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House of Commons Hansard

Counter-Daesh Campaign: Iraq and Syria

03 November 2016
Volume 616

  • I call the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. It is good that he has beetled into the Chamber just in time. We are greatly obliged to him.

  • Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. With your permission, I shall make a statement updating the House on the campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

    Two years ago, a global coalition that now embraces 67 members came together with the overriding aim of destroying Daesh. The words of one Iraqi recently liberated from Daesh demonstrate in vivid terms why that goal is so necessary. He said of living under Daesh:

    “Life was a disaster. We felt like captives and we were afraid all the time.”

    Our campaign has now reached a crucial moment. Iraqi forces have fought their way to the eastern fringe of Mosul, two weeks after the onset of an offensive designed to break Daesh’s grip on the largest city within its domain. I want to update the House today on every aspect of the effort to vanquish Daesh and on Britain’s role in this endeavour.

    I turn first to the situation around Mosul. Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga are advancing on the city from the east and the south. The town of Bazwaia, just 2 miles east of Mosul, is among several dozen settlements that have been liberated. Iraqi spearhead units have advanced still further, striking as far as the outskirts of Mosul itself. Overall, the campaign is making good progress. In some areas, Daesh has mounted fierce resistance, dispatching scores of suicide bombers against the liberating forces. It has mounted diversionary attacks in the city of Kirkuk and as far away as the town of Rutba, almost 400 miles south-west of Mosul. The House can be sure that Daesh will be driven from Mosul, but this is the toughest task that Iraq’s security forces have yet encountered, and success will take time.

    We have worked tirelessly with the Government of Iraq, the Kurdish regional government, the United Nations and our coalition partners to prepare for this campaign. The aim is to defeat Daesh in a way that protects civilians, minimises human suffering and promotes a political settlement. I pay tribute to Prime Minister Abadi for his statesmanship and his acute awareness that genuine Iraqi national reconciliation must follow Daesh’s defeat. The terrorists have threatened to inflict a scorched earth campaign once the loss of Mosul becomes inevitable. Already, they have set oil wells ablaze and destroyed a sulphur plant south of the city, releasing clouds of noxious gas. Daesh’s vindictiveness in defeat may cause many of Mosul’s people to flee. The Iraqi Government are leading the humanitarian response, helped by aid agencies and the UN. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has announced a further £40 million of UK humanitarian aid, focused on Mosul. I commend her leadership, which has placed Britain at the forefront of the international response, bringing the total amount of British aid pledged for Iraq to almost £170 million.

    Even before the advance on Mosul, the coalition and local forces had broken Daesh’s grip on about half of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and a quarter in Syria. Our armed forces have been crucial to this effort. The House will wish to join me in paying tribute to British servicemen and women who are working tirelessly to vanquish Daesh and keep our country safe. On the ground, we have 500 British soldiers in Iraq, where they are helping to train that country’s forces. Across the middle east, nearly 1,350 British military personnel are supporting operations against Daesh. Our troops have helped to train more than 29,000 members of the Iraqi security forces, including some units now approaching Mosul. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced last week, the UK will resume training of vetted members of Syrian opposition groups to fight Daesh. In the air, the RAF has delivered 1,105 air strikes against Daesh—1,038 in Iraq and 67 in Syria. With the exception of the United States, no country’s air force has carried out more strikes.

    However, as the Chilcot report reminded us, the gains of any military operation will be preserved only if they are followed by the painstaking task of stabilisation and rebuilding lives. As more areas are liberated from Daesh, protecting the population and helping them to return to their homes is a central priority of the Government of Iraq, working alongside the coalition and the UN. Britain is providing over £15 million for UN stabilisation efforts. Wherever Daesh is driven back, we are helping to fund the UN to clear the lethal explosives the terrorists leave behind, repair water supplies, restore power networks and reopen schools. So far, over 775,000 people have been helped to return home to liberated areas of Iraq, including the Sunni heartlands of the Euphrates valley.

    Daesh’s defeats on the battlefield are helping to counter its ideological narrative. The UK leads the coalition’s efforts in this area. We host the coalition’s global communications cell in London, where experts from 10 countries are working together to blunt the edge of terrorist propaganda. Daesh’s propaganda output has fallen by around 70% in the last year. As one defeat succeeds another, they are increasingly seen for what they are: a failing and disintegrating movement. On 19 September at the UN in New York, I launched a global campaign, alongside my Iraqi and Belgian counterparts, to bring Daesh to justice. Our aim is simply justice for all those affected by Daesh, regardless of their religious beliefs and including those who suffered in terrorist attacks around the world. I intend the campaign to be led by the UN and to begin by gathering and preserving evidence of Daesh crimes in Iraq. However long it may take, those who committed unspeakable acts must be brought to justice.

    I turn now to the situation in Syria. As the House debated in September, the brutality of Assad, and the misguided interventions of Russia and Iran, are prolonging the civil war and postponing the final defeat of Daesh. Assad and his allies have hurled their strength against opposition-held eastern Aleppo. Russia and Iran claim to be fighting Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, yet they have joined forces with Assad to carry out an assault on eastern Aleppo, where 275,000 people are living under siege and where the UN has been unable to deliver aid for the last four months.

    The House should be in no doubt that the attack on eastern Aleppo has little to do with defeating terrorism and everything to do with preserving Assad’s blood-soaked regime. Wherever Daesh has lost ground in Syria, this has frequently owed nothing to Assad or his backers. In August, it was the Syrian Democratic Forces that threw Daesh out of the town of Manbij. In September, moderate armed opposition groups, helped by Turkish forces, expelled Daesh from Dabiq, a town in northern Syria of great symbolic significance. The same combination drove Daesh from the towns of Jarabulus and al-Rai. The lesson is clear. While Assad, Russia and Iran inflict untold suffering on eastern Aleppo, it is Turkey and the moderate Syrian opposition who are pressing on with the task of defeating Daesh.

    Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation across Syria is appalling. More than five years of civil war have killed or displaced about half of the entire population. Last Wednesday, Stephen O’Brien, formerly a member of this House and now the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, gave a briefing to the Security Council and I would recommend that every Member read it. He described the “apocalyptic horror” being visited upon eastern Aleppo. Only six partially functioning hospitals survive in this besieged wasteland where fewer than 30 doctors struggle to bind the wounds of a population under relentless assault. Last Friday, a rebel alliance that includes Syria’s branch of al-Qaeda attacked regime-held western Aleppo. They shelled the area and killed at least 40 civilians, including children. I condemn attacks on civilians whoever carries them out—I am sure the whole House will agree.

    Britain has pledged £2.3 billion to the Syria relief effort—our largest ever response to a single crisis, making us the second biggest humanitarian donor behind the US—but in the end a political transition away from Assad is the only way to end the civil war and defeat Daesh. That is why I convened a meeting on 16 October in London of our key partners, including Secretary Kerry of the United States. We discussed our options for responding to the situation in Syria, particularly the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. The EU Foreign Affairs Council has agreed to increase the pressure on Assad, including by imposing sanctions on more members of his regime. Last week, another 10 individuals were added to the EU sanctions list, including military commanders responsible for ordering chemical attacks and planning assaults on Aleppo.

    At the same time, a UN investigation confirmed yet again what this Government have long known, namely that Assad’s forces have repeatedly used poison gas. The UN’s Joint Investigative Mechanism has concluded that regime forces employed chemical weapons three times and Daesh once. We are pressing for a UN resolution to hold accountable those who used such horrific weapons in defiance of the rules of war. If Russia chooses, once again, to protect Assad by casting its veto, it will be shielding someone whose forces have been found guilty over and over again—by a UN investigation that the Kremlin itself supported—of killing their own people with poison gas. I say that vetoing such a resolution would be unconscionable. But I wish to make one point abundantly clear: Russia could win the acclaim of the world by permanently halting the bombing of civilians and persuading Assad to return to negotiations. As well as being profoundly right in itself, that would be the single greatest contribution that Russia could make to the struggle against Daesh.

    Daesh is also coming under pressure in Libya. Forces aligned to the Government of National Accord, supported by US airstrikes, have weakened Daesh’s hold on the city of Sirte. The international community must support the full implementation of the Libyan political agreement, and that was why Secretary Kerry and I co-hosted a meeting on Monday with key international partners and the Libyan Prime Minister, Mr al-Sarraj. Hon. Members should have no false hopes. Despite our efforts and our progress, Daesh remains determined and fanatical. Its defeat will require the liberation of Raqqa, its stronghold in Syria.

    Even as Daesh is being routed on the battlefield, our country still faces a grave threat from terrorism, so I pay tribute to the dedication of those in our security and intelligence services, who have foiled 12 plots to attack the UK since September 2013. The flow of British citizens to join Daesh or other terrorist groups in Syria has fallen steadily since the beginning of 2015. Approximately 850 people of national security concern have travelled to Syria since the war began. We estimate that just under half have returned, and 15% have been killed.

    In conclusion, the campaign to liberate Mosul opens a vital chapter in the struggle against Daesh. It will not be the final one, but Daesh is now in retreat on every battlefront in Iraq and Syria. After so much bloodshed, its downfall is not a matter of if but when. I commend this statement to the House.

  • I join the Secretary of State in recognising the extraordinary commitment and bravery of the men and women of our armed forces. As we approach Remembrance Day, our thoughts are with not only those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the past, but those who put their lives at risk every day to keep us safe.

    I also welcome the Secretary of State’s update on the progress made in fighting Daesh in both Syria and Iraq. Even in the past week, we have seen further evidence of the medieval horror and barbarism that has become Daesh’s trademark: a Free Syrian Army prisoner blown to pieces with an artillery gun; children being forced to carry out executions; and Daesh’s own fighters in Mosul being forcibly drowned for attempting to surrender. Equally disturbing was yesterday’s audio message, attributed to Daesh leader Mr al-Baghdadi, calling on jihadis inside Mosul to fight to the death and urging their counterparts around the world to strike at western targets, and doing so in terms that were nakedly sectarian in their demonisation of Shi’a Muslims. What assessment have the intelligence agencies made of the authenticity of that audio message? If it is authentic, what is its significance?

    There is no doubt that those words and actions, despicable as they are, are those of a movement that is embattled, weakened and in retreat. Nowhere is that more true than in the ongoing battle for Mosul. I join the Secretary of State in saluting the bravery of the Iraqi armed forces, the peshmerga fighters, the Shi’a militia and the Sunni tribesmen who are leading this courageous and vital fight. I also pay tribute to the skill and expertise of the personnel from Britain and other countries who are advising them.

    As the battle moves deeper into the city, it is more important than ever for this operation to proceed with discipline and professionalism. We know that Daesh will be fully prepared to use Mosul’s population as human shields, to execute those who try to surrender and to use terrorist tactics against the Iraqi forces. Unfortunately, high numbers of civilian casualties therefore seem inevitable. Can the Secretary of State tell us how the Iraqi forces plan to keep those casualties to a minimum when conducting their own operations? I am sure that he will have been as shocked as I was by reports from Amnesty International of Sunni tribesmen taking part in the anti-Daesh coalition engaging in reprisals in the villages that they have liberated around Mosul against civilians who were alleged to have supported Daesh. How can we best ensure that such behaviour is not repeated inside Mosul itself? How can we best ensure that stability is restored? How can we avoid sectarian violence? How can we avoid a dangerous power vacuum once Daesh’s forces in Mosul have been destroyed?

    The Secretary of State has rightly referred to Chilcot and the lessons that need to be learned from it. Over the years, we have learned one clear lesson from Iraq: winning the battle is never enough; we must also plan effectively for the peace. I therefore hope that the Secretary of State can tell us how those plans are progressing.

    Finally on Mosul, I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to provide lasting support to the tens of thousands of civilians who have been displaced from their homes and will face destitution in the aftermath of the battle. Have there been similar commitments of humanitarian aid from our coalition partners in Iraq? If there have not, will he press them to match the UK’s contribution?

    I also thank the Secretary of State for his update on progress against Daesh in Syria. Although much of our attention has been focused on the dreadful assault on eastern Aleppo—I fully agree with his remarks about Russia and the Assad regime—we must not lose sight of the fight in Syria against Daesh. Last week, the US Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, said that an attack on Raqqa would begin

    “in the next few weeks”

    This level of urgency was reportedly triggered because of fears that an imminent attack on targets overseas was being planned within Raqqa. However, the question remains as to whether Kurdish fighters can be part of any operation on Raqqa if Turkey is also involved. If they cannot, without those Kurdish fighters, are there sufficient numbers of trained moderate Sunni rebels to take Raqqa on their own? What is the Secretary of State’s assessment of the likely timetable to move on Raqqa, of the composition of the ground forces who will wage that battle, and of the role that UK personnel and resources will play?

    We welcome the progress that has been made in the fight against Daesh in recent weeks in Mosul and elsewhere. That vital fight is one on which we support the Government and that we are clearly winning. We also welcome signs that this progress will be maintained in Raqqa, meaning that Daesh will lose its strongholds in both Iraq and Syria. I thank the Secretary of State again for his update, but hope he can address the few outstanding issues I raised.

  • I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her general support for the progress that has been made by the coalition forces, involving 67 nations, in defeating Daesh in Iraq and Syria. British servicemen and women in that theatre will welcome her words and the support from the House of Commons.

    Let me deal with some of the points that the hon. Lady raises. She asked about Mr al-Baghdadi’s propaganda video inciting people to fight, which many Members will have seen. It is a cruel irony that, as she may know, some of the intelligence we have suggests that the gentleman in question has vacated the scene, but he is none the less using internet media to encourage people to take part in violence.

    The hon. Lady asked the most important question, which is really about the management of Mosul after it is recaptured. I am talking about the management of a city of 1.5 million people who are mostly Sunnis. How will it be managed? It is vital that that should be done with a force that is plural in its composition—President Abadi and the Iraqi forces have done their level best to ensure that it is so—and that there is a government structure that commands the confidence of the people of Mosul, that delivers services for the people of Mosul, and that gets that town running again in a way that, frankly, it has not done under the tyranny of Daesh.

    I can give the hon. Lady every possible reassurance that a huge amount of preparation has been made over many, many months by the United Nations Development Programme and others, with the active participation of this and other Governments around the world who wish to see a secure future for that city. Everybody understands the paramount importance of bridging the sectarian divide. Prime Minister Abadi has talked the right language about wanting to reconcile his country and the communities therein.

    The hon. Lady asks about the timetable for the recapture of Raqqa and the American plans for that. It would be premature to give such a timetable now. What Ashton Carter was referring to was the plan to isolate Raqqa rather than specifically to recapture it. I do not think that we should get into detailed speculation about the timetable now.

    None the less, looking at the situation in the round, I think that the House will accept that considerable progress is being made by the coalition in defeating Daesh, which not only has sustained a series of military defeats but, since 2014 when this campaign began, has lost Tikrit, Baiji, Sinjar, Ramadi, Hit, Ruqba and Fallujah in Iraq. In the Kurdish areas of Syria, it has lost al-Shaddadi, Manbij, Dabiq, Jarabulus and al-Rai. Very substantial progress has been made territorially, which is having a profound moral impact on the credibility of that evil body and exposing it for what it is: a disintegrating and failing terrorist organisation.

  • Order. This is an extremely important and sensitive matter, but may I just point out to the House that there are several Members on both sides of the House who entered the Chamber after the Foreign Secretary began his statement, but who apparently, in defiance of all convention, expect to be called, which they should not? Although this is incredibly important, we have important further business to which to proceed, so I appeal to Members to please ask brief, single-sentence supplementary questions without preamble no matter how elevated their status in the House. I call Mr Crispin Blunt.

  • Is the Foreign Secretary satisfied that he has resources in the stabilisation unit in the United Kingdom and the stabilisation forces in the United Nations that are adequate to the task in Mosul? Will he give us his assessment of what is going on between Turkey and Iraq—the war of words between those leaders and the massing of Turkish armour on the borders of, and indeed in, Iraq?

  • It is vital that where Turkey can be useful—it certainly can be useful, and is more than useful in the struggle against Daesh—we maximise and optimise its contribution. Clearly there are sensitivities and difficulties that need to be managed, particularly in its handling of the Kurdish areas, where there is a risk of disagreement about the nature of some of the Kurdish groups and the threat that they pose to Turkey, and the utility that they have for the world in defeating Daesh. I am confident that we will be able to work towards the stabilisation of Mosul. As my hon. Friend knows, the UK has made considerable financial contributions towards that effort already. In September, we announced £40 million in humanitarian assistance for Mosul, bringing our total contribution to £169 million. We are also providing £300 million in loan guarantees to Iraq through the World Bank. Clearly this process must primarily be done by the Government of Iraq. This is a massive moral and political challenge for them, and obviously we are doing everything we can to support them.

  • I am very grateful to the Foreign Secretary and I welcome his update, particularly on the current situation in Mosul. I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to our servicewomen and men who put their lives at risk for our safety.

    The lives of 1.2 million civilians trapped in Mosul are indeed in grave danger. Their wellbeing is paramount, and no effort must be spared in ensuring that they are protected during the fighting and cared for in the aftermath; they suffered long enough during the two years of Daesh occupation.

    The Foreign Secretary recognises the challenges that face Mosul. Will he confirm what contingency plans have been made to support an exodus from Mosul, which has long been predicted by the UN and by aid agencies on the ground?

    On Syria, the Foreign Secretary speaks of liberating Raqqa. I appreciate that he does not wish to provide a timetable, but will he confirm that there is in fact a plan in place to do that? He has often said that he is working with the Syrian High Negotiations Committee. However, that appears to be at cross purposes with the Ministry of Defence, which is providing military support to the Syrian democratic forces, which were excluded from opposition talks in Riyadh by the HNC less than a year ago. Will the Foreign Secretary explain that contradiction?

    The Foreign Secretary refers to the resumption of training of vetted members of Syrian opposition groups. One year ago, the US-led $500 million training programme of moderate Syrian opposition forces was suspended by President Obama because of its total failure to produce any competent soldiers. Will the Foreign Secretary explain what has changed on the ground since then to lead the Government to believe that the results will be any different now? He is on record as stating that it is only when the fighting and bombing stops that we can hope to deliver the political solution, but we need to see real evidence of progress in this direction as a matter of urgency.

  • I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions. She is right to be concerned about the possible westward movement of refugees from Mosul and the possible movement of Daesh terrorists from Mosul to Raqqa. That is certainly being considered in a military context. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is currently budgeting for a migration of about 90,000 people. Preparations have been made. The UK, as I said earlier, is at the forefront of funding preparations for any such eventual movement. Clearly, the success of the operation in Mosul will largely dictate how that turns out.

    On the hon. Lady’s point about the Kurdish opposition and the High Negotiations Committee, let us be in no doubt that the HNC is a broad-based grouping that brings together people from across Syria. It has a great deal of credibility as a pluralistic and forward-looking entity that captures the possible future for that country and shows that there really can be a future for Syria without Assad, who can no longer govern that country given that he is overwhelmingly responsible for the deaths of the majority of the 400,000 people who have died in that conflict. The HNC has a great deal of credibility and we should be giving it our full backing.

  • I call John Redwood. [Interruption.] It is very unusual for him not to be here—[Interruption.] He was here, indeed. I call Sir Henry Bellingham.

  • The crimes committed by Daesh, including crimes against children, and hangings and crucifixions, are beyond brutal and horrendous. What more can be done to use UK expertise to help to bring those people to justice? Has my right hon. Friend discussed the matter with the Department for International Development in terms of funding specialist teams?

  • My hon. Friend raises an extremely good point. As I mentioned to the House a few weeks ago and repeated just now, the UK has launched a campaign, working with our partners, to bring to justice the Daesh terrorists, the perpetrators of violence and crimes against humanity. As I said before, the mills of justice grind slowly but they grind small. We are assembling the evidence, supporting NGOs in the gathering of evidence and working with our partners to establish exactly what legal mechanism would be most suited to bringing those people to justice.

  • This statement is about Daesh, but the Foreign Secretary has quite rightly not held back his words condemning Assad’s brutality to his own people. In line with the campaign by the Daily Mirror to save Aleppo, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman supports, will he come back to this House as soon as possible with a comprehensive British-led strategy to protect civilians in Syria?

  • I pay tribute to the long-standing commitment that the hon. Lady has shown to this cause. I will give the undertaking that she asks for, in the sense that we are working on that the whole time. The House will have heard me explain before that some options commend themselves to people in a slightly glib way—we talk about no-fly zones or no-bomb zones—and they sound easier than they are, but as I am sure the hon. Lady will know, there are other things that we could and should be doing. We can do them only in a coalition of international partners, and, as the Prime Minister rightly said at the October European Council, no option is off the table.

  • What is my right hon. Friend’s strategy going to be if events in the United States next week are followed by the complete victory of Russia and Assad in Syria and the elimination of Daesh by those means?

  • With his characteristic brilliance, my right hon. Friend asks a very difficult but hypothetical question which, given that it is hypothetical, I am entitled to decline to answer. What I can say is that I believe that under any circumstances, whatever happens in the United States on Tuesday of next week, the relationship between the UK and the US is the single most important political relationship in the world and will continue to be robust.

  • Nevertheless, that relationship would be a lot better if President Clinton wins, as I am sure most people in this House agree. Does the Foreign Secretary see any prospect in that of then not giving up on his desire to see a more robust response to the Russians and to Assad in Aleppo?

  • I cannot, as I say, comment on the elections in another very friendly country. We have to wait and see what happens there, but I do not think that anybody here wants the United Kingdom under any circumstances to abandon its driving role in that question.

  • Does the Secretary of State agree that we have been absolutely right in this country to provide general financial support for refugee centres throughout the middle east, and that this must continue for humanitarian reasons?

  • My hon. Friend is completely right. We have a proud record in this country of contributing to humanitarian relief and to the care of refugees—the single biggest contributor after the United States. As the House will know, £2.3 billion is the total envelope of our commitment to humanitarian relief for the area.

  • The Foreign Secretary referred to Russia’s vetoes, or potential vetoes, in the Security Council. There have been five in five years, most recently on 8 October on war crimes. Given the Russian vetoes in the UN, does he believe that the Security Council is failing? Is it not time to consider using the other possible mechanism within the United Nations—the General Assembly’s Uniting for Peace process? Would the British Government support that?

  • We are looking at that. It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that the advice I have had so far is that that would almost certainly not work, but I have asked our officials to go back and see what they can do. I have studied the proposal with interest and with care. The hon. Gentleman should not get his hopes too high, but we should rule nothing out.

  • How likely is reform in Iraq, which is so vital to this enterprise?

  • My right hon. Friend asks the fundamental question. Everybody who has talked to Prime Minister Abadi or Foreign Minister al-Jaafari, as I have, will feel that they understand what they need to do. They get the scale of the problem and the credibility that they need to build with their own people. Whether they will achieve that is a matter for them. It is vital that they do not shirk their responsibility, and we will give them every possible support.

  • The Foreign Secretary will be aware of the appalling persecution suffered by Christians and other religious minorities at the hands of Daesh, and the role that those religious communities can play in helping with the relief effort and the reconstruction of Mosul and other cities after the conflict. Can the right hon. Gentleman say what he is doing to support the idea in the Iraqi Government in particular of the positive role that Christians and other minorities can play during and after the conflict?

  • It is vital that freedom of religious belief should be guaranteed under the Iraqi constitution and under the future Syrian constitution. That is why I made the point to the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) about the pluralism of the High Negotiations Committee. That is something that we have stressed time and again to Prime Minister Abadi and it is very much part of his manifesto and his plans for the country.

  • In relation to bringing people to justice, may I commend the work of the International Commission on Missing Persons which, by its work in identifying bodies, was responsible for a number of war criminals from Bosnia being brought to justice at The Hague? The ICMP, of which I am the UK’s international commissioner, is seeking support from sponsoring Governments to continue its work in Iraq and Syria. May I assure my friends in the commission and its excellent director, Kathryne Bomberger, that the United Kingdom will remain first among equals among Governments supporting its work?

  • I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent work in tracking down missing persons. I can assure him that both he and his organisation will continue to receive the full support of the Foreign Office and of Her Majesty’s Government.

  • Can the Foreign Secretary reassure the House that in the town of Tal Afar to the west of Mosul, which Shi’a militias are moving into, there will be no risk of sectarian violence, which would clearly set back any prospect of reconciliation and reconstruction in Iraq?

  • The right hon. Gentleman will know that Tal Afar is a town with a very complex religious and ethnic mix. I wish I could give him the full assurance that he seeks, but that would be premature. We are doing everything in our power, with the training operations that we have conducted and the support that we have given, to make sure that sectarian reprisals do not happen in Tal Afar or anywhere in the recaptured territories of Iraq.

  • The Foreign Secretary spoke about the training of soldiers and vetted forces, and the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) explained why that was necessary. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that training will take place in theatre and not in the UK, as we would not want to repeat the mistakes of 2014 in respect of Libyan forces in Bassingbourn barracks in Cambridgeshire?

  • My hon. Friend will know that some of the training programmes over the past few years have not been entirely successful. As we step up our training efforts again and get on with vetting and security screening new candidates, that will be done outside theatre and outside Syria in order to get the best possible results.

  • Today I have written to the Prime Minister asking her to pay specific attention to the plight of the estimated 2,000 Yazidi women and children who are still held in sexual slavery in Mosul, and who, once released from the evils of Daesh, will need specialist care. Will the Foreign Secretary encourage the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues to look at the great work being done by the Baden-Württemberg Government in Germany, who have a programme of specialist psychological care and emotional support for these victims of unimaginable horror, with a view to the United Kingdom following suit?

  • I think that the number of female Yazidi captives has been put even higher than the hon. Gentleman indicates—I have seen a figure of 3,500. Clearly their needs will be very important as Mosul is recaptured. As he will know, the UK Government attach particular importance to looking after the victims of sexual violence in conflict.

  • Will the Foreign Secretary join me in paying tribute not only to our service personnel but to each and every one of our military families, the spouses and children, who are silently and resiliently supporting our service personnel?

  • My hon. Friend makes an excellent point that I know the whole House will want to echo. The families of our servicemen and women face hardship, anxiety and, of course, terrible personal risk.

  • What a splendid troika. Tom Tugendhat.

  • Would my right hon. Friend care to mention whether he feels that the inaction of the west over the crimes being committed in Aleppo has empowered the Russians, should they get the opportunity in coming weeks, to seek further territorial expansion?

  • My hon. Friend, who is a student of military history, will probably agree that a critical moment for this House, and indeed for the west, came in 2013 when we could have taken another path. The military space was effectively filled 18 months ago by the Russians, and indeed by Daesh, and we are now living with the consequences of that failure.

  • What are the most hopeful examples of harmonious relations between Sunni and Shi’a that the Foreign Secretary could point to that could best be spread across the middle east?

  • My hon. Friend asks a very good question. It goes to the heart of the crisis across the middle east. Everywhere we look, we see people failing to move off their sectarian base and reach out to the opposite community. There is a tragic failure of leadership across the whole region. That is the core of the problem. It requires people to have the imagination, the generosity and the courage to see that they have to be bigger and that they have to reach out to the opposite faction. I very much hope that Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi Government are indeed made of such stuff, and I see signs of hope in the co-operation in that Government between Sunni and Shi’a. That is what we have to build on in that area.

  • Presumably when Mosul falls the conflict could go into a new and equally dangerous phase in which Daesh fighters melt into the civilian population and become an insurgency. What support, in terms of retraining and re-equipping, are the Government offering the Iraqi security forces as they start becoming a counter-insurgency force?

  • Again, that is an extremely apposite question, because that is what some members of Daesh are already doing: they are acquiring razors, shaving off their beards and trying to melt back into the community. We must understand that this will be a long struggle for hearts and minds and for changing their mindset, but the UK is in there for the long haul; we are going to stay the course.

  • I am most grateful to the Foreign Secretary and to colleagues. In the presence of the Foreign Secretary, I should advise him that in his absence in the Robing Room on Tuesday afternoon, the Colombian President acknowledged in the most approving terms his book on Churchill. I trust that, as a result of that, the right hon. Gentleman will go about his business for the remainder of the day, as he should, with an additional glint in his eye and spring in his step.