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FOREIGN SECRETARY COMMENTS ON BBC OPINION POLL FROM IRAQ (12/12/05)
 

EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE FOREIGN SECRETARY, JACK STRAW, ON BBC RADIO 4'S TODAY PROGRAMME ON MONDAY 12 DECEMBER 2005
 
INTERVIEWER:
It's difficult to get a really accurate picture of what's happening in Iraq, not least because the situation's so different across the country, in some areas journalists simply can't function properly because the risks are too great, in others there's no problem. The BBC and other media organisations commissioned an opinion poll to try to reflect what people who lived there think of life since the invasion nearly three years ago and it's a complex picture not least because of the regional differences.
 
Most people think things are, think that life is not better than it was before the invasion and security is the big issue, an even bigger majority think foreign troops should leave and yet in spite of all that most people think things are going to get better, there is a real sense of optimism reflected in the poll. Our World Affairs Correspondent John Simpson is in Baghdad.
 
JOHN SIMPSON:
Iraq is a complex society with three main population groups who often want completely different things. That being the case looking at the results of a nationwide opinion poll like this and saying Iraqis think such and such is tricky because it often depends which Iraqis you're talking about, Sunnis, Shi'ites or Kurds. Not surprisingly then these poll results often seem quite contradictory, the subject of security clearly dominates people's lives, they're desperate for stronger and more effective Government, they're pretty scathing about the Coalition forces and yet they're surprisingly optimistic about the future and feel pretty secure in their own neighbourhoods. So as I say, one single catch all statement like Iraqis are worried about their security or conversely Iraqis are optimistic about the future doesn't sufficiently describe what's going on here.
 
You have to remember that although there's constant daily violence in several provinces the majority of the country is moderately peaceful, if you live in the Kurdish North East for instance, you'll be pretty happy with the way things are going, the Kurds are left alone to do as they like. The Shi'ites are fairly happy too since they pretty much run the country now, that's a good sixty five or seventy per cent or the population but as long as most Sunnis are resentful and angry and feel excluded from power there won't be peace in Iraq.
 
So when seventy one per cent say their lives are good and twenty nine per cent say they're bad that isn't quite as worthy of celebration as it might seem, most of the optimistic seventy one per cent are Shi'ites and Kurds and most of the pessimistic twenty nine per cent are no doubt Sunnis. It's probably not really quite as neat and tidy as that but these figures are almost precisely the same as they were in last year's BBC poll. The polarisation of Iraqi society between winners and losers continues unabated.
 
Still security apart many people's lives have got better, there are more consumer goods and wages have gone up to pay for them but people still complain bitterly about the bad electricity supply and if this were summertime they'd be complaining about water shortages too. The Iraqis always thought America could do everything, now they say it can't even give us power and water. That's partly why there's been such a big rise in the number of people who think the 2003 invasion was wrong, last year it was thirty nine per cent, now it's fifty per cent.
 
Anecdotal evidence is always dodgy but here's an anecdote anyway, when last year's BBC survey came out I did my television report on it from a busy market in central Baghdad, I wondered round on my own afterwards and even did some shopping, I certainly won't be doing that today, it would be an invitation to kidnapping and murder. It may be hard to express this change in per centage terms but everyone here knows that Baghdad has become a far, far more dangerous place than it was last year.
 
INTERVIEWER:
That was John Simpson. Well the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is on.
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Good morning from Brussels.
 
INTERVIEWER:
What do you take from this poll?
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well similar points to that which John Simpson and yourself have taken in, in your introductions which is that security is bad in parts of the country and it overshadows the performance of the country as a whole. It's the fundamental reason why the electricity and water supplies are unsatisfactory.
 
At the same time as John Simpson said, it's a complex picture and when I talk to Iraqis and when I'm there and indeed am abroad I try to talk to as many Iraqis as possible, what you get this is this complicated and to some extent contradictory picture, people are worried about security and without security people obviously can't live the rest of their lives. At the same time in many, many neighbourhoods the situation is pretty peaceful for those individuals so they're worried about the country as a whole or what's going on in Baghdad but not so much in their own areas. And in material terms the country has got a lot better since the invasion three years ago.
 
What that I think presages is that if the elections work satisfactorily on Thursday you get a stable democratic constitutionally elected Government established and then you get a gradual take over of security by the Iraqi forces, you can see a benign pathway over the next twelve to eighteen months in which life genuinely gets better in terms of security as well as everything else. But there are, obviously there's, there's the big question mark about whether sec, effective security can be established. I think it will be but there is absolutely no grounds for complacency.
 
INTERVIEWER:
So there is that big question mark as you acknowledge, there is also the fact that many tens of thousands of people have died since the war and that as you say there are serious problems in the country now. We're nearly three years after the war. Given all of that and given the uncertainties of the future can you still say not just that the war was right which I know you will say but that we've handled it in any way that is remotely acceptable since then?
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well you know my position about the military action I've thought about it many times, I think it was justified. I've also said John, that mistakes have been made subsequent to the war, that is obvious. I think overall it has been handled as well as it could in circumstances which weren't fully anticipated, namely the level of insurgency and external terrorism which the Iraqis have suffered.
 
INTERVIEWER:
Should they not have been anticipated?
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well they were to some extent but I mean frankly nobody when we talked to all sorts of people, not only the Americans and ourselves the Coalition people but more to the point Iraqis, nobody anticipated this level of insurgency by some very, very determined terrorist groups as well as local insurgents.
 
INTERVIEWER:
Yes, we were told the exact opposite would happen weren't we? That there would be much less terrorism.
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well I think in the long term there will be.
 
INTERVIEWER:
How long is the long term?
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
I'm not going to put an exact time on it but as this poll indicates I think that most Iraqis although they recognise that times have been difficult for many but, for no means all Iraqis over the last three years, recognise that there is now a pathway to a much more democratic and more peaceful future and that's really important. And, so you've got to balance what has happened in the last three years which has been more difficult than we anticipated by the fact that Iraqis now have not just the chance but the reality of running Iraq for themselves, something which would have been impossible three years ago. And let me say, when I was doing interviews this time last year in the run up to the elections, the first elections which were due on January the 30th of 2005 you were sceptical about whether this democratic pathway would operate, so indeed was I, I never really thought you'd have three separate sets of elections on January the 30th in the referendum in October and now these full blown Parliamentary Government elections in December on time and with these rising turn outs and certainly the first two sets of elections with relative peace and calm, very few suggestions of fraud or inappropriate practice and results which were approved.
 
INTERVIEWER:
But you'd acknowledge that it's not good enough to have elections even if a lot of people do turn out to vote and the continuing violence? Because you see after the last election or before the last election we were told that if things went well then we would see a fall off in the levels of violence, we've actually seen a very sharp increase haven't we? As you'll know a report complied by the Pentagon for the American Congress said causalities including Iraqi Police and soldiers as well as civilians have risen from about twenty six a day on last January the 1st to sixty four a day more recently, I mean this is desperately worrying stuff isn't it?
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well I'm not sure that I ever suggested that after the referendum there would be a drop in violence, all the discussions I've taken part in with Iraqis and with Coalition chiefs suggested that there was going to be an increase in violence which is exactly what has happened. As these terrorists and insurgents increase their effort to stop the democratic process taking place and let us be clear that these days there are of course tragically still Coalition forces who are being killed but overwhelmingly the target of the terrorists are other Iraqis, that's what makes it so appalling.
 
What we hope and pray for however is that when and if as I believe there will be, there is a clear result from the elections this Thursday and a formation of a new Government which will take place in the new year, that the terrorists and insurgents will understand that they can not succeed in trying to form an Iraq by the ballot, er.. by the bullet and the bomb and that they will recognise and so will the majority of Sunni that their future as lies with a democratic inclusive Iraq as it does for the Kurds and the Shia.
 
INTERVIEWER: 

In the battle against terrorism it is believed that the Americans are torturing people, that they're taking suspects, Extraordinary Rendition is the expression used, flying them to countries where torture is carried out and that many of these flights are going through Britain, have passed through British airports. Tony Blair was asked about that in Parliament, he said in respect of airports I don't know what you are referring to. Well you know what I'm referring to don't you? What's your view on this?
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well, I'm happy to give my view.  Can I say that I was due to answer a Parliamentary Question today to Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat spokesman and that would have been done at three thirty, I spoke to Ming  last night in anticipation of this interview and he's very kindly agreed that I can give the details of the answer on your programme.
 
The Home Office and the Foreign Office have made very detailed searches of all our records to see whether has been any case during this Bush Administration or indeed since the Labour Government took office in 1997 in which there were requests for agreement either for over flights or for refuelling or other facilitation for what you've described as "Rendition" and the answer to this is that as, as for the Bush Administration this careful research has been unable to identify any occasion since the 11th of September 2001  which was Ming's question or earlier in the Bush Administration when we received a request for permission by the United States for a Rendition through the United Kingdom territory or airspace
 
JH:  So they've been doing it without our authority?
 
Hang on a minute ...nor are we aware by other means of any such case.
Now..and ...our people have checked through all the details of the Liberty suggestions, which Liberty put in a letter to Chief Constables; they have found no records which corroborate either the details of what Liberty say and no papers relating to any policy considerations of what Liberty say...
 
INTERVIEWER:
So I, let me be clear then, are you saying you do not believe that any CIA flights carrying suspected terrorists have touched down in this country en route to another country where they might be tortured?
 
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
That appears to be the case.    What you're asking me is to prove a negative but what  I can say is .....
 
 
JH: 400 flights!
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
well allow me to say ...
that  what  I can say is we have checked the records as carefully as we can, I'm as certain as I can be that no requests for permission
 
JH:  Ah.
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
 
 No.  Hang on a sec...no  requests for permission have come to the United Kingdom Government. But as well as checking whether we've received permission, we've also checked whether there's any other information on the files, any information at all which would corroborate what Liberty are saying, because Liberty's suggestions are obviously very serious indeed.
 
 
JH:  Indeed.  And the numbers of these aircraft were recorded.  They were recorded amongst other people by plane spotters who obviously would have no political axe to grind.  They simply made a note of the numbers of the aircraft and they were CIA aircraft - or are you telling me they weren't CIA aircraft?
 
JS:  No I'm not telling you that and of course planes from other countries, military planes and other planes from their agencies come and go all the time through...
 
JH: Precisely
 
JS But as I say, on this issue we've checked as carefully as we can and the answer is the answer I've just given you, John and I hope that provides some reassurance....
 
INTERVIEWER:
Well I'm, I'm still slightly puzzled because I don't, when you say we've checked, let us say an aircraft touches down in Scotland, refuels and then goes off again, when you say you've checked that flight obviously you don't mean that, that a Bobby has gone on the plane and seen if anybody is in shackles and come off again and said no, that's fine. Clearly that didn't' happen so how were those flights checked? How can you be certain that this has not been going on?
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
... you can't be, how can we be certain? First of all, let me also say
 
 
JH  Well how did you check?  That's really what I'm asking.
 
 FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well, let me say this, that it's been the practice of the United States Government, when they have sought such transfers in the past seek, to seek permission
 
JH  They've done it before?  Rendition flights?
 
 FOREIGN SECRETARY:
 
.... and another part of the answer that I shall be giving to the House of Commons this afternoon is that there were two occasions in 1998 when I as Home Secretary received requests from the United States Government for permission for a flight to land and be refuelled on the way to the United States where a suspect was due to stand trial there. This could be regarded as Rendition and in that case or  those two cases because I was satisfied that the person would be standing trial in a system which has a fair trial record, I gave permission for the flight to take place.
 
JH:  Right well let's ...
 
 
There is one other case, sorry,  where we are still checking the records, but one other case which is to the recollection of the officials and broadly to myself   although we've still not fully identified the papers, where there was a request to me by the United States for a transfer to a third country. We, and I werewas not satisfied about the circumstances in which that transfer would take place and therefore the request was refused. Those requests were under the Clinton Administration, not under the Bush Administration.
 
INTERVIEWER:
Let, let me try and sum this up then, so no requests have been made; Are you saying that you, the Police were able to check in such a way and I'd, I'd be intrigued to know how they would have done this, that they can be clear that there were no terrorist suspects on those many CIA flights that obviously have landed in this country? There's no question about CIA flights landing here, refuelling and taking off again is there? I mean that happens all the time doesn't it as you acknowledge? How can we be sure that on those flights, on those aircraft there were not terrorist suspects who were going to be taken off to be tortured?
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well first of all we have the assurance of Secretary Rice which is very clear. Secondly it has been the practice of the United States Government to seek permission, they did so in 1998, they've not done so in the Bush Administration.  Thirdly   ....
 
JH But Mr Bellinger..sorry but Mr Bellinger, we spoke to Mr Bellinger who works, as you know, for Condoleeza Rice, and heads the legal department, and he said rendition flights have landed and taken off in this country.
 
JS:  Well.  So the third point is we've checked as carefully as we can and I've given you the information from our records. It is also the case - and this has been made clear time and time again, that military flights by other countries are not subject to checking by local authorities.  Ours aren't when they're abroad
 
JH: So we don't know...
 
JS:  Well  I think we've got a pretty clear picture
 
JH But how?  I'm sorry but I have to repeat the question.  how do we, how can we be clear short of putting a Police Officer on an aircraft and checking it, how can we be sure apart from taking the word of Condoleeza Rice as well I grant you, though her word has been challenged as you know by other people, how can we be sure? We can't can we?
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
because the practice of the United States Government has in the past to seek permission, we, I was asked a question by Menzies Campbell, I'm happy to give the answer to it. We have checked the records as carefully as we can and I believe that the answer that we've given from the records suggests that there have been no such flights through United Kingdom territory. Now we, we will continue to look at the evidence that Liberty and others have provided and to carry on making those checks but that is the position as I believe it to be at (indistinct)
 
INTERVIEWER:
Just a, just a very quick thought. Why weren't those checks made before Liberty asked you? Why did Mr Blair say he didn't know what they were talking about?
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
well I wasn't in the House of Commons when the Prime Minister said that
 
INTERVIEWER:
That's a bit odd, everybody else knew.
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
no and there are differences of opinion about what Rendition amounts to but what we take Rendition to be is a situation where someone is being transferred from one country to another lawfully under the terms of that country's own legal position but without extradition which is not lawful so far as the United Kingdom is concerned in, in the way in which we act but it is for some other countries. And we've had all these allegations, Condoleeza Rice has done her best to reassure people about the United States practice, I hope that the information which I've now given to your listeners and which I'll be giving to Parliament later on today will provide further reassurance.
 
INTERVIEWER:
Well I have to just tell you as you will know that Louise Arbour the United Nations Ambassador, she said she believes the US is among a group of countries advocating an erosion of the total ban on torture.
 
FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well I note what Louise Arbour has said, that's her opinion, I also note what she said in terms of seeking assurances from countries for example some in the Middle East, as to whether or not we, we should ourselves transfer people back to those countries, their own nationals, I happen to believe as does the Home Secretary Charles Clarke, that it's very sensible for us to seek assurances, to get assurances, to ensure that those assurances are then monitored before we transfer anybody back to those countries.
 
 
JH  Foreign Secretary, many thanks