruction

4.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I would like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development. The Statement is as follows:

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    where it is needed. The World Food Programme has succeeded in getting food over the Turkish border and this is now being distributed.

    "There are serious problems with unexploded mines and ordnance, some of which date back to the 1991 war. Border areas are heavily mined. The coalition is providing information to the UN Mine Action Service on mines and unexploded ordnance of which they are aware. UNMAS is mapping this and is planning a programme to raise awareness of the dangers, mark off affected areas and make them safe. We are supporting the mines action group and will contribute to further humanitarian mine action through our response to the UN appeal.

    "On 28th March, the UN launched its flash appeal for Iraq. I committed £65 million, that is some 100 million dollars, from the United Kingdom on the day the appeal was launched, and contributions from the United States, the European Union, France, Germany and the Netherlands bring current commitments to over 1.2 billion dollars. The total appeal was for 2.2 billion dollars for six months and the UN is hopeful that this will be partly funded by the Oil for Food programme.

    "The total DfID commitment to support humanitarian work in Iraq is now £115 million, made up of £32 million to the Red Cross, £78 million to the UN and £5 million to NGOs. We have another £95 million available for further contributions in response to evolving needs. In addition, the Chancellor announced yesterday that he would set aside a further £60 million for DfID to claim from the Treasury if and when needs arise.

    "The House will be aware that I have made a commitment—and I think this is widely supported—that I will not redirect funds to Iraq from other emergencies like Southern Africa, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Afghanistan or the West Bank and Gaza. Nor will I divert funds from ongoing programmes supporting development for poor people elsewhere.

    "When I made my last Statement on 24th March, I said that the most important priority was to restore the operations of the Oil for Food programme. On 28th March the UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1472 giving the Secretary-General authority to adapt the programme to changed circumstances, so that it could continue to operate for 45 days. The World Food Programme estimates that most Iraqis' current household food stocks should last until around the end of April.

    "While the UN, Red Cross and NGOs can provide assistance to cover a short gap in the programme, the scale of need with 16 million Iraqis totally dependent on the programme and most families partially dependent means that it is critical that we get Oil for Food working again as quickly as we can. The World Food Programme concluded contracts last week to buy a further 400,000 metric tonnes of food aid for Iraq, which it intends to use to replenish the OFF distribution system. These supplies should start reaching the region by late April. But they will only reach people if we can keep

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    the distribution system in place. This means helping Iraqis keep 55,000 separate outlets across the country operating, 45,000 of which are in the centre and south of Iraq. In some parts of the country, they are still doing so; in others it will be a greater challenge. We will work hard at this and I will keep the House informed.

    "We are also working on plans for reconstruction and development. The Geneva Convention and The Hague regulations impose obligations on occupying powers to provide for humanitarian needs, keep order and to keep the civil administration operating. But major reform and reconstruction require the authority of a legitimate government authority. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and President Bush made clear in their Hillsborough communique that they plan to seek the adoption of new UN Security Council resolutions that will affirm Iraq's territorial integrity and make provision for an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq.

    "The UN has a vital role to play in helping the Iraqi people to establish a broad-based and fully representative Iraqi interim authority as soon as possible. The establishment of a legitimate government is essential for the engagement of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and the international community to provide support to the Iraqi interim authority in Iraq. Without the full involvement of the bank and fund, rehabilitation and reform will be less effective.

    "Iraq is a naturally wealthy country with considerable oil resources, educated people, strong institutions and a proud history. It should be a prosperous middle-income country. In order to make progress, there will need to be agreement to reschedule and restructure Iraq's huge debt and reparations claims. Currently, there is little economic activity in Iraq apart from oil exports, which fund a massive programme of handouts through the Oil for Food programme. The reform effort will need to support Iraq in a transition from a centrally planned, impoverished economy to build a modern growing economy. It will be possible to phase out the Oil for Food programme as the economy develops.

    "The atmosphere in the wider region is currently tense and angry and the conflict has caused economic decline in neighbouring countries. Economic development in Iraq will benefit its people and the wider region, but we must also remember that there is a severe humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and that progress in the Middle East requires full implementation of the roadmap to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel by 2005. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and President Bush re-affirmed their commitment to the implementation of the roadmap at the Hillsborough talks.

    "Events on the ground in Iraq will change day by day. As the military phase of the crisis comes to an end, the priority will be to provide order and humanitarian relief and to establish an Iraqi interim

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    authority so that the longer-term reconstruction effort can begin. I will keep the House informed. Reports on the humanitarian situation are being placed in the Library of the House each weekday morning".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.32 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, we are deeply grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State in another place. We welcome the swift progress that the military campaign has made. Although the humanitarian situation in Baghdad remains very serious, a lengthy siege of Baghdad could have caused an even more serious humanitarian disaster.

The Red Cross has highlighted the problem of power and water cuts in Baghdad that the Minister mentioned. Now that Saddam's grip on power has been considerably weakened, will the coalition forces or any NGOs be able to restore the power and water supplies as a matter of urgency? The Red Cross also reports that hospitals in Baghdad are stretched to their limits as a result of fighting, but there are awful shortages of medical and surgical supplies. We add our support and admiration for the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, but is Baghdad safe enough for any NGO to be able to deliver emergency medical supplies, or will the coalition forces do so?

I turn to the wider problem of order and security in Iraq. There is an urgent need for the restoration of security and order in areas liberated by the coalition forces. The chaotic scenes of violence and looting that we have seen on television are, we are told, preventing aid organisations from delivering vital aid to Iraq. What advice is the Department for International Development giving to aid agencies that wish to work in Basra and other parts of Iraq? Does the Minister believe that it is currently safe enough for them to work there?

If aid agencies are unable to enter Iraq for some time, does the Minister accept that the coalition must discharge its responsibilities under the Geneva Convention to deliver aid? Given that the war is not over and our forces will still be engaged in fighting the remnants of the Iraqi regime, how well equipped are British troops for keeping the peace? Does the Minister agree with me that there is a key role for the United Nations to become involved now in delivering humanitarian aid?

The big question remains over the extent of the UN's role in the reconstruction—or rehabilitation and reform, as the Minister calls it—of Iraq. Earlier this week, the French President, Jacques Chirac, said that the UN should,

    "take on the political, economic, humanitarian and administrative reconstruction of Iraq",

and that the,

    "reconstruction . . . of Iraq is a matter for the United Nations and it alone".

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That statement was quoted in the Independent and the Financial Times on 9th April 2003. Is that the British Government's position?

The Secretary of State has stated that, without a UN resolution on the reconstruction of Iraq, coalition forces will be an occupying army under international law. Given the rapid progress made over the past few weeks, a resolution on reconstruction will therefore be required sooner rather than later. Can the Minister tell noble Lords what progress has been made on getting that resolution?

The World Bank and the IMF are holding their spring meetings this weekend. Can the Minister clarify whether or not they will be providing help in the reconstruction of Iraq even if there is no UN resolution backing the process? All of us in Europe are still eternally grateful to the United States for the Marshall plan that followed the Second World War. We hope that the US will once again be as generous.

There were media reports earlier this week that officials from DfID had been lined up to act as deputies to Americans in the Pentagon's Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. Can the Minister comment on the co-operation between her department and the Pentagon on the reconstruction of Iraq?

If our troops are to be welcomed as liberators and not as conquerors, we trust that Iraqis, too, will be closely involved in the process of reconstruction. What co-operation is taking place to choose which Iraqis will be involved? Can the Minister say what is being done to make certain that Iraqi companies, teachers, doctors and nurses are fully involved in the rebuilding of their country? What consultation is taking place with the Iraqi opposition groups on the form of a new government?

We commend all the troops who have done so much to liberate the people of Iraq over the past three weeks. We also pay tribute to the courage of the people of Iraq who have come into the streets to celebrate the downfall of Saddam's regime. We have a duty to mirror the success of the military campaign with an effective programme of humanitarian relief. We hope that the end of the Saddam Hussein regime will herald a new beginning for the Iraqi people.

4.38 p.m.

Lord Roper: My Lords, we on these Benches are also very grateful to the Minister for repeating the very full Statement that her right honourable friend gave to the House of Commons earlier today. Winning the peace is now of as great importance as winning the war has been. The central tasks of the members of the coalition, as set out in the Statement, in ensuring there is no further deterioration of the humanitarian situation and the rehabilitation of Iraq are of great importance.

We need to show that we are taking our responsibilities under the Geneva Convention and The Hague regulations properly. Our intentions to the people and to the region are clear. As has already been shown to some extent in Basra, there is a function of

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winning hearts and minds in Iraq by fulfilling those functions properly. But it goes further than that. It is how we behave in these matters that will also help to win hearts and minds outside Iraq and persuade people elsewhere in the world of our intention our behaviour.

We were grateful to learn from the Statement, as I think we knew, that food is not currently a major problem. The food is unlikely to run out until the end of April. However, the end of April is not too far away. How will we be sure that the essential network of 55,000 outlets is up and running in three weeks' time? How many of them have been looted during the problems of the last few days? How will we ensure that there are secure lines of communication to take in the food ? There was good news that the railway is being tested at least a certain way inland. However, there are still serious problems about ships of any significant draft reaching the port of Umm Qasr. It is important to know how the dredging is going on.

More seriously, it appears that a number of merchant vessels are reluctant to enter Umm Qasr because they cannot obtain insurance to enter the area. Can the Government provide some guarantee of insurance to ships which need to bring in essential requirements?

We share the sadness expressed in the Statement over the death of the senior logistician of the ICRC in Baghdad. We are concerned that since then the UNICEF office there has been looted. Two of the personnel of Medecins sans Frontières are still missing. We are in a difficult situation, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said, the question of the hospitals and the availability of medicines, particularly in Baghdad but also I gather in Basra, are critical. I hope we can ensure that those essential medicines which are reaching their limits are replaced in the relatively near future.

This morning during the debate on the Foreign Secretary's Statement there was a discussion about the proposal of the Government to send some senior police advisers to Iraq. I hope that the Government, together with their coalition partners, and more widely, would look at the real experience that UN civil police have had in so many places over the years. They are not heralded much, but UNCIVPOL have provided many essential police, and the UN does have experience. That is one of the key areas in which the UN could continue to play a part.

I turn to the point made about the £270 million that was referred to in the Statement. That should be made available without any diversion from other matters and is very welcome. We note that £270 million is a relatively small sum compared with the military costs of the campaign. As regards the Oil for Food programme, it has a rather false name. If one looks back at the way in which the money from that oil has been used recently, it has not only been used for food, but for a great range of activities which have enabled the modernisation of a large section of Iraq's infrastructure. Will it be possible under Resolution 1472 for those funds to be continued to be used, thus

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giving the United Nations an important lever in the way in which the rehabilitation programme is carried out?

I welcome the words of the Statement which said that the United Nations has,

    "a vital role to play in helping the Iraqi people to establish a broad-based and fully representative Iraqi interim authority as soon as possible".

That goes further than the Hillsborough statement, where the "vital role" only referred to the humanitarian side. I hope that the words of this Statement are now accepted by all of our coalition partners.

At the end of the Statement, the noble Baroness referred to the helpful reports that DfID had placed in the Library of the House each day. Would it be possible for those to be e-mailed to Members who have a concern in these matters during the Recess, when we are away?

As the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said, the roles that our forces and our people will play in carrying out the tasks of humanitarian aid will be challenging. They will be challenging in a different way from the military tasks, but we must respond to them, if we are to show the importance that we attach to them. I believe that that is the view of your Lordships.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for their comments. I will try to address their questions in turn.

The noble Baroness asked several questions about order and security and asked whether it was safe enough for people from the International Committee of the Red Cross and other NGOs to operate. The situation is different in different parts of Iraq. The first responsibility of our forces is to secure everyone's safety and ensure that it is possible for humanitarian workers to operate. It is not necessarily easy or straightforward to do that. In Basra, for example, there has been some looting. Under the Geneva and Hague Conventions, our forces have an obligation to keep law and order. Noble Lords will know that our military have worked with local leaders to secure law and order. We have considered the question of policing in particular. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, mentioned police advisers.

Things are more problematic in Baghdad. In the south, the UN security co-ordinator has gone in, and we are trying to ensure that there is access for humanitarian workers. Workers can go into the south of Iraq, but I must stress that can be done only with a high level of protection that is not yet possible in Baghdad. Our forces will endeavour to ensure that as quickly as possible. The noble Baroness asked about the delivery of humanitarian aid by the UN. We all want to see that happen, and that is why the security environment is so important. It is a priority for the military forces.

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We see the reconstruction as happening in three phases. The noble Baroness mentioned the statements made by President Chirac. There will be the immediate post-conflict phase, when our military will have a responsibility under the Hague and Geneva Conventions, as I said, with particular regard to law and order. In that time, they will also have responsibilities relating to humanitarian assistance. Once security is established, it will be possible for humanitarian workers to come in. As I said, we have seen that, in a limited way, in the south.

There will then be a move with the Department of Defence's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. We are in close co-operation with ORHA, and, in a previous Statement, I mentioned to noble Lords that DfID and FCO officials were working with ORHA. We will then move quickly from that to the Iraqi interim authority, run by Iraqis and chosen by Iraqis. Then, we move into the longer term, and I have no sense of how long the interim to the longer term might be. That will become clearer.

It is possible that we will need more than one UN resolution. We want, of course, a UN resolution relating to Iraq's territorial integrity. There is the issue of reconstruction and reform, and we will also want to authorise the interim authority. It is not yet clear whether that will require three resolutions or two, and we are engaged in discussions with our Security Council colleagues and with the UN on that matter.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked for an assurance that Iraqi companies, teachers and so forth would be involved in the rebuilding process. I can assure the noble Baroness on that point. Indeed, if she heard my right honourable friend Clare Short in another place earlier this afternoon, she made it absolutely clear that we need to use the skills already available in Iraq. It is not for us to send in people from outside the country, but rather to use the considerable skills that exist within Iraq.

The noble Lord, Lord Roper, said that it was important for us to win hearts and minds inside and outside Iraq. I agree entirely with the noble Lord on that. The sensitive handling that we have witnessed on the part of our own troops in Basra is something which I hope will help that process. It is important that we work together to ensure that the essential network of outlets is kept up and running. Constant contact on that is maintained between ourselves and our coalition partners, and between defence and humanitarian experts.

All our thoughts go out to the brave humanitarian workers in Iraq. They are facing a very difficult situation with immense courage. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Roper, that what we saw with regard to the looting of the UNICEF office and the killing of the ICRC logistician was extremely shocking. We hope that there will be no further incidents. The humanitarian workers are very brave indeed to do what they are doing. The UN civil police have real experience of such situations. That is why it is important that we move towards securing some form of UN resolution as quickly as possible.

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I turn to the Oil for Food programme and the question of the UN having a wider responsibility. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, will be aware that until a wider resolution is agreed under which the UN can operate, the current phase of the programme will be limited to humanitarian needs. I hope that by the time a further resolution has been agreed in the Security Council on the Oil for Food programme it can be expanded to embrace some of the wider projects to be undertaken.

I hope that I have addressed all the questions that have been put to me.

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