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Volume 459: debated on Tuesday 1 May 2007

2. What her estimate is of the number of (a) people who have left Iraq since the invasion and (b) Iraqis who are internally displaced; and if she will make a statement. (134732)

I am sure that the House will join me in expressing condolences to the family of Rifleman Paul Donnachie of 2nd Battalion The Rifles, who was tragically killed in Iraq last Sunday. Rifleman Donnachie was killed by small arms fire during a routine patrol in Basra city while he and other members of his patrol were escorting a police training team.

United Nations agencies estimate that there are some 1.9 million Iraqis displaced internally, and up to 2 million refugees in neighbouring states. Many of those now in neighbouring states left Iraq before 2003, and there are no accurate figures on how many have joined them since then. However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that currently 10,000 people are leaving their homes every week, many of them crossing into neighbouring countries.

Does the Minister agree that the almost 2 million refugees who have fled Iraq since the war are, to a large extent, members of the professional and business classes in Iraq—the very people who are required if Iraq is ever to enjoy proper civil reconstruction? Given that nearly 2 million have fled as refugees, that a further 2 million are internally displaced and that hundreds of thousands have been either killed or injured—including, sadly, further British soldiers—does the Minister still argue that the British Government’s policy has contributed to progress and stability in the region? Has not Iraq in fact been transformed from a rogue state under Saddam Hussein to a failed state, with appalling consequences for its own people and for the region as a whole?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes some very good points, but I remind him that, before the invasion, Iraq was run by a fascist dictator who tortured people readily and murdered hundreds of thousands of people, not just Kurds but fellow Arabs, and that many people had already left the country. This is not a comment on the right hon. and learned Gentleman or his question, but it seems to me that the silence that existed before the invasion of Iraq about the behaviour of Saddam Hussein is in stark contrast to the sudden interest and the protests about Iraq now.

It is two years since the Iraqi Government seized the assets of the Iraqi trade unions, three months since three raids were carried out on the offices of the trade unions by US troops and a month since the leader of the mechanics union in Iraq was assassinated after being tortured. Will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives of the trade unions in Iraq to try to find a way forward, because at the moment our policy towards the trade unions in Iraq is not working?

I disagree with my hon. Friend. Our policy towards trade unions has been very supportive because they are a key part of civil society and are building the new society in Iraq. We must ensure that the sectarians who are killing trade unionists and those who for their own reasons are opposing democratic trade unionism in Iraq, are opposed. They are opposed regularly by the British Government and by our diplomats in Iraq.

Does the Minister agree that there has been excellent progress socially, economically and politically in the other Iraq—Iraqi Kurdistan? Does he also agree that, in order to maintain that progress and to guarantee the stability of populations and the return of internally displaced persons, the Kirkuk referendum must go forward later this year, without any interference, either internal or external, or delay?

The British Government certainly have no intention of interfering in any way in the referendum on the future of Kirkuk. I know that the hon. Gentleman is very interested in the Kurdish-administered part of Iraq and that he wants the referendum to go ahead. So do the British Government, but we want to ensure that that referendum is carried out properly and in a clear fashion, and that it is as inclusive as possible. As he knows, many allegations have been made about gerrymandering and the rest of it, so the referendum has to be seen to be as clean as possible. This is potentially a volatile area and we have already seen some jihadists and insurrectionists moving out of Baghdad to Kirkuk and murdering people with their suicide bombers. It is an important issue. We will do all that we can to ensure that the referendum is properly conducted and benefits the people of the Kurdish north and the people of Iraq in general.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the information that has been sought by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) is exactly the propaganda information that the insurgents in Iraq are seeking? Will my hon. Friend confirm that those killed or displaced in Iraq are not being killed or displaced by allied forces?

That is an important point. Sometimes it seems as if we are killing those tens of thousands of people. They are being killed by sectarians: there are Sunni on Shi’a murders, and Shi’a on Sunni murders. Sometimes the murders are committed in Basra by criminal gangs, who are making millions out of smuggling petroleum products. My hon. Friend is right to highlight that. The British armed forces in Iraq are trying their best to make that country a much more stable and prosperous place than it is now. I believe that they will succeed when the Iraqis themselves have the will to take on that fight to provide the security that their people need. That is why we are helping, in very difficult circumstances, to train Iraqi policemen and soldiers.

Following on from what has been said about the tens of thousands of people who are now leaving Iraq and the internal conflict there, what prospect does the Minister think there is of the Iraqi Government hanging together in the near future given the enormous strains that are now on both Sunni and Shi’a members of that Government? What pressure can the British Government bring to bear on the Iraqi Government to take this matter forward? If it is not taken forward, there will be a complete collapse of political credibility in Iraq.

The hon. Gentleman is right: this is about political credibility and national reconciliation, and about how that Government can become more inclusive—how they can represent not only Shi’as but Sunnis, and also Assyrian Christians, Kurds and everyone else who makes up that huge nation. I believe that that can be done. In the constitutional review that is under way in Iraq there will have to be imaginative thinking about, perhaps, forms of devolution and about trying to understand how it might be possible to reconcile the different pressures that there are in Iraq at present. That can be done, and in recent weeks Prime Minister Maliki has expressed a desire to do just that—to make the Iraqi Government a more inclusive Government who reach out to encompass all parts of society.