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Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the security situation in Iraq. [221290]
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Although insurgent attacks have continued, particularly in the four largely Sunni provinces of central Iraq, their overall number has declined since the elections. The majority of attacks are against coalition forces, but one attack in the town of Hillah, south of Baghdad, recently killed more than 160 civilians. Significant parts of Iraq, including Multi-National Division (South-East), remain relatively quiet.
Mr. Rooney: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the British troops are doing a superb job in southern Iraq, particularly on regeneration; and how does he see that process spreading to the rest of the country, particularly with the advent of the new Government?
Mr. Hoon: In areas where security is good and the security situation remains relatively calm it is important that we build on that to allow the delivery of reconstruction projects. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Department for International Development on its work and on the excellent way in which it has co-operated with military forces in MND (South-East) in delivering several reconstruction projects concerned with running water, sewerage, power and the like. For the moment, it is crucial that the majority of work on military-sponsored projects is done by local Iraqis and contractors, whose wages help the local economy still further.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Does the Secretary of State confirm the estimate by the head of the Iraqi intelligence services, General Shahwani, that the number of insurgents has grown to more than 200,000, of whom about 40,000 are hard-core members and the rest are active supporters? If that is the case, what will the military situation be in future?
Mr. Hoon: I do not accept that estimate; in fact, I do not recognise those figures. I do not in any way underestimate the severity, from time to time, of insurgent attacks, but our evidence is that a great number of those attacks are largely the work of foreign fighters—fanatics who have come into Iraq from other countries in order to continue a campaign against the west. As I said, their target has mostly been innocent Iraqis. That is obviously to be deplored and demonstrates that they are not at all interested in anything other than promoting violence and anarchy, and that they have to be defeated.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): While I would agree with my right hon. Friend about security and the need for much improvement in that respect, does he agree that the turnout of the people of Iraq on election day should be commended, as should everybody involved with it? I was in Basra, where 80 per cent. of the population turned out, despite security threats and some mortar attacks. That is a mark of the courage of the people and of everybody involved in security in Iraq on that particular day.
Mr. Hoon: Scarcely a session of Defence questions goes by without my paying tribute to my hon. Friend, whom I again thank for the efforts that she made in the course of the elections. She visited a number of polling stations where she was able to see for herself what we all learned about the remarkable courage and determination of the Iraqi people to take their opportunity to vote, supported, as has perhaps not been sufficiently noted, by Iraqi security forces. The fact that trained Iraqis took responsibility for security at the polling stations is an enormously positive sign for the future, in terms not only of the election but of their capability to deal with their own security.
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): Although we all accept that the British troops are doing an

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