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Iraq: Policy Co-ordination

Volume 688: debated on Tuesday 16 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps are being taken to co-ordinate United Kingdom and United States foreign policy in the light of the United States’ decision to increase troop levels in Iraq.

My Lords, we consult closely and continuously at all levels with the United States in Washington and Baghdad on Iraq, on civilian and military channels. As my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary said on 11 January, United States plans are entirely consistent with our objectives and activities in MND South-East. The British and United States Governments have regular discussions on a broad range of international issues on a bilateral and multilateral basis and at ministerial and official level.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but the Iraq Study Group had two main recommendations: first, that the United States should open dialogue with Syria and Iran and, secondly, that it should start the draw-down on the number of troops in Iraq. President Bush has made it clear that he is not prepared to talk to Syria or Iran and, rather than decreasing the number of troops, he wants to increase them by more than 20,000. There is therefore an argument and President Bush and the Iraq Study Group stand on diametrically opposite sides of it. However, the Prime Minister said that he was in support of the Iraq Study Group proposals—and now the Government say that they are supporting President Bush. How is it possible to be on both sides of the argument at the same time?

My Lords, to start with the last point, it is clear from the range of studies that President Bush has consulted that he has taken elements from a number of them, including elements from the Iraq Study Group—for helping Iraqi capabilities, rebuilding them, reconstruction and increasing the number of embedded troops. There is no difficultly across a range of proposals.

On Iran and Syria, it is true that we have had a far greater engagement, particularly with Iran and to some extent with Syria. But I was pleased to note that Condoleezza Rice recently made it plain that if there could be some advances with the nuclear portfolio with Iran, she would be prepared to meet them—I hope I quote her reasonably accurately—

“any place, any time, anywhere”.

My Lords, could the Government draw the attention of the American authorities to the presence of, roughly speaking, 1 million refugees from Iraq in Jordan and Syria? They are unable to work or get any support and do not even have refugee status. Does that not clearly indicate the need for a regional approach to all these problems?

My Lords, there is a need for a regional approach to secure any kind of enduring peace agreement throughout that part of the Middle East, including on the nuclear portfolio to which I referred. As a matter of fact, we are routinely in discussion on the question of the numbers of refugees in other countries. There is nothing that you can obviously do about that in the short term—and I have to tell the House that this country will not suddenly change its policies so that it becomes relatively easier for people to travel across the world to this country.

My Lords, while it is possible to conceive, as the Minister suggested, that we could separate the strategies between the MND South-East and those of the Americans in the north, that is true for the land component only. The air component operates over the whole of Iraq. Will the Minister look at the instructions given to British Tornado pilots and UK operators of American Predator drones, given the new more permissive rules of engagement that the Americans intend to introduce?

My Lords, I shall ensure that the impact of that question is in front of the MoD Ministers, but I believe that they are considering precisely the points that the noble Lord rightly asks that they should consider. I just add that there are distinctive differences between the additional troop deployments in Baghdad and the position that we face in Basra. The reality in Baghdad has been that American operations, together with Iraqis, have often driven insurgents out of areas; those who have gone into the areas to secure them then leave, the insurgents come back and we are back at the point at which we started. Plainly, in everybody’s view, that was never a sensible way in which to achieve any kind of security in those areas.

My Lords, further to what the Minister has just said, if there is a heavier concentration of American troops in Baghdad, is it not very likely that our troops in Basra will come under fresh attack? Are we prepared for that eventuality when we hear of the intention to withdraw our troops from there?

My Lords, there has been—I do not say this as a figure of speech—a great deal of contingency planning for every kind of eventuality. I believe that a greater concentration of attacks on our troops in the south is not particularly likely. The conditions and the demographic make-up of the populations are so fundamentally different that that is, with respect, really not the issue.

My Lords, could we clarify one very important issue of British policy? Has the Minister noted that Secretary Rice and, indeed, the president, have announced a new approach, attitude and policy towards Iran in that they will chase up militarily much more vigorously the various Iranian-controlled networks in Iraq generally, increase financial sanctions against Iran and, indeed, blockade Iranian ports? That is the new American policy. Is it our policy as well in Basra and wherever we are in Iraq, or is it not? Could we be clear about that?

My Lords, in the areas for which we are responsible we have made it clear that we will do absolutely everything necessary to deal with the terrorism and the attacks that take place. If those attacks come from Iranian sources, we will deal with them. The nature of the weapons and their targeting indicate that there have been interventions of that kind, but whatever the sources of the attacks, whether they are Iranian, Shia or, further north, from Sunni insurgents, they will be dealt with as insurgents.