Jack Straw – 2004 Speech on Reconstructing in Iraq

jackstraw

Below is the text of the speech made by Jack Straw, the then Foreign Secretary, in Davos, Switzerland, on 21st January 2004.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

2003 was momentous for Iraq, bringing the end of a regime which had for more than a generation brought the people of Iraq only violence, impoverishment and isolation. From this historic turning point the challenge for 2004 is to build the new Iraq which its people want – an Iraq governed by its people, secure and prosperous, at peace with its neighbours and reintegrated into the family of nations.

No-one argued that this was a process which would be over in a matter of months, and we still have a long way to go. The security situation is of course my number one concern; and there have been difficulties in other areas too, such as reconstruction – perhaps more than some expected.

SECURITY AND SERVICES

But I believe that overall life for Iraqis is slowly but steadily improving, some terrible terrorist outrages notwithstanding. Iraqi police and security forces, with the help of the Multinational Force, are building security based on the principle of consent, not on the repressive violence of Saddam’s security forces. Some 45,000 police are now on duty, with more being trained; their confidence and expertise are growing. Criminality has reduced significantly over the past months. I’m pleased to say that the British Police Service is in the lead in our sector in the south on police training.

Meanwhile 17,000 reconstruction projects, large and small, have already been launched. Almost 2,000 schools have been refurbished. 70 million revised textbooks are being printed and distributed. Over 30 million doses of vaccines have been provided since July.

I recognise that the provision of services does not yet meet the expectations of the Iraqi people. We are working hard to ensure that basic services are provided in an equitable way to all the people of Iraq. However, despite the obstacles posed by decades of severe underinvestment and by sabotage, electricity and water supplies have been improved as I saw when I visited Iraq in July and November last year.

TRADE

A newly independent central bank and a new currency are in place. You will have seen little of this in the papers. But the currency transfer has taken place remarkably smoothly. Iraq is developing more trusting and constructive relationships with its neighbours, and growing trade is boosting the Iraqi economy. We have made good progress on Iraq’s debt – the G7 has agreed to a substantial reduction of the debt burden in the context of a Paris Club settlement. Iraq’s natural resources, including its oil, can now be used for the benefit of all its people, instead of being held hostage to the ambitions and extravagances of a ruling clique. I have been privileged to have been to Iraq and it is only when you are there that you can see the scale of extravagance of the Palaces, plundered from the people. It is obscene.

GOVERNMENT

Approved by UNSCR 1483 the Iraqi Governing Council is a the most representative administration Iraq has ever seen. It embodies the diversity and complexity of Iraqi society. It is worth remembering that over half of the IGC are Shia. There is a political pluralism within the Governing Council which is wider than exists in many countries in the region.

Democratic campaigning followed by elections will be the key to forming a representative government for the people of Iraq. Specific dates have been set for an end to occupation, for a representative, sovereign Iraqi Transitional Government from July 2004; for a permanent constitution and for free and fair direct elections to a national constituent Assembly and Government in 2005.

The contribution of the United Nations to the electoral and constitutional processes in 2004-2005 will be vital. I welcome the fact that on Monday the UNSG – Kofi Annan – as requested by the Iraqi Governing Council, has undertaken to consider sending a UN technical team to Iraq to look into the feasibility of elections before June. The UN Secretary General has also confirmed his intention to appoint a Special Representative for Iraq at an appropriate time. This reaffirmation of the UN role is welcome. Of course we understand the security constraints they face, and no-one can forget the terrible nature of the attack on the UN last August. The Iraqi Governing Council and the Coalition will of course help with appropriate security arrangements.

Meanwhile Iraqis are coming to terms with a real political debate, choosing between a host of rival sources of information – satellite dishes which were illegal under Saddam, more than 200 newspapers, unrestricted access to the internet. A dynamic Iraqi press corps is emerging, with journalists gaining experience and confidence in their reporting. Iraq already has a more vibrant press than many of its neighbours.

TARGETS

Looking ahead to later this year, the key event is the transfer of full authority to Iraqis by 1 July. The coalition will then move into a support role in partnership with the Iraqi people.

Our job is not to dictate Iraq’s future, but to support the consensus of Iraqi opinion. That means our policy will remain responsive as that opinion develops. Nonetheless, the fundamental principles of what the Iraqi people are working for, and what we should therefore promote, are already clear.

In partnership with Iraqis, we will work to promote stable, internationally-recognised federal government whose leaders they can choose, which respects their diversity and protects the rule of law and human rights. At the local level, we will help build democratically-elected administrations empowered to represent local populations. Already the Provincial Councils are being broadened to represent their constituencies more fully. We are also promoting an independent judicial system with strong courts and impartial non-political judges, upholding the rights of the Iraqi people.

Our commitment to reconstructing Iraq is firm. We will continue to help the new Iraqi public administration to run effectively, providing advice and guidance when that is what the Iraqis request. We are likely to channel a substantial part of our financial assistance to Iraq through the UN/World Bank International Reconstruction Fund Facility. We will also focus our assistance on reinforcing the capacity of the Iraqi civil service to administer the country effectively, and on rebuilding essential public services, most urgently in the poorest parts of the country which were the most neglected under Saddam.

LOOKING AHEAD

To achieve all of this, Iraq needs a stable, secure environment protected by non-partisan police and armed forces. If the Iraqi government requests, the Multi-National Force, with a strong British contingent and as mandated by the UN security council, will continue to work alongside Iraqi forces in maintaining security, while helping those forces to build the capacity to do this on their own.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The whole international community agreed on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, on his defiance of 17 UN Resolutions over 12 years, on the need to resolve the 173 pages worth of outstanding WMD concerns which UNMOVIC identified. However, the decision to take military action was and remains controversial. I respect the views of those who disagreed with us. But I would also ask them in turn to look back a year and consider the consequences of allowing Saddam Hussein to defy the final warning issued unanimously by the Security Council in Resolution 1441. I am in no doubt that if we had sat on our hands and not acted the world would today be a much more dangerous place.

And very few of the Iraqi people argue that Iraq is not a far better country today with Saddam out of power and answering to justice for his terrible crimes.

I make no secret of the fact that there are serious challenges ahead for Iraq – on security, on employment, on making a success of the political and constitutional process. But these difficulties can be overcome with determined and focussed effort. Whatever the differences a year ago, the whole international community today stands behind the Iraqi people. We are committed to helping them achieve their goal of building the free, secure and prosperous country they deserve.