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Kuwait-Iraq Border (Arrested British Soldiers)

Volume 645: debated on Wednesday 26 July 1961

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(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a statement on the arrest of three British soldiers on the Kuwait border with Iraq.

Yes, Sir. On the morning of Sunday, 23rd July, a Ferret scout car, carrying three Royal Engineers—a staff sergeant, a lance corporal, and a sapper, from 34 Field Squadron, Royal Engineers—set out on a routine road check in the forward desert area. The scout car was unarmed but the crew, of course, had personal weapons. The party had instructions to stop at the 11th Hussars check-point, which is 12 miles from the frontier.

In fact, at about 1.30 p.m., the scout car passed the check-point without stopping, and proceeded northward along the main road to the border. The soldiers are then believed to have lost their way and accidentally entered Iraq where they were arrested.

According to the Iraqi Press reports, the men are now at Rashid Camp, Baghdad. They are reported to have stated at a Press conference the day before yesterday that they were in good health and were being well treated.

A note from Her Majesty's Ambassador was handed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs yesterday morning, asking for the men's release, and for access to them meanwhile. Her Majesty's Embassy is pressing for a reply.

Although Baghdad Radio has been reported as stating that the men will be tried by a military court, Her Majesty's Embassy understands that it is not at present intended to hold more than a judicial investigation.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this incident might have led to much graver results? Will he answer three questions? First, what instructions are given in these cases where, as often happens in desert conditions, a reconnaissance patrol loses its bearings? What instructions are given during the course of training? Secondly, what action is he taking to prevent incidents of this kind occurring again? Thirdly, will he say what grounds the Iraqis have given for denying access to the men by the British Embassy?

So far, the Iraqis have not given any grounds for denying access. That is why Her Majesty's Ambassador is pressing for it.

The instruction to all troops, particularly those on active service, is that when they get lost near the territory of another country they should return to their own units. Indeed, there is evidence that in this case they stopped a local person and asked how they could get back to Kuwait. I agree that this could have led to something more serious, but I am happy to take the opportunity of saying that it was an innocent mistake and not an intentional act. I am seeing whether the instructions need any alteration to prevent further occurrences of this nature.

Is it not the case that they asked the way of a young lad, who led them to an Iraqi post? The Minister treats this with some levity, but will he try to prevent this kind of thing recurring, if only in view of our manpower shortage?

I was not treating it with levity. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were doing that. They stopped and asked the way from the only person they could find. I am not sure whether it was a boy, a girl, or a grown-up, but they were led to the wrong place.

Can the Minister, first, give an assurance that all the legal rights of these three soldiers will be properly safeguarded; and, secondly, that while the soldiers are being detained the interests of their dependants will be fully looked after by Her Majesty's Government?

I certainly give an undertaking about the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, and it will be the intention of Her Majesty's Ambassador to secure an answer to the first part of his question.