Iraq: Armed Conflict
John Battle: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the reasons for recent trends in the levels of violence in Iraq; and if he will make a statement.
Dr. Howells: The security situation in Iraq varies from province to province. The security situation in Iraq has improved significantly over the course of the second half of 2007 and 2008. In and around Baghdad, violence has reduced to levels not seen since 2005.
There are a number of factors that have contributed towards the downturn in levels of violence across Iraq. The increased capacity and capability of the Iraqi security forces has had a positive impact in reducing levels of violence. Other factors include the surge of US forces and the emergence of predominantly Sunni tribal ‘Awakening’ Councils and Sons of Iraq/Concerned Local Citizens, who have turned against al-Qa’eda. The continued ceasefire declared by Moqtada al Sadr in August 2007 has also had a positive effect in the south, although we remain concerned about violence committed by militant elements linked to the Sadrist movement.
Iraq: Military Bases
John Battle: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the Government’s policy is on a status of forces agreement permitting US forces to establish permanent military bases in Iraq and granting US forces immunity from Iraqi law; and if he will make a statement.
Dr. Howells: The US and the Government of Iraq are currently discussing the legal basis for the presence of US military forces following the expiry of UN Security Council Resolution 1790 mandate at the end of 2008. These discussions are essentially a matter for the two countries concerned. We are following their progress closely, however, and are in discussion with coalition partners and the Government of Iraq over our own legal requirements following the end of 2008, with a view to ensuring that our military (and civilian) assistance to Iraq remains on a sound legal footing.
Iraq: Politics and Government
John Battle: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the Government’s policy is on development of a mainstream political party by Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq if the Mahdi Army disbands; and if he will make a statement.
Dr. Howells: We encourage all communities in Iraq to engage with the political process and to turn their backs on violence. Political engagement by all sectors of Iraqi society will be crucial in achieving lasting progress on national reconciliation and we continue to support the Government of Iraq in efforts to achieve this goal.
However, we remain concerned that part of Muqtada al-Sadr’s 13 June statement stated that his organisation would continue to attack coalition forces. As Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has said, weapons should only be in the hands of the Iraqi security forces. Coalition forces are in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and under a UN mandate; they should be able to continue their job of helping to build a stable and secure Iraq without fear of attack.