Security is the key to the future of Iraq' - Jack Straw

Event: European Parliament Debate

Location: Strasbourg

Speech Date: 06/07/05

Speaker: Jack Straw

Mr President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It's a great honour to be here in the European Parliament, representing the British Presidency of the European Union. This is the first occasion I have had to address this great body. I welcome the chance we have to debate Iraq today, and later, to consider Africa and Globalisation.

Let me begin by thanking the Foreign Affairs Committee, and especially Mr Dimitrakopolous, for their report and the presentation of it this morning.

The disagreements within the European Union over military action against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq are a matter of record. We all acknowledge that strongly-held views on both sides remain. Given the strength of feeling, I am particularly grateful to the Foreign Affairs Committee for looking forward in their report to the future of Iraq and not rehearsing old arguments.

But since the end of military action, the European Union has recognised its strong and common interest in supporting the new Iraq which is now emerging. We condemn those who want to determine Iraq's future through extremism and violence. We condemn all killings and kidnappings but given the nature of this organisation, we particularly condemn the kidnap of the Egyptian ambassador, Mr Ihab al-Sherif, and the attacks on other diplomats. We are determined to see the success of a peaceful, stable and democratic Iraq, which responds to the needs of all its citizens.

Just over a year ago, the European Council endorsed the Commission's Communication setting out medium-term objectives for the development of the EU's relationship with Iraq. That strategy is bearing fruit. Last November, the Council presented a package of European Union assistance to Iraq's then Prime Minister, Dr Allawi. That included a longer-term commitment to starting negotiations on a Third Country Agreement, and to promoting EU trade and political co-operation with Iraq; a reminder of the Commission's offer to implement the Generalised System of Preferences; and financial support. Experts from the European Commission worked with the UN and the Independent Electoral Commission and helped to make a success of Iraq's first democratic elections, on 30 January this year. Several members of the European Parliament also observed those elections.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council in February agreed to build on this package of assistance with further support for Iraq's political process, including the drafting of a new Constitution; a new Community aid package of €200 million for this year; and the launch of an EU integrated Rule of Law and Police Training mission for Iraq, with offices in Baghdad and in Brussels. That mission began training Iraqi police, judiciary and penitentiary officials yesterday, and is making a valuable contribution to the Iraqi Government's efforts to increase its authority and to entrench the rule of law.

Overall, the European Union is today delivering an impressive and comprehensive programme of assistance to the government and people of Iraq, as they seek to build a peaceful and democratic future. Last month I visited Baghdad with Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner, High Representative Javier Solana and Foreign Minister Asselborn. This was an important visit symbolising the EU's commitment to Iraq. We made clear during that visit our wish to build further on the programme of assistance. The Commissioner also re-iterated the Commission's intention to open an office in Baghdad as soon as possible, so as to strengthen the EU's dialogue and technical assistance. At the international conference on Iraq in Brussels a fortnight ago, hosted by the US and the EU, representatives from some 87 countries and international organisations gave a similar and strong message of support to the new Iraq.

Let me respond to one absolutely key point that Mr Dimitrakopolous made in his opening remarks. He said that security was the key to the future of Iraq. He was right. The security situation is serious. There is no disguising this fact. As the Foreign Secretary of one of the countries that took a major part in the military action against Iraq, I feel a personal responsibility for improving security there.

Mr Dimitrakopolous said that ensuring security in Iraq means giving the responsibility for it to the Iraqi people. We share this aspiration. The quicker the Iraqis take responsibility for security the better - and the quicker the multi-national forces can leave. I said that the security situation was poor. The better news is that the Iraqis are already taking on more and more of the security role. There are already 168 000 individuals in the Iraqi Security Forces. The capacity of these forces is constantly improving. We are supporting this process.

The mandate for the multi-national force in Iraq is UN Security Council resolution 1546. That mandate comes to an end at the end of the political process, which is scheduled to be in December of this year. And in any event, under that mandate, we are only in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government. If they asked us to leave we would do so.

I have no problem in principal with the idea for a blue-hat United Nations force replacing the international force in Iraq. The difficulty is likely to be persuading other countries to come on board.

But Mr Dimitrakopolous's key point was the need to hand responsibility on security back to the Iraqis. On this, he and I are in absolute agreement.

The United Kingdom, during our Presidency, will look to pursue a growing relationship between the European Union and Iraq, building on what we have already achieved. I welcome the Committee's endorsement of that goal, and in particular their call for the Commission to open its Baghdad office, and for the EU to send an Observer mission to the elections to be held in Iraq in December. I also greatly welcome the Committee's suggestion that the European Parliament build its relationship with the Iraqi Transitional National Assembly.

I look forward to today's debate.