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Iraq and the Middle East

Volume 689: debated on Wednesday 21 February 2007

My Lords, I would like to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a Statement on recent developments in Iraq and across the Middle East.

“Saddam Hussein was removed from power in May 2003. In June 2004, the UNSC passed a resolution setting out the support of the international community for the incoming Interim Government of Iraq, for a political process leading to full democratic elections overseen by the UN itself and for Iraq’s reconstruction and development after decades of oppression and impoverishment under Saddam’s dictatorship.

“In January 2005, the first elections were held for a Transitional National Assembly. Seven million people voted. A new constitution was agreed. In December 2005, full parliamentary elections were held. Twelve million Iraqis voted and in May 2006 the first fully elected Government of Iraq were formed. They were expressly non-sectarian, including all the main elements of Iraqi society—Shia, Sunni and Kurdish. Throughout, there has been full UN backing for the political process and now for the Government of Prime Minister Maliki.

“Successive UN resolutions have given explicit approval for the presence of the multinational force. The political process has thus continued through these years. For example, as we speak, the Iraqi Parliament is awaiting: the report on amending the constitution from its constitutional review committee; a draft law on de-Ba’athification, relaxing some of the restrictions on former Ba’ath Party members; and the new hydrocarbon legislation, which will attempt to spread fairly and evenly the proceeds of Iraq’s considerable oil wealth.

“However, the political process, the reconstruction, the reconciliation and everything that the UN has set out as the will of the international community and for which Iraqis have voted has been thwarted or put at risk by the violence and terrorism that have beset the country and its people. From the appalling terrorist outrage in August 2003, which killed the UN Special Representative and many of his colleagues, to this day, Iraq—and Baghdad in particular—has been subject to a sickening level of carnage, some aimed at the multinational force but much aimed deliberately to provoke a sectarian struggle between Sunni and Shia. The bombing of the shrine at Samarra in February 2006 was designed precisely to provoke Shia death squads to retaliate against Sunni.

“The violence comes from different sources. Some of it originates from former Saddamists and some from Sunnis who are worried that they will be excluded from the political future of Iraq. Much of the so-called ‘spectacular’ suicide bombings are the work of al-Qaeda, whose grisly presence in Iraq since 2002 has been part of its wider battle with the forces of progress across the world. Now Shia militant groups such as Jaish al-Mahdi—JAM—are responsible for the abduction and execution of innocent Sunni. These groups have different aims and different ideologies but one common purpose: to prevent Iraq’s democracy from working.

“Throughout all the wretched and inexcusable bloodshed, one hope remains. Talk to anyone in Iraq of whatever denomination, whether Iraqi or part of the multinational force, whether civilian or military, and they all say the same thing: the majority of Iraqis do not want it to be like this. They voted despite the violence. They know its purpose and its effect and they hate both.

“There can be legitimate debate about what was right and what was wrong in respect of the original decision to remove Saddam. There can be no debate about the rights and wrongs of what is happening in Iraq today. The desire for democracy is good. The attempt to destroy it through terrorism is evil. Unfortunately that is not the question. The question is not should we, but can we defeat this evil; do we have a plan to succeed?

“Since the outset, our plan, agreed by Iraq and the United Nations, has been to build up Iraqi capability in order to let Iraqis take control of their own destiny. As they would step up, we would, increasingly, step back. For three years, therefore, we have been working to create, train and equip Iraqi security forces capable of taking on the security of the country themselves. In normal circumstances, the progress would be considered remarkable. There are now 10 divisions of the Iraqi army, with over 130,000 soldiers who are able, in significant parts of the country, to provide order. There are 135,000 in the Iraqi police service. There the progress has been more constrained and is frequently hampered by corruption and sectarianism but, none the less, in normal circumstances it would, again, be considered a remarkable effort. The plan of General Petraeus—then an army commander in Iraq and now the head of the coalition forces there—which was conceived in 2004, has in its essential respects been put in place.

“But these are not normal circumstances. The Iraqi forces have often proved valiant, but the various forces against them have also redoubled their efforts. In particular, in and around Baghdad, where 80 to 90 per cent of the violence is centred, they have engaged in a systematic attempt to bring the city to chaos. It is the capital of Iraq. Its strategic importance is fundamental. There has been an orgy of terrorism unleashed upon it in order to crush any possibility of it functioning.

“It does not much matter if elsewhere in Iraq—not least in Basra—change is happening. If Baghdad cannot be secured, the future of the country is in peril. The enemies of Iraq understand that. We understand it. So, last year, in concert with our allies and the Iraqi Government, a new plan was formulated, and promulgated by President Bush in January of this year. The purpose is unchanged. There can be only one purpose in Iraq: to support the Government and people of the country to attain the necessary capability to run their own affairs as a sovereign, independent state. But the means of achieving the purpose were adjusted to meet the changing nature of the threat. The Baker-Hamilton report, to which I pay tribute, also informed the strategy.

“There are three elements to the plan. First, there is the Baghdad security initiative, drawn up by Prime Minister Maliki and currently under way. It aims, as the operation in Basra has done, to take the city, district by district, to drive out the extremists, to put the legitimate Iraqi forces in charge and then to make it fit for development, with a special fund in place able to deliver rapid improvement. It began last Tuesday. It is far too early to tell its results, although early indications are more promising than what was tried, unsuccessfully, some months back. In particular, there is no doubt of its welcome among ordinary people in Baghdad.

“The second part of the plan is a massive effort to gear up the capability of the Iraqi forces and to plug any gaps in command, logistics, training and equipment. Thirdly, there is a new and far more focused effort on reconciliation, reconstruction and development. There are now talks between Iraqi officials and both Sunni and Shia elements that have been engaged in fighting. It is again too early to draw conclusions, but this is being given a wholly different priority within the Iraqi Government and by the multinational force.

“In addition, there have been changes made by Prime Minister Maliki—to whose leadership I pay tribute—to the way in which economic development and reconstruction moneys are administered within the Iraqi Government, with Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh being given specific responsibility. This will allow the disbursement of funds to be made and will allow, in Baghdad and elsewhere, development and reconstruction to follow closely on the heels of improved security.

“The objective of all this is to show the terrorists that they cannot win; to show those who can be reconciled that they have a place in the new Iraq; and to show the Iraqi people that, however long it takes, the legitimate Iraqi Government, whom they elected and whom the international community supports, will prevail.

“The aim of the additional US forces announced by President Bush is precisely to demonstrate that determination. If the plan succeeds, then, of course, the requirement for the multinational force reduces, including in Baghdad. It is important to show, and particularly to show the Iraqi people, that we do not desire our forces to remain any longer than they are needed; but, while they are needed, we will be at their side.

“In this context, what is happening in Basra is of huge importance. Over the past months, we have been conducting an operation in Basra, with the 10th Division of the Iraqi army, to reach the stage where Basra can be secured by the Iraqis themselves.

“The situation in Basra is very different from that in Baghdad. There is no Sunni insurgency; there is no al-Qaeda base; there is little Shia on Sunni violence; and the bulk of the attacks are on the multinational force. It has never presented anything like the challenge of Baghdad. That said, British soldiers are under regular and often intense fire from extremist groups, notably elements of JAM. I would like, as I have often done in this House, to pay my profound respects to the British Armed Forces. Whatever views people have about Iraq, our forces are dedicated, professional, committed and brave beyond belief. This country can be immensely proud of them. We send again our wholehearted sympathy to the families of those who have fallen, and to the injured and their families.

“As a result of this operation in Basra, which is now complete, the Iraqi forces now have the primary role for security in most parts of the city. It is still a difficult and sometimes dangerous place, but many extremists have been arrested or left the city. The reported levels of murder and kidnapping are significantly down. Surveys of Basrawis, after the operations had been conducted, show a much greater sense of security. Reconstruction is now happening in schools and health centres—in fact, around 300 projects altogether.

“A few days ago, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh organised the Basra Development Forum. He announced a $200 million programme of development in infrastructure and public services. In addition, the international community—with Britain in the lead—has developed projects to increase power supply, put in place proper sewage systems and increased the supply of drinking water to thousands of homes. The plan to develop Basra port will be published later this year. The problems remain formidable, not least in providing work where, for decades, 50 per cent or more of the city has been unemployed.

“In an extraordinary development, the Marsh Arabs, driven from one of the world’s foremost ecological sites by Saddam, have been able to resettle there.

“What all this means is not that Basra is how we want it to be, but it does mean that the next chapter in Basra’s history can be written by Iraqis. I have discussed this with Prime Minister Maliki and our proposals have his full support and, indeed, represent his wishes.

“Already we have handed over prime responsibility for security to the Iraqi authorities in Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar. Now in Basra, over the coming months, we will transfer more of the responsibility directly to Iraqis. I should say that none of this will mean a diminution in our combat capability. The actual reduction in forces will be from the present 7,100—itself down from over 9,000 two years ago and 40,000 at the time of the conflict—to roughly 5,500. However, with the exception of forces that will remain at Basra Palace, the British forces will be located at Basra air base and will be in a support role. They will transfer Shaibah logistics base, the Old State Building and the Shaat Al’Arab Hotel to full Iraqi control.

“The British forces who remain in Iraq will have the following tasks: training and support to Iraqi forces; securing the Iraq/Iran border; and securing supply routes. Above all, they will have the ability to conduct operations against extremist groups and to be there in support of the Iraq army when called upon.

“Over time and depending naturally on progress and the capability of the ISF, we will be able to draw down further, possibly to below 5,000 once the Basra Palace site has been transferred to the Iraqis in late summer. We hope that Maysan province can be transferred to full Iraqi control in the next few months and Basra in the second half of the year. The UK military presence will continue into 2008, for as long as we are wanted and have a job to do. Increasingly, our role will be support and training, and our numbers will be able to reduce accordingly.

“Throughout the whole of this part of the south-east, the UK depends on the steadfastness of our coalition partners—Denmark, Australia, Romania, the Czech Republic and Lithuania. I pay tribute to them. I welcome the continuing Australian presence at Tallil in Dhi Qar province. We are keeping in close touch with our allies as the transition proceeds.

“The speed at which this happens depends, of course, in part on what we do, and what the Iraqi authorities themselves do. But it also depends on the attitude of those whom we are, together, fighting. Their claim to be fighting for the liberation of their country is a palpable lie. They know perfectly well that if they stopped the terror, agreed to let the United Nations democratic process work and allowed the natural talent and wealth of the country to emerge, Iraq would prosper. We would be able to leave. It is precisely their intent to eliminate such a possibility. In truth, this is part of a wider struggle taking place across the region. The Middle East is facing a struggle between the forces of progress and the forces of reaction.

“The same elements of extremism trying to submerge Iraq—or Afghanistan for that matter—are the same elements that across the region stand in the way of a different and better future. None of this absolves us from responsibility. In fact, for too long we believed that, provided regimes were ‘on our side’, what they did to their own people was their own business. We must never forget that Saddam inflicted 1 million casualties in the Iran/Iraq war and butchered hundreds of thousands of his citizens, including by chemical weapons attack, wiping out whole villages of people.

“We need now to recognise that the spread of greater freedom, democracy and justice to the region is the best guarantee of our future security as well as the region’s prosperity. That is why peace between Israel and Palestine is not an issue inhabiting a different domain of policy. It is a crucial part of the whole piece. I shall meet President Abbas later today, talk also to Prime Minister Olmert, and within the past 24 hours have had detailed discussions both with President Bush and Secretary Rice. I will once again today emphasise the importance of basing the proposed national unity Government on the principles of the quartet. I will also stress our complete and total determination to use the new opportunity to create the chance for peace.

“I have always been a supporter of the state of Israel. I will always remain so. But for the sake of Israel, as well as for all we want to achieve in the Middle East, we need a proper, well functioning, independent and viable state of Palestine. We should support all those across the region who are treading the path of progress: from the Government of Lebanon, whose Prime Minister courageously holds firm to democracy, to those countries—and there are many now in the region—that are taking the first fledgling steps to a different and more democratic governance.

“As for Iran and Syria, they should not be treated as if the same. There is recent evidence that Syria has realised the threat that al-Qaeda poses and is acting against it. But its intentions towards Iraq remain ambiguous and towards Lebanon hostile. The statements emanating from Iran are contradictory but, as the words yesterday of the head of the IAEA indicate, its nuclear weapons ambitions appear to continue. But both countries—though very different—have a clear choice: work with the international community or defy it. They can support peace in Palestine, democracy in Lebanon, the elected Government of Iraq, in which case they will find us willing to respond, or they can undermine every chance of progress, uniting with the worst and most violent elements, in which case they will become increasingly isolated, politically and economically.

“But what nobody should doubt is that, whatever the debates about tactics, the strategy must be clear: to bring about enduring change in the Middle East as an indispensable part of our own enduring security. The poisonous ideology that erupted after 9/11 has its roots there and is still nurtured and supported there. It has chosen Iraq as the battleground. Defeating it is essential—essential to Iraq, but also essential for us here in our own country. Self-evidently, the challenge is enormous. It is the purpose of our enemies to make it so, but our purpose in the face of their threat should be to stand up to them and to make it clear that, however arduous the challenge, the values that they represent will not win and the values that we represent will”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I am sure that we are all immensely grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this enormously full Statement of intention and roundup of the Middle East situation generally.

Obviously, it is welcome news that some of our brave troops are coming home. It will be particularly welcome to the families of those who are serving and have served there, and to the Armed Forces generally in their present state of chronic overstretch. It is equally obvious that the drawdown raises a set of vital questions, of which the first must be about the security and positioning of our remaining troops, for whom our admiration is unlimited. In the past three years since the invasion, the situation in Basra has declined tragically; since, if I may add a personal note, 2004 when my son served there and found a thoroughly co-operative and even friendly atmosphere. We are now told that after that serious decline, things are looking better again and that therefore troops can be removed.

We all hope and trust that that assessment is right, when so many assessments about Iraq have proved wrong. I trust that there is nothing artificial or wishful about the discovery of improvements in Basra which allow the withdrawal. I hope and trust that our troops left there will be able to carry out their new duties of supporting Iraqi army training, border supervision and securing supply routes with reasonable, although obviously not complete, safety. We would value assurances on that. Above all, I hope and trust—we all need reassurance on this—that our troops will be properly equipped and not left, in the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, yesterday, when addressing the Global Strategy Forum,

“at the end of their tether”,


“close to operational failure”,

through lack of the right equipment, sometimes even having to borrow superior kit from other forces such as, in one recent incident, the Estonian contingent.

Turning to the overall situation, which the Prime Minister covered, can the noble Baroness explain exactly how we see our plans fitting in with current American intentions? We had the Baker-Hamilton report in Washington the other day, which called for much more involvement with neighbours and other powers in coping with the Iraq situation and for the more intensive use of diplomacy on all fronts. We agree with that approach. Yet the next moment we had the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary applauding the US Administration’s decision not to follow that route but to send in 21,500 more troops to the Iraq maelstrom and to ignore the proposals for seeking closer linkages with neighbours such as Iran and Syria, as well as with other regional and world powers.

We recognise the difficulty of dealing with Iran when its leader makes such wild and aggressive statements and it is right that if Iran is encouraging mischief-making in Iraq, as it certainly has been, that should be sharply and effectively confronted. Today is the UN deadline for Iran to suspend its unauthorised uranium enrichment activities. Will the noble Baroness confirm that we continue to put diplomacy and negotiation first in engaging with Iran? Will she confirm the UK’s agreement reached last week with US Under-Secretary Burns, who took a very wise approach, that while using sanctions against Iran, the exit door should be kept open, everything done to keep contact with the people of Iran and diplomatic solutions sought?

Speaking of sanctions, the one sort that seems to work in putting pressure on the Iranian leadership is the financial sort imposed particularly through the American banking system. What steps have we taken on this side of the Atlantic to persuade the European Union membership to follow suit?

The Prime Minister also spoke of the Israel-Palestine situation, on which of course we all hope for progress, especially if Al Fatah and Hamas can sort out their differences. Are the Government still focusing, however, as much as I believe they should, on the critical situation in Lebanon, where Israeli, Iranian and Syrian pressures and ambitions all dangerously collide? Do the Government regret being quite so unequivocal in supporting the misguided Israeli strategy of smashing Lebanon to get at Hezbollah? What steps are we taking now to see that the legitimate Lebanese Government of Mr Siniora are not undermined by extremists and street violence, egged on by Iranian and Syrian resources, and carried through by the apparently undefeated Hezbollah movement?

The Prime Minister talks in his Statement of “an epochal struggle” in the Middle East. These generalisations sound good, but in fact there are numerous complex and different struggles in the region, which need to be understood and dealt with in a whole variety of ways, mixing hard-power and soft-power methods. We on this side supported the decision to overthrow Saddam—although we were given faulty intelligence on Iraq—but the string of errors since then confirms our view that subsequent events have not been well handled; that strategy has not been clear, steady, or well thought out; and that very serious mistakes and omissions have occurred in the shaping of Cabinet decisions and of government policy at the highest level.

That is why we think the time is coming for a full-scale inquiry into the conduct of the whole war operation. We note that in the USA several such inquiries are being held, uncovering new evidence, and going wider and deeper than the various reports we have been given, for example, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and others. We believe that we owe it to our brave Armed Forces, who are so dedicated and professional, to look frankly and honestly at the way in which things have gone wrong, so as to learn and apply the lessons swiftly. Your Lordships will debate this very issue tomorrow, when I hope this viewpoint will be endorsed and pressed home firmly.

The vision of a peaceful, prosperous, western-model, democratic Middle East is, frankly, today as far away as ever. Perhaps it was too naïve a vision in the first place. We should certainly fight for our values and our security—we should fight not with slogans, but with subtlety, experience, understanding and dexterity. These are the qualities that have been missing in government policy.

It is good that some of our brave troops should now be progressively withdrawn from a dire situation, in a dangerous region, which, frankly, will never be solved entirely by military force alone. It is bad, however, that there have been so many faults and impulsive errors along the way. The sooner we learn the full story, the full lessons from what has gone wrong, and how, even now, to help set it all on a more promising and constructive path, the better.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Lord President of the Council for repeating this Statement made by the Prime Minister, giving his personal résumé of the history of Iraq over the past four years. I am not a marcher by nature, but I took part in the march against the war. I have to say that the Iraq adventure has produced chaos on a grand scale. On these Benches, we have no regret for condemning the policy four years ago, and for condemning it as a blot which will never be erased from the Blair record or the Blair legacy. However, on the Prime Minister’s commitment to peace in Israel and Palestine, we fully support his commitment to establish a,

“well functioning, independent and viable state of Palestine”.

We hope that during his remaining months in office he will continue to give priority to an Israel-Palestine settlement.

On Iraq, however, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has indicated, there are many serious questions to be asked. How conditional is the timetable for withdrawal? The phrase,

“as long as they are needed”,

keeps recurring. Will not the reduction in numbers, while leaving the remaining forces with a considerable task, continue to lead to the danger of overstretch? Let me remind the House of those tasks: training and supporting the Iraqi forces; securing the Iraq/Iran border; and securing supply routes. Those are the tasks listed by the Prime Minister in his Statement.

I endorse the tributes paid by the Lord President and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, to our Armed Forces, but I still have in mind a speech made right at the beginning of this tragedy by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. On the eve of invasion he said he hoped that the politicians were as sure about how they were going to get out of Iraq as they were about how to get in. I fear that this Statement makes us no clearer on that point.

I want to raise a side issue. Last night I was at the Royal Television Society’s annual journalism awards ceremony. At the beginning they present a roll of honour of those reporters who have lost their lives during the previous year. It was chilling to note the number of journalists who have died in Iraq. This has been a war fought on our television screens and marks a contrast between what I can only say is the slightly rosy picture painted by the Prime Minister and the reality we see every night on our televisions. I have also watched the events at the other end of this place. When Sir Menzies Campbell called for a phased and timed withdrawal, he was hooted and howled at by the Labour Back-Benchers, and yet now the Prime Minister seems to be announcing his own phased and timed withdrawal. The Prime Minister pays tribute to the Baker-Hamilton report, but surely that report has to be taken as a whole and should not be cherry-picked. How you can pay tribute to that report while in the same breath pledge full support to the Bush surge just seems to defy reason.

I want to ask the Lord President about something that comes within her own particular area of expertise. The Prime Minister has spoken of a new and far more focused effort on reconciliation, reconstruction and development. Will DfID’s strategy and responsibilities in Iraq be changed by today’s announcement? Is there any intention to increase aid to Iraq on the reconstruction side to match the military withdrawal? It would be interesting to know the position on this. On the call for a full public inquiry, of course I endorse it and I am glad that we now have the support of the Conservatives. I note also that of the seven candidates for the Deputy Leadership, questioned in the Guardian today, two are now calling for a public inquiry. I wonder whether the Lord President agrees with them or with the three who said that they were too busy to answer the question.

We share the concerns expressed about policy towards Syria and Iran, and wonder whether there are any further Government initiatives towards either country. In the past, with the Prime Minister in Syria and the Foreign Secretary in Iran, they have taken to direct diplomacy, and we certainly urge the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about soft diplomacy. We continue to worry that talk still comes out of the United States that part of the final Bush legacy might be a direct attack on Iran. However, the real worry is that this Statement is not a strategy, it is a wing and a prayer, often at odds with the reality we see each evening on our television screens.

My Lords, I will try to respond quickly to the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord McNally. I first want to tell the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the security of our remaining troops is our first concern; he will realise from the Statement that the decision made has been based on conditions on the ground. I can also tell the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we are not working to a predetermined timetable. The transfer of security responsibilities to the Iraqis is the ultimate goal, but that is based on what happens on the ground. Following Operation Sinbad, we believe that we can best create the conditions for that by reducing our footprint on the ground and focusing our efforts on training the Iraqi police and security forces.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned the equipment available to our Armed Forces. We take the protection of our servicemen and servicewomen very seriously. We have rapidly procured a number of vehicles to enhance force protection, while substantial improvements have been made in recent years to the standard and quantity of body armour available to armed forces personnel; commanders in Iraq now have a range of that. There are also, of course, our military aircraft, which are fitted with defensive systems and other aids to mitigate threats present in the operational environments in which they are deployed.

On the Baker-Hamilton issue, and following down the diplomatic route, I constantly hear these arguments about the US and UK strategies being at odds with each other. We are at the point in Basra where we are able to talk about troop drawdown precisely because of Operation Sinbad and what it has been seeking to put in place. In Baghdad, the United States, with the Iraqi Government, is seeking to use the increased troop levels to secure and then to hold areas of the city to enable reconstruction to take place. These are not mutually exclusive things, but a recognition that the situation differs in the two parts of the country and that Baghdad is particularly difficult. Given that 80 per cent of the conflict occurs within a 30-mile radius of Baghdad, the city has to be made secure. The decision has been taken that it can be made secure only on the basis of additional troops.

At the same time, there is of course a diplomatic route that we want to follow. Noble Lords will again know that the previous and present Foreign Secretaries, Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett, have been involved with EU colleagues in negotiating with the Iranians on their nuclear ambitions. In fact, EU foreign Ministers discussed Iran briefly at their meeting on 22 January, and with our full support they agreed that, in order to ensure effective implementation of the United Nations resolutions, the European Union,

“should prevent the export to and import from Iran of the goods on the NSG and MTCR lists; ban transactions with and freeze the assets of individuals and entities covered by the criteria”,

in that Security Council resolution, and,

“ban travel to the EU of the individuals covered by these criteria”.

Officials are drafting a common position to take that decision forward. I also want to assure the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we support the Lebanese Government and the efforts that they are making, as the Statement made absolutely clear.

We have already had four independent inquiries into Iraq: the Butler inquiry, the Hutton inquiry, the ISC inquiry and the FAC inquiry. I remember that everyone was very pleased when we first announced the Hutton inquiry but, because they did not like the outcome, they immediately asked for another inquiry. In answer to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I do not believe that we should divert the attention of those working on this critical issue by holding a further inquiry at this time. The time to make such a decision will be when all our troops have come home from Iraq. We are constantly learning the lessons of the conflict.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised a number of further questions and in particular said that the leader of the Liberal Democrats had developed his own plan for drawdown. In December 2005, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said:

“It is our strategy to draw down forces and we don’t want to leave people here longer than we need to. The whole process is to build up the Iraqi capability in the armed forces and police so we can draw down our own forces. The political aspect can only be buttressed by a strong security aspect increasingly taken over by the Iraqis themselves”.

That was the position in December 2005 and is the position now. We have made some progress in that some of that drawdown will begin to happen. However, I can assure the noble Lord that we will retain a robust re-intervention capacity.

On Baker-Hamilton, the noble Lord may recall that, at what was seen as great personal political risk, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister invited the President of Syria to the United Kingdom in 2002. Indeed, he was criticised by many for seeking to engage through diplomatic channels with Syria. That engagement broke down subsequently but we will continue to go down the diplomatic route.

We will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Government on reconstruction and development. Our total pledge for humanitarian and reconstruction aid for Iraq for 2003-06 was £544 million; a further pledge of £100 million was announced by the Chancellor in late 2006; and over the next year the Department for International Development’s water and electricity projects will improve access to water for 1 million people living in southern Iraq and a further 328 megawatts of power will be added or secured to the Iraqi national grid. With the work already under way, this will help to supply almost 1 million people with 24-hour power.

We intend to continue to work in partnership with our colleagues in the multinational force and the Iraqi Government, but bringing our troops home when the conditions are right is also an important element of the strategy.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Lord President for repeating the Statement made in another place. I, for one, welcome its future aspirations for the phased withdrawal of our troops. I am sure that it is a step in the right direction. Our forces have obviously done extremely well, intelligently and professionally, to prepare the ground. I only hope that there will not be too many slips between the cup and the lip over the withdrawal. Does the Minister agree—or, at least, does the Ministry of Defence advise her, perhaps through the noble Lord sitting beside her—that it would be virtually impossible for our forces in Afghanistan to do an even more important job there as well as it could be done as long as we still have a significant war on two fronts?

My Lords, I think that we all recognise that having our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq would be difficult to sustain over the long term. That said, we all commend what our troops have been doing in theatre in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we will continue to look at the force levels in both those countries because this is about the conditions on the ground and the support that we need to give our troops to ensure that they are able to function effectively.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement, which contained such very welcome news about Iraq. In view of what was said in it about the Sunni insurgency, will she confirm the reports that, even in al-Anbar, the Sunnis are turning against the al-Qaeda element in their midst? This is partly because of the brutality of that element, but also because of the exposure of al-Qaeda’s opportunism in espousing, or appearing to espouse, the Sunni cause, since it cares no more for mainstream Iraqi Sunnis than it does for mainstream Palestinians or any other group that does not share its extremist views.

My Lords, we are aware of reports that Sunni tribes in Iraq have been turning their backs on al-Qaeda and other extremist groups that have been espousing militant ideologies. I agree with my noble friend that this is about ordinary Iraqis making it clear that they do not want to be involved in this kind of violence in their country. Groups such as al-Qaeda have no place in a representative and democratic Iraq. Undermining that democracy is what this level of terrorism is about.

My Lords, the Statement rightly pays tribute to our coalition partners in MND South-East. We are the lead nation, but will the noble Baroness assure us that we are concerned about our partners’ safety and security as well? Have the Government consulted Denmark, Australia, Romania, the Czech Republic and Lithuania about this change of plans? What are those countries going to do? Are they going to reduce in parallel with us? Will they all come and be a single target at Basra air station?

My Lords, we continue to work closely with our partners, and their security is intertwined with ours. Yes, we have consulted. I understand that a statement will be made by one of those partner countries later today, but I am not at present at liberty to say which one.

My Lords, since the Statement referred to current contacts with the Prime Minister of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, can the Minister confirm the statement attributed to Ehud Olmert in the press two days ago that he had received assurances from President Bush that the Americans had no intention of stopping the boycott of the Palestinian Government? If that is true, is it not a deplorable reaction to the diplomatic efforts of the Saudi Arabian Government and Mahmoud Abbas himself, and of both Fatah and Hamas, in having reached agreement on a coalition Government?

I shall also make one remark about Iran. For the first time in my 13 years in this House, I regret that we do not have the practice of the United States Congress of reading articles and speeches into Hansard. I commend to the Minister, and to all your Lordships, an article on Iran in today’s Financial Times by my former Diplomatic Service colleague Sir Rodric Braithwaite. The article eloquently supports the points, which I fully endorse, made by the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord McNally.

My Lords, I am unable to give any assurances with respect to the statement made by Prime Minister Olmert. I cannot of course speak for United States policy, but we have been working extremely closely with all those in the region. There cannot be a solution to what is happening in the Middle East without neighbouring countries being involved in the debates and discussions. I commend the work which has been done on this issue.

My Lords, on Israel-Palestine, the Statement refers to the importance of basing the proposed national unity Government on the principles of the quartet. Does that include the recognition of the two-state solution? Does it include the recognition of Israel? Does it include the renunciation of violence, recognising that very recently Hamas designated the atrocity in Eilat as legitimate?

Whatever our views on the invasion of Iraq—and there are many in the House and the country—we should at least recognise that had the invasion not taken place, Saddam Hussein would still be in Iraq, preparing the succession for one or other of his evil sons. Whatever lack of unity there may be in this country on that issue, there is considerable unity on the magnificent work of our troops in the field. Have the Government given any thought to preparing some national recognition of that service by our troops as thanks for a job well done?

My Lords, on my noble friend’s final point, we have not got to that stage yet, but I am certain that there will be some mark of recognition. On the national unity Government and the principles of the quartet, of course the recognition of the two-state solution is essential to the work we are seeking to do with respect to Israel and Palestine. The renunciation of violence is also a key part of that. My noble friend may recall that one of the problems posed by the election of the Hamas Government is the difficulty the European Union, the United States and other Governments have in working with a Government who refuse to recognise Israel and to renounce violence.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement and congratulate the Government on finally adopting the policy that was put to us by many in the Iraqi leadership in late 2004—that the commencement of troop withdrawal should begin by June 2005. Is my noble friend aware of any work going on in the Foreign Office on a federal arrangement within Iraq which is supported by the Kurds on the street in Kurdistan, talked about extensively behind closed doors within the Sunni community in northern Iraq and welcomed by many Shia groups in the south? Has she had the opportunity of reading the book by Peter Galbraith, the former American ambassador in Croatia, entitled The End of Iraq, which has some very interesting points to make on this subject?

My Lords, I have not read that book. I know that there are a number of debates and discussions about whether autonomous sectarian regions should be created within Iraq. Our view is that that would lead to increased conflict. All 18 provinces and many cities of Iraq, including Baghdad, have mixed ethnic and religious communities which have lived in close proximity, largely peacefully, for decades. It is important that that continues and that we work with the Iraqi Government to sustain it.

My Lords, I agree with my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall about the welcome news that troops will be brought home. I am also glad that in the comments since, various other points have come up. I support the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in his call for an inquiry into all that has not gone right with this campaign and note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that this campaign did not enjoy the support of the whole British public. When taking part in operations in Borneo and Northern Ireland, I remember that one thing that was helpful was that we felt we had the support of the country behind us. One of the unique characteristics of operations in Iraq is that our soldiers there have not felt that from the moment the operation started.

The Lord President said that we would not want an inquiry until the soldiers came home. I entirely agree, because of soldiers’ uncertainty in the operations that are continuing. They could do without an inquiry, but that inquiry ought to happen when they are home to make certain that the lessons are learnt and all the points that have been brought up time and again in your Lordships' House are examined.

My Lords, it is important that we learn the lessons, but we do not have to wait for any large-scale inquiry to do that. We should continue to learn them as the process develops.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, for many of us, the emphasis in this important and significant Statement on remaining committed to the regional approach is very reassuring? In that context the determination to stay with the diplomatic approach, if a tough one, towards Iran is also welcome.

As far as the Israel/Palestine situation is concerned, does my noble friend accept that peace-building is a process and it is not possible to achieve all the objectives at the beginning of the process, as we have learnt in the saga of Northern Ireland? If we are to find success in the process that we hope has begun, there will have to be patience, understanding and inclusiveness. Finally, does my noble friend agree that, in Iraq itself, the human resource issue is crucial? It is distressing to see the number of qualified people who have fled the country. Will she assure the House that specific plans are in place to ensure that human resources, not least in the administration of justice, can be rapidly built up?

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that peace-building is a continuous process. We have seen that not only in Northern Ireland, but over many years in the Middle East conflict. We have made progress and many of us felt helpful on some occasions. On other occasions, there have been significant setbacks. In that context, of course inclusiveness is a key element. On the issue of human resources in Iraq, the key is security. We are working with the Iraqi Government to build up capacity within the justice sector, but qualified Iraqis living outside Iraq will feel able to return only when there is a degree of stability and security in the country.

My Lords, as one who opposed the war in the first place, I am pleased that 1,600 troops will be brought home very shortly. I hope that the rest of them will be brought home in not too long. There is a great deal of concern about the sabre-rattling in the United States over Iran. I hope that the Government are warning the United States that to take military action in Iran would be a huge disaster and bring about even graver consequences than those that exist in Iraq.

Finally, has it ever been suggested to Iran, especially since the Prime Minister of Israel has accepted and admitted that Israel has nuclear weapons, that as a quid pro quo for Iran stopping its enrichment programme Israel would be disarmed of any nuclear weapons that it had?

My Lords, in relation to that last point, I am not aware of any such proposal having been made. With respect to the Government’s policy in Iran, I explained earlier that our strategy is very clear. We have been working with European Union partners pursuing a diplomatic route. We will continue to do that and, of course, we will continue to work through the United Nations.

My Lords, would the Minister acknowledge that the most troubling aspect of the Prime Minister’s Statement was his attempt to characterise the complex and very different situations in a number of different parts of the region as,

“an epochal struggle between the forces of progress and the forces of reaction”?

This light and dark approach brings no practical help to the diplomacy that needs to be deployed by any country that cares for democracy and justice in tackling these historic and long-rooted problems. Will the Minister also retreat from the expression in the Statement about the spread of these things to the region, for force is surely discredited in that part of the world when it is deployed by external nations, whatever the rhetoric used by their political leaders?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that we are tackling historic and long-rooted problems, but I cannot agree with any of his other statements. Of course, this is about deploying diplomacy, but it is also about recognising the kinds of issues and forces with which we are dealing, and we have to be clear about that.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that one in five Iraqis is now homeless, either abroad or internally displaced? What contingency plan is the coalition making for the protection of the displaced—and not least of United Nations workers who will have to deal with them?

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot confirm or deny those figures, although I am very happy to go back and check them. The Government have just announced a £4 million contribution to the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide emergency assistance to those who are internally displaced. We are also considering an appeal by the UNHCR about helping refugees who have fled into neighbouring countries. The noble Earl is right in saying that this is an issue that the humanitarian and refugee agencies will need to deal with. Of course there is considerable expertise but that is not the point—the point is that people will want as quickly as possible to return to their homes, which is why ensuring stability and security is at the top of our agenda.