PM: A strategy for peace in Iraq
Prime Minister Tony Blair has emphasised there will be tough times ahead in Iraq but the country is a better place without Saddam.
Laying out plans for peace in Iraq, the Prime Minister said the UN has a vital role to play. Mr Blair also expressed his pride for the role British Forces have played.
Mr Blair was briefing MPs on the latest in Iraq. Read the statement below.
[Check against delivery]
With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on Iraq. I should emphasise this conflict is not yet over. There will be tough times ahead and fighting as well as peace-building still to do. However, less than four weeks from the commencement of the war, the regime of Saddam is gone, the bulk of Iraq is under coalition control and the vast majority of Iraqis are rejoicing at Saddam's departure. Whatever the problems following Saddam's collapse - and in the short term they are bound to be serious - let no-one be in any doubt. Iraq is a better place without Saddam. This was indeed liberation not conquest and the Iraqi people, given a chance, are every bit as much in favour of freedom as people anywhere in the world.
Our commitment now is clear. Just as we had a strategy for war, so we have a strategy for peace. Iraq will be better, better for the region, better for the world, better, above all, for the Iraqi people.
British forces have performed with extraordinary skill, professionalism and compassion. We can be deeply proud of them. We also send our warmest congratulations to the US forces who bore the brunt of the advance on Baghdad and did so with remarkable military skill. As we mourn our own soldiers who have fallen in the line of duty, so we mourn theirs. Our thanks too to the Australian and Polish forces who helped, to the Spanish and to the other 40 or so countries that have given support.
We also grieve for the loss of journalists and others killed in Iraq and for Iraqi civilians and many of those conscript Iraqi troops forced into the front line. If the forecasts of mass carnage proved thankfully wrong, nonetheless, innocent people died along with the guilty and it places upon us a special and profound responsibility for Iraq's future.
Let me give an assessment of the current situation. The South is now largely under British control. The West is secure and in the major town of Al Qaim fighting is diminishing. In the North, Kurdish forces have retired from Kirkuk and Mosul leaving US forces in control. US forces are in and around Tikrit. They are meeting some resistance. But in essence, all over Iraq, Saddam's forces have collapsed. Much of the remaining fighting, particularly in Baghdad, is being carried out by foreign irregulars.
In Baghdad itself, the US is in control of most of the city but not all of it.
As is obvious the problem now is the disorder following the regime's collapse. Some disorder, frankly, is inevitable. It will happen in any situation where a brutal police state that for 30 years has terrorised a population is suddenly destroyed. Some looting, too, is directly at specific regime targets including hospitals that were dedicated for the use of the regime. But it is a serious situation we need to work urgently to bring under control.
Basra shows initial problems can be overcome.
I am particularly proud of the role British forces ably led by Major General Robin Brims, have played in Basra.
Iraqi technicians and managers are making themselves known to British Forces. Together we are restoring many key services. Most public health clinics are operational. UK forces have supplied oxygen to Al Basrah General Hospital and are providing other medical support where they can.
Two hundred policemen have reported for work. Joint patrols started on 13 April. In surrounding towns, looting has either ceased or is declining, local patrols are being re-established and co-operation with the City Councils is going well.
Baghdad is the principal problem, though again the main looting is in areas not controlled by the US. And it is still a highly dangerous environment for US soldiers.
However, around 2000 police officers have reported for work, there are some joint patrols in being and the head of the civil police department, not to be confused with the Special Security Forces, has ordered police to return to work.
Hospitals, where possible, are now being guarded and the first medical supplies are being flown in. It is still very difficult. Staff are naturally still scared, water and electricity are a problem but every effort is being made to improve the situation. As we speak, residents in some parts of Baghdad are now returning.
On WMD, of 146 possible sites known to us, investigations have begun in only 7. But in any event, we know that for 6 months prior to the return of UN inspectors, Saddam put in place a systematic campaign of concealment of WMD. Until we are able to interrogate the scientists and experts who worked on the programmes, and the UN has a list of 5000 names, progress is bound to be slow. A specialised team is beginning work and we are in discussion with allies and the UN as to what the future role of the UN in such a process may be.
Shortly we shall begin formally the process of Iraq's reconstruction. We see three phases in this:
In the first phase, the Coalition and the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid, ORHA, will have responsibility under the Geneva and Hague conventions for ensuring that Iraq's immediate security and humanitarian needs are met.
The second phase, beginning a few weeks after the end of the conflict, will see the establishment of a broad-based, fully representative Iraqi Interim Authority. Working with the UN Security-General, Coalition military leaders and others will help the Iraqi people,to identify which leaders might participate in this Interim Authority. Once established, the Interim Authority will progressively assume more of the functions of government.
The third phase will then bring into being a fully representative Iraqi government, once a new constitution has been approved, as a result of elections which I hope could occur around a year after the start of the Interim Authority.
In each phase, the UN will, as President Bush and I have said, have a vital role.
I shall have bilateral meetings at the Athens European Council with Kofi Annan and others. I welcome Kofi Annan's decision to appoint a Special Adviser. I am pleased that at the this weekend's World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings all countries agreed that the two Institutions should start looking at needs in Iraq as soon as the security situation allows.
But the essence of all that we do is, as we said at Hillsborough, to ensure Iraq is run by and for the Iraqi people. Iraq is a nation with a creative people, potentially wealthy, with a dynamic and prosperous future ahead of it. They don't need to be run from the outside by the US, UK or UN. And they won't be.
Mr Speaker, I also discussed the wider Middle East Peace Process with President Bush at Hillsborough. He re-iterated his commitment to the publication and implementation of the Roadmap for peace.
There will be intense diplomacy over the coming days and weeks. It will be important to rebuild international relationships that have been fragile in these past weeks, to reach out and show common cause with all who now want to put the past behind us and work together for a stable and prosperous Iraq and for a peaceful Middle East. With goodwill, that can be done. And for the coalition, I can say that goodwill exists. I hope it is reciprocated. In Europe there have been divisions. Between parts of Europe and the US there have been divisions. In many countries, in many parties, there have been divisions.
But at least there is now a clearer basis for future agreement. As the full horror of Saddam's regime has become better known, so there is acceptance that it is good he is gone. As the Iraqi people taste the fruits and travails of freedom, so there is a common will to help them to prosperity and greater democracy.
There is a huge desire to see definitive progress on Israel and Palestine based on the two-State solution, proposed so forcefully by President Bush last June. There is, I hope, also a recognition that a world split into rival poles of power can result in much discord but little advance for a new global order. I am more convinced than ever before that partnership and not rivalry is the best basis for future EU/US relations. For all the difficult times over the past few months, I remain committed to the UN, committed to making it more effective, committed to the notion that we need its legitimacy for the international community to be worthy of the name. But the surest way to make it so is to unify the nations that lead it. That will be a challenge in the weeks ahead.
So we are near the end of the conflict. But the challenge of the peace is now beginning. We took the decision that to leave Iraq in its brutalised state under Saddam was wrong. Now there is upon us a heavy responsibility to make the peace worth the war. We shall do so. We shall do so not in any spirit of elation, still less of triumphalism, but with a fixed and steady resolve that the cause was just, the victory right and the future for us to make in a way that will stand the judgement of history.
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