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1991 - Mr Major’s Doorstep Statement on Iraq

Below is Mr Major's doorstep interview outside 10 Downing Street at 7.30am on 17th April 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

The proposal to establish some safe havens in Northern Iraq is now taking shape. When we proposed it some eight or nine days ago we began intensive discussions with a large number of countries, with the United States, with France, of course with the United Nations and Peres de Cuelliar and with a number of other nations as well. I am delighted that this proposal is now proceeding and you will know from statements previously made that we intend to establish a number of camps in Northern Iraq. They will be quite large and we will establish them speedily. Earlier this morning a group of top officials flew to the US European Command at Stuttgart where detailed planning for the operation will continue and proceed. We will have further details later today and I anticipate that the Foreign Secretary will make a statement to the House this afternoon. I can take a couple of questions before I have to leave for the North.

JOHN HARRISON:

What will be the orders given to troops should they consider it necessary to engage with Iraqi troops to protect the refugees?

PRIME MINISTER:

These are the matters that are under discussion at Stuttgart at the moment and we will make that clear at a later stage. We do not anticipate that there will be any difficulties. We think the Iraqis will respect what is going to happen. Nevertheless it is absolutely essential to get the Kurds down off the mountains and into safe havens speedily. There is no time to delay with that, it is urgent and it will proceed immediately.

JOHN SERGEANT:

It could take a long time to solve the problem of the Kurdish refugees, are you prepared to allow British troops to stay there as long as necessary?

PRIME MINISTER:

We do not have a long time to leave the Kurds where they are at the moment, and for them to safely survive. We must proceed with action now without delay and that is what we are going to do. We will see what we can do about further implementation of returning them to their homes at a later stage but we can not await for a final decision on that before we take action. Action is needed, it is needed now and that is what is going to happen.

ANOTHER REPORTER:

How many troops are we talking about?

PRIME MINISTER:

I would imagine from the United Kingdom it would be less than a Brigade, but that is part of the detailed planning and discussion that is going on this morning. But there will be a number of camps and we will need to make some strategic decisions upon which we need military advice and decisions as to how many troops there will be, but there will be British troops there, there will be French troops there, there will be American engineers there, there will be American air cover. But the precise size of that will be determined over the next few hours.

ANOTHER REPORTER:

Is this too little too late?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think that criticism can be left to stand don’t you think? This is the most wide ranging proposal that anybody has produced. The criticism often comes from people who have made very little contribution to what has happened. I think action will speak far louder than words and will drown that criticism.