Foreign Secretary Jack Straw interviewed by John Humphrys, BBC Radio ‘Today’ programme, 18 May 2004 (Excerpt)

HUMPHRYS: How many people, Iraqi people, have been killed during the occupation? Do you have a figure or don't you?

STRAW: We don't know for certain, and one of the reasons we don’t know is because it’s extremely difficult to keep those figures. There are however -

HUMPHRYS: Well the Americans haven’t even tried.

STRAW:Well, we have have tried –

HUMPHRYS: Have you?

STRAW: Yes we have. And I gave answers to a Parliamentary Question on this. I went into it in a great deal of detail. We’ve made use of NGO estimates, and others, but the last estimate which I gave in answer to a Parliamentary Question, and I speak from recollection but I’m happy to have this checked, was about ten thousand. That was about three months ago, and I’m happy to provide you and Parliament with the latest estimate. But when this first arose - I accept that it is odd that coalition forces have not kept consistent records about estimates of people in Iraq who’ve been killed. They will say, well, getting the figures is extremely difficult, and I accept that, but I have certainly gone into it in great detail, sure as I’m sitting here.

HUMPHRYS: It’s not right that the Americans haven’t done so, is it?

STRAW:Well, in a more perfect world there ought to have been estimates kept, but as I say I’ve done my best, in answers to Parliamentary Questions, to provide the estimates. Many many people sadly have lost their lives since the conflict began. It is however worth pointing out that almost all of those who have lost their lives have either lost their lives because they have been terrorists or insurgents seeking to disrupt the work of the coalition to build a representative democratic Iraq or, tragically, they have been caught in crossfire. And the coalition authorities wanted there to be no casualties, and there were some months, particularly last year, when the number of casualties on either of coalition forces or of civilians was very low. If you think about June and July last year, and early August, what then happened was the insurgents decided on the 19th of August to attack, not coalition forces, but to attack the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, they blew that up, scores and scores of people including Sergio Vieira de Mello the United Nations special representative, was killed there, and since then the security situation has been more difficult. But let nobody say that it’s become more difficult because of the work of the coalition forces. It’s become more difficult because of a decision by insurgents and terrorists to try and disrupt the transition to a free Iraq and to murder not just coalition forces but their own Iraqi politicians

HUMPHRYS: Well many, many people would argue - many people who were there and have seen it for themselves, argue that it’s also a factor that the way in which the American soldiers themselves have behaved has contributed to this. But there we are. Let’s get your assessment: last time we spoke, time before last perhaps, you accepted that the situation in Iraq was worse than you had believed it would be at this point. Looking at it today, in the light of that bomb yesterday and in the light of things that have happened in the last several weeks, what’s your assesssment now?

STRAW:Well it hasn’t really changed. I mean it’s palpable that the difficulties which we have faced have been more extensive than it was reasonable to assume nine months ago. What changed, as I’ve just indicated, and made a very big difference, was the attack on the United Nations. A hundred people, I say from recollection, were killed. But Sergio Vieira de Mello, as I saw myself when I visited Baghdad a month or so before he was killed, really was working very well and cooperatively with the Iraqi people, and with coalition forces, to help get together a new Iraq. The insurgents understood that, and were determined to destroy that. Now since then many of the problems have arisen, but we’re seeing these through, we are going to see these through. I still believe that the action that we took in March of last year was justified in the terms in which we set it out and I also believe that we shall see in the months and years ahead the emergence of a new, democratic Iraq which will be working far more for the good of the Iraqi people than anything that happened under Saddam Hussein.

HUMPHRYS: Well, that obviously remains to be seen, and in the meantime there are as you acknowledged enormous problems, and these are problems personally for Mr Blair himself, aren’t they? They are having a serious effect on his leadership in this country, are they not?

STRAW: I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t think they’re sort of personal to him. We made –

HUMPHRYS: Well he took the decision to take us to war.

STRAW: Well with the greatest of respect, it was a decision made by the House of Commons on a clear vote on a substantive motion. Yes it’s certainly true -

HUMPHRYS: About which there have since been many many questions raised, but then we don’t have time to go into that.