Tony Baldry MP is Conservative MP for Banbury and became chairman of
the Conservative Human Rights Commission in July. He has formerly
served as both a Foreign Office minister and chairman of the
International Development Select Committee. Here he writes in his capacity as chairman of the recently-formed Conservative Friends of Iraq.
There has been for a number of years a Labour Party organisation called the Labour Friends of Iraq. My understanding is that it grew out of the campaign against Saddam Hussein in support of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs.
With the strengthening prospect of a Conservative Government, the Iraqi politicians, and the Iraqi diaspora in the UK were becoming increasingly worried that the absence of any equivalent organisation within the Conservative Party implied that the Conservatives were uninterested in Iraq.
To remove the slightest suspicion of any uninterest in the Conservative Party in a new emerging democratic Iraq, the Conservative Friends of Iraq has been set up with the encouragement and support of William Hague and David Lidington.
Conservative Friends of Iraq is chaired by myself and is intended to be a grouping of Conservative Members of Parliament, Parliamentary candidates, and members of the Conservative Party who wish to take a close and sustained interest in Iraq. It is intended to have a website up and running hopefully in the not too distant future, and in due course to try and arrange further visits to Iraq.
Whilst at present it is relatively straightforward travelling to Kurdistan, travel anywhere else in Iraq is not easy, and travel in Baghdad still requires considerable security resources, such as reinforced vehicles and close protection. All too tragically evidenced by the recent bombings in Baghdad near the Ministry of Justice and the Provincial Government headquarters which left 136 dead and well over 500 wounded – terrorist attacks clearly designed to try and undermine confidence in the Government of Nouri al-Maliki, notwithstanding the Iraqis perception of the security situation,
The Iraqis' perception of the security situation is much, much better and much more optimistic than that of foreigners. So Iraqi friends suggested that the easiest way for me to get from Baghdad to Basra would be by train. Such a journey to them seemed a perfectly straightforward, now everyday occurrence. When I tried out this suggestion on the UK Ambassador in Baghdad, I was left in no doubt that so far as the UK embassy was concerned this would not be seen as a sensible move!