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Volume 404: debated on Thursday 1 May 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the provenance of the missile which hit the al-Nassar market in the Shula area of Baghdad. [108013]

There is no evidence to suggest that allied weapons caused the damage in the al-Nassar market in the Shula area of Baghdad. The crater in the market place is inconsistent with that normally created by an air-to-ground missile. Moreover the nearest target attacked by coalition aircraft at the time of the explosion was some 8 km away from the market.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment the Government have made of the likely time scale for the administering and governance of Iraq to be put into the hands of the Iraqi people and the total withdrawal of coalition forces. [110348]

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear at the Hillsborough summit, our aim is for Iraqis to take charge of the administration and Government of Iraq as soon as possible. The process of establishing a transitional Government, representing all Iraq's ethnic groups, regions and diaspora, began with the National Dialogue Conference on 15 April 2003. It is impossible to know with certainty precisely how long this process will take. We anticipate that coalition forces will remain in Iraq as long as their presence is necessary to help the Iraqi people in the political and economic reconstruction of their country.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans the Government have for the total withdrawal of British forces from Iraq. [110350]

Our Military Campaign Objectives contain a commitment to withdrawal of British military forces from Iraq as soon as is practicable. It is too early at this stage to predict when the appropriate circumstance will arise to allow a full withdrawal. We will maintain an appropriate military presence in Iraq as long as is necessary to enable the conditions within which the Iraqis can get their country running effectively, politically and economically.We have kept the House fully informed of deployments to the middle east and of subsequent withdrawals of forces from the region. We will continue to keep deployments to the region under review and will keep the House informed of future withdrawals.