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Volume 454: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2006

Iraqi leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to national unity. The national reconciliation initiative is being pursued and the constitutional review committee has now been formed. On security, two provinces have already been handed over to Iraqi control and four more will follow this month. Agreement has also been reached to transfer four of the 10 Iraqi army divisions from the multinational force to Iraqi command and control this year. Political progress is, though, still being hampered by high levels of sectarian violence specifically aimed at undermining the Government’s efforts to improve security. We will continue to support the Iraqi Government in their work.

What can the Foreign Secretary say to disprove the withering verdict of the US State Department official, Kendall Myers, that Washington has systematically ignored British advice over Iraq? Can she give a single concrete example of any piece of advice given by her or the Prime Minister that was accepted by Washington and without which the catastrophe in Iraq would have been even worse?

I could certainly give the hon. Gentleman many examples of advice that we have given that has been accepted by Washington. As regards Kendall Myers, I had never heard of him before and I do not suppose that I shall ever hear of him again—[Interruption.] The example with America goes back as far as Winston Churchill, a point of view that the hon. Gentleman might not wholly share.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the view of the Secretary-General of the United Nations that Iraq is now in a state of civil war? A simple yes or no answer would be very helpful.

No. Furthermore, I would say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is very experienced in politics as well as in some of these issues, that it might have occurred to him, because it has certainly occurred to me, that it was not the Secretary-General who said that—not for the first time, the words were put into his mouth by a journalist.

Should there not be total condemnation from everyone in this House, whichever line they took at the time of the war, of the mass murder that is being carried out on a daily basis against completely innocent people by terrorists who have, needless to say, not the slightest interest in democracy? Since it is clear that the occupation troops can in no way stop what is happening, does my right hon. Friend accept that the continued reduction of British troops is to be welcomed? I hope that that will continue throughout next year.

My hon. Friend is entirely right that everybody must, and does, condemn the terrible levels of violence and the nature of the violence—wanton violence—in Iraq, which seems to be aimed at nothing more than destroying the hope and the prospect of peace. It is confined to fewer areas than one is sometimes given the impression is the case from coverage in this country, but it is nevertheless quite appalling.

My hon. Friend is also right to say that it is important that we continue with the process of handing over security responsibility to the Iraqi police and armed forces as they become able to take it on. Like him, I strongly hope that that process will continue.

As it would appear that the presence of forces responsible for the invasion is merely fuelling the insurgency,what discussions have taken place with the Iraqi Government about the desirability of handing over some of the responsibility to United Nations forces?

Lots of discussions have taken place with the Iraqi Government about a transfer of responsibility, but I have detected no interest in the Iraqi Government in finding a new international force. Perhaps I could remind my hon. Friend, as she seems to have forgotten, that the multinational forces that are there are under the authority of the United Nations. The Iraqi Government are not interested in getting in a fresh set of international troops, but there is certainly interest in taking over control of security themselves—that is a view that we strongly share.

Let me add that it is not the case that the presence of multinational forces is fuelling conflict in every part of Iraq—there are some areas where it may not be assisting and may even be adding to difficulties, but that is not so across Iraq. That is why the Iraqi Government are not asking for those forces simply to decamp.

Given the pace of the policy reassessment going on in Washington, does the Foreign Secretary agree that it would be highly desirable for the Government to come to the House before the Christmas recess with a statement of policy on Iraq and on the prospects for our operations there? Will she describe the shape currently taken by any policy review going on in the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence or Downing street in parallel with the two reviews taking place in Washington? With or without that, what can she tell the House about the advice that the Prime Minister will give to President Bush when he travels to Washington tomorrow?

The advice that the Prime Minister will give to President Bush is exactly the advice that he has shared with the House and, indeed, the country, on many occasions. It is on the need to give attention to supporting the Iraqi Government’s efforts to improve services and infrastructure, and to improve and take greater responsibility for security, as they can. Obviously, it is not entirely up to me how matters are reported to the House, but I certainly give the right hon. Gentleman an undertaking that if there is a change that seems to require fresh information to be given to the House, I will be happy to give it, in one way or another.

I am grateful for that answer, and of course I will pursue the matter. In the meantime, it is evident that military force alone will not resolve the current situation, and I know that the Foreign Secretary will agree that a broader political reconciliation in Iraq is indispensable to its future, but what does she think are the chances of arriving at such a situation in the next few months? Does she think that it is a good idea to establish an international contact group of countries that wish to help in such matters, and that have the influence to do so? Such a group could begin to provide the international framework to buttress any such agreement in the future.

First, may I say that I strongly share the right hon. Gentleman’s view—a view thatwe have been expressing continually to the Iraqi Government—that political reconciliation is imperative in Iraq? We have encouraged and supported that Government in that work. I can tell him and the House that, two or three days ago, I had a long and very fruitful conversation with the Iraqi Foreign Minister, who told me how much better those efforts are proceeding, and how encouraged he is that people there are seeing some improvement in the situation. I very much hope that the next few months will bring the kind of improvements that he, and we, seek. On the issue of an international contact group, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that for some time we have urged Iraq’s neighbours and its colleagues elsewhere—for example, in the Gulf and among the Arab states—both to join the international compact to support Iraq, and to be prepared to be engaged in a wider group helping to support and assist the Government of Iraq in their endeavours. We continue to make such representations, and I think that they are increasingly being taken seriously. Whether there will be a formal contact group is another matter, but support for the international compact will, I think, have the kind of effect that the right hon. Gentleman seeks.

The Foreign Secretary must be right to emphasise the importance of Iraq’s neighbours, who must be part of the solution, as regards the politics of Iraq. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Washington, will he tell the United States Administration unequivocally that we must now talk, however reluctantly, to the Syrians and the Iranians? They must be part of any solution; if not, they will be part of the problem.

Those countries are part of the problem now. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will discuss with the President a whole range of matters, which will encompass the points rightly raised by my hon. Friend. It has long been clear—and, of late, we have made it explicitly clear—to, for example, the Syrians that people are prepared to talk to them, and that it is in their interests, and in the interests of Iran, and all of Iraq’s other neighbours, that there should be a stable Iraq in the future. They might think about that a little more fully than they seem to do at the moment. Of course, although people are prepared to engage in dialogue—I am pleased, for example, that the Syrians are opening an embassy in Baghdad—the degree and the nature of that dialogue will depend on whether or not action is taken by both Syria and Iran that shows good will, as opposed to ill will.