Miliband: 'There was never a military solution to Iraq'

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Indy Politics

David Miliband moved to distance Britain from George Bush's surge strategy in Iraq yesterday, insisting there was "never a military solution" to international conflicts and a political settlement was always essential for long-term stability.

The Foreign Secretary acknowledged that mistakes had been made in Iraq, arguing that "whatever the rights and wrongs, and there have been both, we've got to focus on the future".

In a speech that pointedly distanced the Government from the Blair era, he said: "Four times, we have sent young men and women to fight for our values, rightly in my view, and we cannot forget their bravery and their sacrifice. But while we've won the wars, it's been harder to win the peace. The lesson is that while there are military victories there is never a military 'solution'. There's only military action that creates the space for economic and political life."

He spoke as Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, said British troops would be able to hand over control of Basra to Iraqi forces "in the near future". Mr Browne told the Labour conference in Bournemouth that progress had been made since British soldiers handed over their bases in the city to local security forces. He said: "Since then, the security in that city has shown improvements but challenges remain.

"Iraqi forces and Iraqi politics must show they are up to the job. We believe they are." He added: "At some point in the near future, the Iraqi forces will be able to take over full responsibility for the security of Basra."

Mr Browne also called on the Taliban to eventually join any political talks about the future of Afghanistan. He said: "In Afghanistan, at some stage, the Taliban will need to be involved in the peace process because they are not going away any more than I suspect Hamas are going away from Palestine.

"But, in my view, those who convene that process are entitled to say there are some basic parameters that people ought to apply to their engagement."

He added: "There is no successful peacebuilding process in the world that has not been a continued engagement. People need to stay with these discussions with these engagements through their difficulties."

Mr Browne declared Afghanistan the "noble cause of the 21st century". But he warned: "It remains a fragile state. We are under no illusions about the challenges ahead. The Taliban do not want us to succeed."

Mr Miliband used his speech to signal a shift away from the foreign policy that was implemented under Mr Blair, talking about the "second wave of New Labour foreign policy". He said: "Who says in 10 years' time we will not have turned back the inexorable rise in global emissions? Who says in 10 years' time every child in the world won't be at school?

"Who says in 10 years' time there can't be a democratic and respected Iran co-operating with us and the international community against global terrorism."

He acknowledged public doubts about Britain's relationships with both the United States and Europe. He said that "both Europe and America are less popular now than 10 years ago." He said: "So what do we do? Some want distance from America. Others want distance from Europe. The Tories want divorce from both, but those are the wrong lessons."

Earlier, Mr Browne pledged a tax rebate for personnel on active service. Under the scheme, all troops who pay council tax will receive the £140 tax-free rebate for their six-month tour.

The Ministry of Defence also announced an extra £80m funding to build 1,350 new en-suite bed spaces for soldiers.