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Volume 454: debated on Tuesday 12 December 2006

I have always said that lasting progress in Iraq cannot be achieved by military means alone, but will depend on a combination of security, politics and economics. Our security strategy is clear and has not changed. It is not driven by the American political calendar, nor will it be thrown off course by those who use violence and terrorism to provoke sectarian reaction and to stop progress in Iraq.

Our strategy has three main elements. First, we are helping the Iraqis to build up their own security forces—still with a long way to develop, but already with more than 300,000 recruited, trained and equipped. Secondly, as these forces develop we are handing them control, province by province, city by city, moving to the point where they have complete responsibility. Thirdly, we are underwriting that handover process by leaving in place quick-response forces not to do front-line security work, but ready to support the Iraqis if the situation gets out of control. We remain convinced that that remains the right strategy—indeed, the only one that could possibly work.

I welcome the constructive approach of the Iraq Study Group. As I made clear yesterday, its assessment of the security situation is largely in tune with our own. We recognise the gravity of that situation, but I also note the group’s conclusion that there is no magic formula to solve the problems. People should not confuse a difficult situation with a problem of strategy. Our strategy has long included many of the elements that the group has highlighted.

What is changing is the pace at which this strategy unfolds. Prime Minister Maliki and his Government want it to go faster. That is a natural response and, indeed, a welcome sign of increasing confidence, but it also crystallises the great challenge that Maliki faces. On the one hand, to keep up momentum—to reinforce a sense of progress and nationhood—he must show that Iraq is regaining control of its own destiny. At the same time, he must not ask too much too quickly of its developing security forces.

The Prime Minister made it clear during his visit to Washington last week that we have always been open to engagement with Iran and Syria, but it is absolutely vital that the basis for their engagement must be support for the democratically elected Government of Iraq, not support for sectarian or terrorist agendas. Those countries know what they have to do, and they must decide which path they want to follow.

There are some parts of Iraq, especially Baghdad, where the reality on the ground clearly is a long way from the point where the coalition can hand over. This morning’s suicide bombs were another reminder. Part of their motive, of course, is precisely to provoke an escalating sectarian reaction, but Baghdad is not Iraq, and I make no apology for reminding people that 14 of the 18 provinces are relatively peaceful. The security situation, and therefore progress along the security strategy, is different in each of these provinces.

In the area under British lead in the south, two provinces have been handed over to the Iraqis, and a third is soon to follow. The fourth, Basra, remains the most difficult challenge, but again, the security situation is a symptom: the underlying cause is rival Shi’a power blocs vying for power. Right now, this is too much for the Iraqi security forces to deal with on their own, and there are real weaknesses in the local police, so unlike in the other three provinces, British forces are still doing front-line work in the main city.

Operation Sinbad is working through Basra city area by area, re-establishing security, building confidence, rooting out corrupt and failing police, and putting Iraqi soldiers on street corners as a sign that the Government are determined to govern. Friday’s Operation Pisa—an impressive operation involving a number of bold “strikes” across the north of Basra city—shows that when we need to act, we do so and we do so decisively. But of course, the key is that these improvements in security are followed, quickly, by progress in governance and by economic regeneration, building momentum and winning over local people to a positive view of the future.

This is our strategy. We will continue to support the Iraqis in overcoming the violence and intimidation that disfigure their country. We will work with them to build a long-term relationship, including training and mentoring to help the security of both the country and the region, and to deal with the ongoing challenge of international terrorism. Both in security and in the parallel strands of politics and economic development we have to accept that how quickly things move will depend on many factors, not all of them directly under our control. In fact, it is a measure of success if the path of progress becomes increasingly an Iraqi one. As I said in a speech last month, we must get used to thinking in terms not just of our strategy but of our role in their strategy.

We continue to insist that we will not cut and run. This is not about political gestures or a trial of wills, but about recognising the challenges we face and also the commitment we have made. We will hand over when it is right so to do, driven not by arbitrary deadlines but by the reality on the ground. I have made clear several times why we will not be drawn into laying out a prescriptive timetable for draw-down, and I note that the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) supported that position yesterday. Our strategy will and must remain conditions-based. We will work to ensure that our plans remain clear and realistic, but we will also work to resist cynicism and defeatism as long as we still believe that we are making a difference—as long as we still believe that the presence of our forces is increasing the chance of a positive legacy for their work and their sacrifice in Iraq in the past three years.

I thank the Defence Secretary for that response. While we accept much of what he said, does he accept that as the Iraq Study Group described the situation in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating” and as 7,000 British troops are deployed there, the Government should not hesitate to report to the House when major developments arise? Was not the publication last week of the Iraq Study Group’s report one such event? As it was important enough for the Prime Minister to fly to Washington immediately, was it not also important enough to warrant a ministerial statement to Parliament in recent days?

To seek to question the Government on that is in no way to lack sympathy with the difficulty of the choices they face, but will the Secretary of State say how the Government were thinking of gauging parliamentary reaction to that major reassessment of American and coalition strategy while the decisions on it were being made? We appreciate that talks between the United Kingdom and the United States are going on, but in that case can the Secretary of State tell us when the Government will be in a position to describe definitively the response of the coalition Governments to the Iraq Study Group?

In the meantime, can the right hon. Gentleman give details about some matters about which it is not premature to ask, in the light of that report? For instance, did the Prime Minister reach an agreed view with the President in their talks on the ISG proposals last week? In particular, did he obtain a bankable assurance that the United States will now make a firm and sustained effort to revive the Israel-Palestinian peace process? Did the President agree to develop the “whole middle east strategy” of which the Prime Minister has spoken?

In addition, in Washington, the Prime Minister described the ISG report as “a strong way forward” and said that

“it is important now we concentrate on the elements that are necessary to make sure that we succeed”.

To which elements was he referring when he said that? What will be the objectives of the Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to the middle east? Can the Defence Secretary tell us what was the result of sending an envoy to Syria a few weeks ago, and have any parallel exploratory talks taken place with Iran?

Is it not the case that the need for internal reconciliation in Iraq, the building up of the Iraqi army and the creation of an international support group—all proposed by the ISG—have already been proposed by many of us in the House? What has been the reaction of the Iraqi Government to the proposal to withdraw the bulk of American forces by early 2008? What assessment have the Government made of the reaction of the Iraqi Government to the report’s conclusions? Do they agree that any international contact group formed must have Iraqi involvement throughout?

Finally, on a defence matter, while those decisions are pending—as they clearly are—are contingency plans being made to provide for British forces to assist in the more rapid training of the Iraqi army called for by the ISG?

Given the myriad questions that legitimately arise from the situation and the apparent imminence before Christmas of an announcement by the President of the United States on the reassessment going on there, will the Secretary of State and his colleagues ensure that the House receives a further full report from the Government before the Christmas recess, so that a full debate on Iraq—the lessons and the prospects—can be held early in the new year?

I make no criticism of the right hon. Gentleman’s desire to have the issue addressed at the Dispatch Box and I cast no aspersions on his motives. I welcome his positive contribution to the debate in respect of these challenging issues. There is, however, a degree of prematurity about his questions, given that the US Administration are still deliberating on the report’s recommendations. It was, after all, a report to the US Administration. As I understand it, the President will respond some time in the near future.

We are considering the recommendations ourselves, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, in so far as they are directly relevant to the area for which we have responsibility and to the issues that I addressed in my remarks this afternoon. There has to be space to discuss the recommendations, as the Prime Minister did when he went to Washington with the principal ally in our coalition—the United States. We must also recognise that the Iraqi Government are, as the right hon. Gentleman said, important contributors to those discussions.

To deal with the specific question about the Iraqi Government’s response, the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as everyone else that President Talabani specifically referred to some of the report’s recommendations in his observation that they are inconsistent with the sovereign position of the Iraqi Government. He has specific concerns—I understand them—about interference with the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government, particularly if the strict letter of some of the recommendations on an international convention or the embedding of forces inside sovereign Iraqi forces were to be misunderstood. Discussions with the Iraqi Government will continue, and in the fullness of time they will come to a considered response, as we are duty bound to do with them.

We agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the approach to Iraq needs to be set firmly in the context of a broader middle east strategy that has to take account of the Palestinian-Israeli situation, which is at the heart of the motives for violence apparent in the region.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about the focus of the Prime Minister’s visit to the middle east. It will be a follow-up to his earlier visit, when he focused on energising the necessary momentum for talks that will hopefully lead to a stable peace in that part of the world. The Prime Minister has indicated his commitment to that and he is taking it forward.

As far as Syria is concerned, we said exactly what I reported—that it must make a constructive contribution to Iraq and must accept its responsibilities as a country that borders Iraq and as a country from which some of the violence and those who perpetrate it travel into Iraq. I have said nothing to the House that I have not said to Syria. To my knowledge, there have been no talks with Iran.

As far as our commitment to the training of Iraqi security forces is concerned, we are very pleased with the progress of the 10th division of the Iraqi army. One indication of how successful our training has been can be seen in the contribution of that division to Operation Sinbad.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that this morning one of the most important politicians in Iraq visited this House. His visit was advertised on the web and five Members of Parliament turned up, together with a large number of peers. If my colleagues are so interested in Iraq, I would have thought that they could have come to listen to al-Hakim, the leader of the Shi’a group in the Iraqi Parliament—the largest political group, representing the largest population group. He answered questions with great dignity and knowledge.

My right hon. Friend should not feel reluctant to come to the House, or guilty in any way, as he has been one of the most transparent Secretaries of State on the subject of Iraq since he took the job, and he is to be commended for that.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her contribution over many years—predating 2003, I might say—of fighting and campaigning for freedom for the Iraqi people, sometimes at significant personal risk. They have had no better champion for decades. She is right to point out the importance of talking to Iraqi politicians. Few of them get the opportunity to visit us in London and as parliamentarians we should take the opportunity to hear their views on the future of their country. His Eminence Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whom I will meet later today, is the head of the United Iraqi Alliance and a very significant player in Iraqi politics. He personally has made a significant contribution to freedom in his country and his family suffered extensive violence at the hands of Saddam Hussein. He has lost more than 20 members of his immediate family to that violence, including his brother, who was also a leader of the same organisation. It would behove us to pay some respect to such people, who have views to which we should listen.

The House will be immensely grateful to the Secretary of State for coming here today, but as the shadow Foreign Secretary has said, most folk will find it extraordinary that nearly a week after the publication of the Iraq Study Group report in the United States the Prime Minister has still not come to the House to make a full statement. That is particularly true given—as has been pointed out—that he was quick enough to fly across the Atlantic to address the American media. I understand that he has also done a presentation for the British media this afternoon.

Like the Secretary of State, I pay tribute to our armed forces who have suffered a great deal in Iraq in the past few years. However, surely Secretary Baker’s report has stripped any remaining grounds for complacency about the situation in Iraq. We could ask why no similar exercise has been carried out on behalf of this country. As the report states, violence is increasing and the situation is worsening. The report states explicitly:

“Making no changes in policy would simply delay the day of reckoning at high cost”.

In the light of that report and the Prime Minister’s discussions, is the Secretary of State saying that there has been no change at all in the British strategy for Iraq?

Given President Bush’s obvious doubts about the need for a broader middle east peace process, in what ways are the Americans supporting the Prime Minister’s solo efforts in the region? When President Bush says that there will be a new statement on Iraq policy before Christmas, I—like the shadow Foreign Secretary—urge that we have a similar statement in the UK and a debate as early as possible. It is surely the case now that Britain has to have its own strategy for dealing with Iraq that will lead to a phased withdrawal of British armed forces sooner rather than later.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will, of course, be here tomorrow to answer questions at the Dispatch Box. It will be interesting to see just how many questions relate to this pressing issue. The complexity of the Iraq Study Group report will no doubt emerge in the questions that I will be asked. The report makes more than 79 recommendations.

Many of the recommendations relating to the area in which we have particular security responsibility are entirely in line with the strategic approach that we have adopted for some years. The report recommends to the US Administration that there ought to be a change of policy, and the hon. Gentleman suggests that that means that it is recommending the same thing to the British Government. I have gone to some lengths, both here in the House and outside it, to set out our strategy and policy in Iraq. The hon. Gentleman thinks that policy changes need to be made because of the ISG report: I should be grateful if, in the questions that he puts to me as I stand at the Dispatch Box, he would outline what he thinks that they should be.

The hon. Gentleman asked about a debate on this matter. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will make an announcement about that on Thursday.

I also welcome today’s opportunity to discuss this report, and add my voice to the call for a full debate in this House in the near future. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was right to say that the situation in Iraq is difficult, but does he agree that it would be ridiculous of the British Government to change their policy just because a US study group has made certain recommendations? The US Government have not even given their response to those recommendations yet. In any case, surely it is this Government—and this Parliament—who should determine the policy of the British people in respect of Iraq. It should not be determined by people in any other country, however eminent they are.

We continue to study the report, which is complex and substantial. It is a welcome piece of work, because it adds to the debate and to our consideration of these matters at an important period. We had discussions with the study group before the report was published, and found that its members’ thinking was broadly in line with our own. Clearly, we need to read and digest the report’s formal recommendations, and we are doing so. However, as I said earlier, it is not obvious to me, in so far as they relate to the area for which we have specific responsibility, that those recommendations demand a change in strategy or policy on our part.

Does the Secretary of State agree with Secretary of State James Baker, who said that his report’s conclusions could not be cherry-picked?

It is not for me to agree or disagree with assertions made by the author of the report. However, the report was not written by policy makers: it was written by people who make policy recommendations to the policy makers. The group must hold consultations and discussions with the US Administration and their advisers to determine what policy changes, if any, there need to be as a result of the ISG’s fresh look at the situation in Iraq.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that public support for the policy on Iraq is draining away simply because the elected Government there—and there is no question but that they are elected—seem totally impotent to stop the daily mass slaughter of totally innocent people? It is clear that the occupation troops in Baghdad cannot prevent that slaughter either, so does he agree that, in those circumstances, the loss of public support is hardly surprising?

If my hon. Friend is correct in what he says about the perception of what is happening in Iraq, the loss of public support is not surprising. An earlier question referred to the visit to the UK of a prominent Iraqi politician. That visit has given people here an opportunity to gauge the views of people in that country and to see whether the assessment given by my hon. Friend is correct. However, I remind him that the Iraqi Government have been in power for a few months only, in circumstances that are as difficult and demanding for a new Government as anyone could imagine. It is therefore very unfair to judge them against standards that we impose from many hundreds if not thousands of miles away.

There is compelling evidence in Iraq that, through central and local government, the country can run its own affairs. In 14 out of the 18 provinces, where 60 per cent. of the people live, there is relative stability and comparatively little violence. The murder rates in some of those areas are lower than those in many European countries.

We have to recognise that there is appalling violence in Baghdad and other parts of the country and that it has to be addressed, but rather than blaming the people who have to deal with that in a very difficult political situation, sometimes some people in this country should put the blame where it lies: on the internal insurgency and on the interference from other countries to stir up that insurgency.

Baghdad may not be the whole of Iraq, but 25 per cent. of the population live there. In the other four provinces, 40 per cent. of the population are in the area of the highest insurgency. Does the Secretary of State accept that there is something improper and insensitive about the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm to give evidence to an all-party congressional body appointed to make recommendations on the future of Iraq and his unwillingness to appoint any similar all-party group to advise the British Government or to seek any advice from outwith his own ranks on what is a disaster for British foreign policy?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that I respect his forensic analysis. I do not think that the two points that he makes are connected in the way that he says they are. He is correct to point out that 40 per cent. of the people of Iraq live in the areas of the worst violence. However, he also has to recognise that there is another part to that equation: 60 per cent. of the people of Iraq do not live in those areas. They enjoy substantially the freedoms that we have won for them and are released from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. That is a very important positive.

So far as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s position is concerned, he stands at the Dispatch Box every week, and sometimes more frequently than that, and is able to be questioned by hon. Members. The fact that another Administration appointed a committee to advise them in relation to their policy does not necessarily mean that we have to do exactly the same, particularly when there is no evidence that our strategic approach or our policy in relation to Iraq—particularly the part that we have responsibility for—is failing.

Did I understand my right hon. Friend correctly? Does he regard the Iraq Study Group as having absolutely no recommendations that could apply to the areas of British responsibility in Iraq? If the President of the United States accepts those recommendations in total, does that mean that the British Government will oppose that change in the strategy in Iraq? Is it not infinitely easier for a leading Iraqi politician to travel half way across the world to speak to British politicians than it is for him or her to travel in their own country to speak to their own constituents?

I do not necessarily accept my hon. Friend’s last point, because I know of a number of Iraqi politicians who travel extensively—some of them, I accept, bravely—in their own country, consulting and discussing matters with their constituents so that they can properly represent them in the Parliament or house of representatives that they sit in. The meat of her contribution suggested that I was saying that there was nothing in the Iraq Study Group report for the British. That is entirely the opposite of what I was saying. I welcomed the report. Clearly, to the extent that it is consistent with the policy and the strategy that we already have, I welcome it even more. It makes some welcome recommendations and sets in the context of the broader middle east, in particular, the importance of the resolution of the challenges that we face in Iraq. When the US Administration get to the end of their process of considering the recommendations, I do not envisage being in a position where I think that their position has to be disowned or condemned. We will do this together, because we are both members of the same coalition, and we will also do it with the Iraqi Government.

In view of what the Secretary of State said about the contribution of the Iraqi 10th Division to Operation Sinbad, what does he think about the proposal to transfer control of the Iraqi police to the Ministry of Defence?

I greatly respect the right hon. Gentleman’s views on these matters because I know that he has studied them, not only in his capacity as Chair of the Select Committee but otherwise—and I have to say to him that that is superficially attractive because it appears to be a practical solution. However, transferring the police to the control of the Ministry of Defence, against the background of the repression that there has been in Iraq, might, in the long term, be the wrong thing to do. I would have to consider long and hard whether doing such a thing would serve the long-term interests of the Iraqi people’s democratic future.

In his response to the urgent question, the Secretary of State mentioned the region. Has he considered the impact that there would be on neighbouring friendly states such as Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates if there were an untimely withdrawal from southern Iraq before the four provinces and the cities had been handed over to a democratically elected Iraqi Government?

We keep in close touch with the Governments of all those countries, who are consistently a moderating influence on policy in the middle east. As my hon. Friend points out, they face their own challenges and have fears about the possible disintegration of Iraq and the effect that that would have on their security. Because we keep in touch with those Governments, we will ensure that when the broader middle east strategic approach to the resolution of Iraqi issues is determined, we will take their views into account.

Does the Minister accept that as there is no British equivalent of the Iraq Study Group, that the—[Hon. Members: “Prompt!”] Does he accept that his use of the word “premature” in reply to earlier questions, suggesting that it would be premature to consider this before the American Government have made their decision, rather reinforces the idea that it is not just the Prime Minister who looks like a glove puppet of President Bush, but the entire Cabinet?

It might have been better for the hon. Gentleman if he had continued to forget the question that he was about to ask—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House reminds me that the Iraq Study Group was commissioned in the first place by two independent non-governmental organisations, or think-tanks. If the House now thinks that that is the way in which policy ought to be developed in this country, one must wonder to whom accountability would be handed. I got lost in the hon. Gentleman’s question to some degree, as he did himself—but instinctively, I do not agree with him.

Will the Secretary of State explain quite simply to an increasingly sceptical public why he is opposed to the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry that could take wide-ranging evidence on the policies relating to Iraq, the aftermath of the invasion and what we are going to do about getting the troops out?

The view that I took when that request was made initially was reinforced by the decision of the House not to hold such an inquiry. I share the view of the House of Commons that there should not be such an inquiry. In my view, the House was persuaded that a retrospective inquiry would undermine our troops who are deployed at present—those in south-east Iraq, especially, and also those in other parts of Iraq, who are doing very good work. It would be entirely inappropriate to give instructions that there should be such an inquiry at this stage. There might be a time for inquiries, and we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that those of us who opposed the war from the outset on the grounds that it was illegal, unnecessary, dangerous and contrary to our national interests find it deplorable that the Prime Minister has not yet come to the House to answer the searing indictment of his policies that is contained in the report of the Iraq Study Group? Will the Secretary of State tell his right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that they are responsible for having got us into this mess, and that it is their business to account to the House for that?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes himself clear. I do not agree with him, but I am sure that his consistent observations on the issue have been heard by the very people by whom he wishes them to be heard. In my view there is no searing indictment of our policy on Iraq, and certainly not in the ISG report, which does not come into that category.

Is the Secretary of State aware that I do not need any so-called parliamentary experts to tell me over and over again what my position is? I did not support the war at the beginning, and I do not support it now—and I do not need any high and mighty politicians to tell me that. Get the troops out as quickly as you can.

My hon. Friend has, on this issue, the merit of consistency—and not all people who comment on it can claim that. I have said on more than one occasion—I repeat it now at the Dispatch Box—that it is not my intention to keep one British serviceman in Iraq any longer than is necessary. However, we have a commitment not only to the Government of Iraq but to the people of Iraq. We will not keep our troops in Iraq any longer than is absolutely necessary, and we would not keep them there one moment longer if we believed that they were no longer making a positive contribution to a democratic Iraq, in which people have the opportunity to enjoy economic prospects, in a way that was denied to them by the tyranny of the regime that previously ran the country.

A principal conclusion of the Iraq Study Group is that

“If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government.”

What is the British Government’s view of that recommendation?

The British Government’s view of that recommendation, at present, is that we should look at and consider it, together with a number of the other recommendations. I should just say to the hon. Gentleman that when we assess the performance of the Iraqi Government, we have to take into account the circumstances in which they currently operate, other countries’ interference in Iraq’s internal affairs—interference that is particularly designed to destabilise that Government—and the challenges that that Government face. We should also take into account the fact that in many aspects, the Iraqi Government are working well. There are Ministries that are working well; an example is the Ministry of Water Resources, which has made a massive contribution to improving the conditions for the people in Iraq. The recommendation is much more complex than would appear from a simple reading of two or three lines of it, but it is one that we will take into account.

My right hon. Friend mentioned that other countries were stirring up the insurgency. I do not know which countries he had in mind, but at a meeting this morning, Mr. al-Hakim said, if I understood him correctly, that the Iranian Government were helping the Iraqi Government in chasing the terrorists. He also said that the terrorists had better equipment than the Iraqi army, implying that something ought to be done to equip that army better. Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on those views?

I shall see Abdul Aziz al-Hakim later today, and no doubt I shall have the opportunity to explore those issues with him. I shall do that, rather than comment on an edited version of what he may have said, although I accept that my hon. Friend reports him accurately. I do not agree with his view that Iran is making a positive contribution in Iraq. I believe that Iran poses a strategic threat to the whole region, that it is interfering in the internal affairs of a number of countries in the region, including Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq, and that it is doing so in a way that is destructive and dangerous. That is a view, I have to say, that is shared by many of the moderate countries of the region.

Given the Minister’s extremely robust response to his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones), and given that Iran has threatened to wipe another country from the face of the earth, will the Government rule out any deal with Iran that, in return for Iran helping to stop the violence in Iraq, would involve some sort of acceptance of the Iranian nuclear enrichment programme?

One of the observations or conclusions of the Iraq Study Group with which I agree is that those two issues are quite separate, and should not be traded, as the hon. Gentleman accepted—indeed, he suggested that that should be ruled out. Hon. Members will accept, however, that whatever our view of Iran, it will not go away. Iran and Iraq will be neighbours for ever, as they are locked together by geography and history, and that must be accommodated. At the end of the day, the ability of a sovereign Iraqi Government to reach an agreement with Iran will mean that Iran will not interfere and can play a positive role in the future of Iraq. That will ensure that Iran does what it needs to do in the region, and that is what we will focus on.

My right hon. Friend should be commended on his measured approach to this complex and difficult issue. He stated that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the motive for those perpetuating violence, but does he not agree that those very groups have been implacably opposed to a two-state solution to that conflict, and that those perpetuators of violence remain opposed to a solution of that difficulty?

I thank my hon. Friend for her support. I knew that there was a “but” coming, but it is not too difficult to deal with, as I agree with her analysis that the two-state solution is the way forward. It is only by accepting such a solution that we will achieve productive and progressive talks. That view is shared by both the United Kingdom and the US Government.

May I return to the role of the Prime Minister? The situation in Iraq is deteriorating, violence is increasing, the ISG is at odds with the Iraqi Government, and our own generals appear to contradict certain aspects of Government policy on Iraq. Given that the last time the House had a full proper debate on the future of Iraq was in 2004—although the Prime Minister appears willing to talk to everyone else—will the Minister explain precisely why his right hon. Friend seems unwilling to come to the Chamber and lead such a debate? It was the Prime Minister who led us to war, so why is he hiding?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister cannot be accused of hiding, as he has been willing to answer questions at the Dispatch Box on a range of policies more often than any of his predecessors. The issue on which the hon. Gentleman seeks a debate was recently debated in the context of the Queen’s Speech. In his preamble, he suggested why it may not be convenient to hold a debate at the drop of a hat every time something happens. Sometimes, mature reflection on developments rather than reacting to those developments leads to better debate. The hon. Gentleman said that the ISG was at odds with the Iraqi Government, but I do not think that that is the case. I entirely respect the observations of the Iraqi President, which were understandable, but the process of discussing recommendations and policy has not yet been gone through.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments on the activities of the military forces in Iraq and the plans that affect their future, but will he briefly explain what the Government intend to do to support the Iraqi Government in the execution of their civic duty and those democratic initiatives that will require substantial support if they are to be maintained?

As I said at the beginning of my statement, I have always said that we can provide an important military component in the security of Iraq, but military means will not solve Iraq’s problems. We need to develop governance and exploit economic opportunities on the basis of the security that we can provide. I speak at the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Government, but principally as the Secretary of State for Defence. The Foreign Office, the Department for International Development, and, indeed, other Government Departments, have worked appropriately with elements of the Iraqi Government, at both national and regional level, to ensure that their capacity and capability are developed to do exactly what my hon. Friend knows is necessary to build up democratic and Government institutions.

To those who think that that country is disintegrating, may I say that its democratic institutions and its Government departments may not be perfect—they are working in very difficult circumstances—but they are all functioning. Some of them are not functioning very well and some are severely challenged, but they are all functioning. That is a long way away from, for example, challenges that we have faced in other areas where we have tried to bring countries out of conflict and have succeeded.

Many would argue that disbanding the Iraqi army and the police was one of the biggest mistakes of the post-Iraqi conflict and has led to sectarian violence and so many deaths, yet this weekend we learned that the former Defence Secretary tried to persuade the Americans to do exactly the opposite. Will the Secretary of State comment on that decision? Does he agree that it illustrates why we need a review of what happened in the Iraq war so that we can learn from what happened, both good and bad?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the disbanding of the Iraqi police was principally a function of the de-Ba’athification of Iraq. That was at the heart of the repression of the Iraqi people and is an issue that they will have to address because, like the geography of the area, the people who live in that country will not go away, and they will have to learn to co-exist. As for the Iraqi army, my recollection is that it disbanded itself.

Given the horrific situation in some parts of Iraq, is it not vital that we send out a clear message that we will not suddenly give up on the people of Iraq? In the light of that, is it not important not only to provide training in Iraq for Iraqi forces now, but to make a long-term British commitment to train a large number of Iraqi officers in the UK at Sandhurst or at Shrivenham, alongside British troops, so that there is a long-term investment in that country into the future?

At the end of the day, as the House will accept, we will respond appropriately to requests for such support, but those requests need to come from the Iraqis. Interestingly, there are at present Iraqi officers doing just what my hon. Friend suggests—training in our defence colleges and with our troops, here in the United Kingdom. He is right to suggest that there is a desire in the Iraqi army and among its senior officers for that training for their army. I can tell him that we are well placed to give them that support if they want it.