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Robin Cook on removing Saddam, and ambulances in Baghdad...

The following 'Foreign Office Question Time' in the House of Commons
yesterday mainly deals with the British government's support for removing
Saddam Hussein from power, but touches on Kuwaiti prisoners of war having
to be accounted for by Iraq before sanctions could be lifted, and the
consequences of bombing Iraq.

Also, Robin Cook says: "I am sorry to hear that Baghdad has only two
ambulances. There is absolutely no sanction to prevent Iraq from importing
all the ambulances that it requires."  I've heard in the past that
ambulances, or spare parts for them, have been specifically vetoed by the
UN Sanctions Committee - does anyone have any proof of this? ---- seb


Text from Hansard, 1st Dec 1998:

[initial questions:]
11. Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): If he will make a statement on the United
Kingdom's relations with Iraq.  [61390]

12. Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): If he will discuss with his
American counterpart future policy towards Iraq. [61391]

13. Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): What recent
representations he has made to the Government of Iraq concerning the
status of United Nations Security Council resolutions. [61392]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Robin Cook):
  We have made it clear to Saddam Hussein that our forces remain in
the Gulf and remain on alert. If he breaks his undertaking to allow UNSCOM
to resume inspections, we are prepared to take military action without
further negotiation.

There will be no let-up in our pressure on Saddam Hussein until we are
satisfied that he no longer has weapons of mass destruction with which to
inflict on neighbouring countries the terror tactics that he uses to
oppress his own people. 

Mr. Day: The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that at a recent Prime
Minister's Question Time, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the
Opposition suggested to the Prime Minister that it should be a prime
objective of British policy to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and the
Prime Minister appeared to agree with that suggestion. In the light of BBC
reports that seem to indicate that the Government do not agree that
removing Saddam Hussein is their prime objective, will the right hon.
Gentleman please tell the House the exact position?

Mr. Cook: I do not know which BBC programmes the hon. Gentleman has been
watching, but I have repeatedly said on the BBC that the whole world,
including the Government, would welcome the removal of Saddam Hussein.
That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr.
Fatchett), the Minister with responsibility for matters in the region,
recently met representatives of all the opposition groups in Iraq and
explored with them how we might help them. However, if they are to
succeed, those groups must work together more closely. 

Mr. Campbell-Savours: On the same question--my question having been asked
earlier--is it not true that the American Administration has gone further?

1 Dec 1998 : Column 667

passage through Congress of the Iraqi Liberation Act, effectively American
foreign policy is now to engage more openly in the removal of Saddam
Hussein, and America is helping that process by allocating $90-odd million
to the Iraqi National Congress. Is there not a marginal distinction
between our policy and American policy, and cannot we be more robust and
adopt what I believe to be a better American position?

Mr. Cook: I am sorry to say that as my hon. Friend's question has already
been asked, it has already been answered. However, to respond to his last
point, I do not think that it would be possible to find a country that has
been more robust than the United States and the United Kingdom on the
issue of Iraq. During the recent crisis, we gave authority for our pilots
to take off unless Saddam backed down, which he did there and then.

We have shown great robustness on this issue and we shall certainly
continue to do everything possible to assist those who wish to return Iraq
to a more accountable system of government, and one that would engage with
the international community. In the meantime, we shall continue our work
to ensure, as best we can, that we provide the assistance that is
required--humanitarian relief for the people of Iraq to spare them from
the consequences of the way in which they have been oppressed by Saddam

Mr. Fraser: What part does the fate of Kuwaiti prisoners play in assessing
Iraq's compliance with United Nations resolutions?

Mr. Cook: The 600 people who were removed from Kuwait and are currently
believed to be detained, or certainly detained for the time, in Iraq
feature in United Nations Security Council resolutions. If, therefore,
Iraq wishes fully to comply with those resolutions, which is a condition
for the lifting of sanctions, it has either to produce those 600 people or
to give a clear account both to Kuwait and to the international community
of what has become of them.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): What would be the objective of bombing
Baghdad, a city of 4.5 million people with two ambulances, neither of
which has oxygen, and a fire engine that possibly does not work--Dresden,

Mr. Cook: The House would not expect me to disclose specific targeting
plans, but I can say--

Mr. Dalyell: If my right hon. Friend talked to them properly, it would

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is very free with his allegations, so perhaps he
will allow me to respond to them.

The plans that have developed take very careful account of the need to
minimise casualties as far as possible, and especially civilian
casualties. There is therefore no question of a mass bombing of Baghdad on
the scale that my hon. Friend suggests.

1 Dec 1998 : Column 668

I am sorry to hear that Baghdad has only two ambulances. There is
absolutely no sanction to prevent Iraq from importing all the ambulances
that it requires. Thanks to a resolution pioneered by the United Kingdom,
Saddam Hussein can export $10 billion-worth of oil to pay for the import
of food, medicines and humanitarian goods. If he is so short of
ambulances, we would be delighted to assist, through the Sanctions
Committee, in ascertaining how many ambulances he needs--if he would
choose to put them on the list that he submits in place of some of the
other claims for humanitarian goods that he has made, such as glass
ashtrays, cigarettes, alcohol and plastic surgery.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): How do the Government envisage the way in
which Saddam Hussein will be removed?

Mr. Cook: As I have said to the House, we have already met the Iraqi
Opposition. We shall continue to work with them. We have no legal base for
using force for the removal of Saddam Hussein, but we will use force to
make sure that Security Council resolutions are implemented.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Do the Government share the
Pentagon's estimate that 10,000 people would be killed in any bombing of
Iraq? If not, what is the Government's estimate? Do they think that
whatever the number, it is a price worth paying? 

Mr. Cook: First, I do not recognise that figure. We do not share that
figure. Secondly, undoubtedly the price for Iraq's behaviour and Saddam
Hussein's Government is being paid by the Iraqi people. I urge my hon. 
Friend to read the reports of the United Nations on human rights in Iraq,
one of which was published only last month. He will see from them that
every year thousands of people in Iraq pay with their lives for being
ruled by Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Will the Foreign Secretary publicly express
his support for the campaign of INDICT set up by the hon. Member for Cynon
Valley (Ann Clwyd)? Will he act as best he may in international circles to
have Saddam Hussein and others arraigned before either an international
tribunal or an international criminal court as soon as possible, and
thereby give hope to the many millions of people in Iraq who are
terrorised by Saddam Hussein and want to see the international community
to take action against him and split him from the peoples of Iraq?

Mr. Cook: I am pleased to say to the hon. Gentleman that the Government
fully support INDICT. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is sending a
message to the press conference today expressing that support on behalf of
the Government. We are ready to look at any means by which Saddam Hussein
may be brought before any international tribunal, but the Government's
immediate priority is to ensure that we succeed in the establishment of an
international criminal court, which would be very relevant to Saddam
Hussein and to any future Saddam Hussein. 

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