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Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab):
If commentators are right that the Milosevic regime should have been dealt with earlier, is there not a strong argument for what happened over Saddam Hussein's
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tyranny, because he was a far worse tyrant in every way? While deploring the horrifying killings that are committed daily, is there not a responsibility on everyone, including those who opposed the war, to condemn the gangsters and criminals who are responsible for such actions and who have no concern to bring about democracy in that country? The sooner such condemnation comes from the critics, the better.
John Reid: That is the second consecutive question that I can answer by saying that I entirely agree with the conclusions and with many of the premises on which those conclusions were based. I hope that everyone in the House, even those who disagreed with the original decision to intervene, now understand that we are operating in Iraq with the full support of the Iraqi democratic majority, the sanction of the United Nations and under United Nations Security Council resolutions. That is the status of what we are doing in Iraq at present. It ill behoves those who normally demand that we adhere to every aspect of United Nations resolutions to say that on this occasion in Iraq, because they did not agree with the position several years ago, they will depart from the United Nations at present. Whatever views we took in the beginning, it is now our job to help the Iraqi people build their democratic Government through their own democratic processes, build their economy, build their security forces and ultimately rule their own lives.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but the remarks being made from a sedentary position by the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) are offensive. I suggest that he withdraw them.
Mr. Soames: Given the astonishing skill and triumph of British troops on the ground in Iraq, and in welcoming back the 7th Armoured Brigade when it returns and noting the powerful deployment of the 20th Armoured Brigade, will the Secretary of State nevertheless consider the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) about the increased efforts that need to be made so that people understand the breadth and scale of the work of British troops on the ground in Iraq, and what a tremendous contribution they have made in the most difficult circumstances in a harsh and unforgiving environment? Will the Secretary of State consider what more can be done to ensure that greater opportunities are made available for the press to see the great scale of what is being done and not just to report on the inevitable disasters in a deployment of that type?
Yes, but first the hon. Gentleman should have given us the full truth about his interests. I do not know what he declared, but he should also declare that
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he served this country both as a Defence Minister and as a member of Her Majesty's armed forces, so he truly has an interest in the conduct and safety of our armed forces that we should respect.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct in saying that sometimes there is a complete lack of understanding of the difficulties under which our troops now operate. It is almost as though they are fighting a 21st-century war in which people expect them to apply 20th-century regulations, international laws and conventions. We may not have all the answers on those matters, but we should certainly face the fact that they create huge problems. Our enemy is less constrained by international conventions, legality, morality or anything else than ever, yet the scrutiny that we constantly place on our soldiers and the international conventions and laws that we expect them to maintain mean that they are more constrained than ever. I do not complain about that, but I ask the public to be a little slower to condemn, a little quicker to support and not to believe everything as represented by the commentariat, because at the end of the day published opinion is not always public opinion.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I do not think that the Secretary of State fully answered the point raised by the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) about provincial governments in Iraq who are refusing to have any contact whatever with British occupying forces. Will the Secretary of State tell us what the current situation is in relation to those provincial governments? Is he aware that a large number of Iraqi people, including those who voted in the election, actually want British and American troops withdrawn, and that this weekend the Basra oil workers union will be organising a demonstration in Basra calling for the withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq the better to bring about peace there?
On the position of local government, to be serious, it is not true, as my hon. Friend inadvertently seemed to suggest, that local government in areas of the Multinational Division South-East wanted a complete and total boycott of relations with the British authorities there. At various times recently, two of them wanted a temporary boycotton one occasion in one province when the governor was out of the provincefor a period of between a week and two weeks. That is not to diminish the seriousness of the situation, but nor should we exaggerate such things as some of the anti-war press do.
My hon. Friend said that there were people who wanted the coalition forces out of Iraq. I want the coalition forces out of Iraq, and as soon as the conditions are met they will come out. We have no long-term imperialist ambitions in Iraq, but when people have given their lives for democracy in Iraq it would be an absolute tragedy if we were to leave before people
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were ready. If British troops are helping Iraqi democrats establish democratic control over their own lives we should be proud to stay in Iraq until the Iraqi people decide in their democratic opinion that it is time for us to go. When they say that, we will go.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I join the Secretary of State in expressing condolences to the members of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment who lost their lives a fortnight ago. Colchester is their home base.
I endorse the comments made by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth). Like him, I was in Iraq last week as a member of the Armed Forces Bill Committee and found that the flights returning our brave men and women home to the UK were not of the quality to which they are entitled. I ask the Secretary of State to give that serious consideration.
John Reid: On the first point, I will look into the specific case. I know that there have been general problems, and it is perfectly legitimate to raise them because that is in the interests of everyone in the House. I think that everyone here wants our troops to be given the conditions that they ought to have.
On the second point, the figure of 800 is approximately a 10 per cent. reduction on 8,000, which will reduce our total presence to 7,200. I hope that the 7,200 who are there will continue to do the job that they are doing, and in due course we will assess whether Iraqi security forces have the numbers and capability for a handover, in operational terms, of any of the provinces. At that stage, the official handover would begin.
Harry Cohen: The Defence Secretary still has not explained why the elected authorities of Basra and al-Amara do not support the British forces. Of course, the British presence has the support of the Americansan SAS man this weekend described some of their forces as viewing the Iraqis as sub-humanof the Iranians, who have benefited from the mess that we have got into, and of the Ministry of the Interior, which has been running death squads and sees the British as too toothless to deal with that. If huge mortgages can be raised and paid off quickly, surely we can get out of Iraq quickly too.
I quite like my hon. Friend so I will try to take him through the illogicality of what he is saying. On the one hand, he is saying that we must maintain a position in which the governor and authorities in Basra never fall out with the British, and on the other hand he is saying that the British have to take action against some in the police force in Basra who are corrupt, even if that means that the governor or the local authorities may break off relations with the British. The relationship between ourselves and the local authorities in Basra broke down, we suspect, precisely because we acted against and arrested several members of the local constabulary, exactly as my hon. Friend would have wanted us to do. That has implications because of
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course local politicians then say, "We're going to break off relations with you." However, I think that arresting those people was the right thing to do. We believe that they were involved in activities that resulted in people being attacked and killed.
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