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Iraq

Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2003

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In the Written Statements of 11 April 2003, Official Report, columns 38–39WS and 30 April 2003, columns 15–16WS, I described UK force level adjustments to reflect the evolving strategic situation in Iraq, including the call-out of up to 1,200 reservists. In the subsequent Written Statement of 22 May 2003, Official Report, columns 44–45WS, I announced the call-out of a further 1,500 reservists to support continuing operations within Iraq. We continue to assess the requirements for a continued UK presence in Iraq in support of the Iraqi people. This process is dependent on a number of factors, including progress made against our military campaign objectives, and multinational contributions to stabilisation operations.Positive discussions continue with a number of nations regarding military deployments to Iraq. We have so far received commitments from seven countries for contingents comprising a total of around 5,500 personnel to contribute in the UK area of operations. A Danish Marine battalion has already arrived, and is making a valuable contribution to Coalition operations in Al Qurnah.Overall, 25,000 UK servicemen and women have returned from operations in the Gulf—more than half those originally deployed. Some 17,000 UK servicemen and women currently remain in the region. We will maintain a balanced and flexible force to suit the operational situation in Iraq. To this end, I am now in a position to announce a number of further adjustments to our forces in the region.Since the statement of 30 April, we have continued where possible to scale back our military presence within Iraq and the surrounding region. The maritime presence in the Gulf now comprises two frigates, currently HMS Richmond and HMS Chatham, and a nuclear-powered submarine, supported by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels Brambleleaf and Diligence. On current plans, we envisage maintaining a maritime presence at this level for the foreseeable future.For land forces, the planned withdrawal of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and of other land personnel, which I announced on 30 April, is now complete. In addition to the movements set out in that statement, 16 Air Assault Brigade has now been withdrawn, including 3 Parachute Regiment arid 3 Army Air Corps. We have also withdrawn the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, 1

st Battalion The Light Infantry, the Queens Royal Lancers and 1st The Queens Dragoon Guards. These adjustments will be followed by the replacement of HQ 1 (UK) Armoured Division with HQ 3 (UK) Armoured Division, which we anticipate will complete by mid-July. As I have previously announced, we envisage that 19 Mechanised Brigade will deploy within the same timescale, and preparations are underway to prepare for and to facilitate this movement. HQ 102 Logistic Brigade completed its hand-over to HQ 101 Logistic Brigade in early May as planned, and the Brigades' sub-units are currently engaged in a phased rotation. When fully assembled, these units will represent a total of around 10,000 servicemen and women.

Around 90 fixed-wing aircraft and some 80 helicopters have returned following the highly successful contribution of the Royal Air Force and the Joint Helicopter Command to the Coalition air campaign. The deployment of the 1st Air Control Centre to Tallil to contribute to an overall ground-based radar picture over Iraq has allowed for the withdrawal of our two deployed E3D aircraft. The Royal Air Force now has 8 Tornado GR4s remaining in theatre with a number of supporting aircraft. In addition, the Joint Helicopter Force retains a balanced rotary-wing presence, 18 helicopters comprising Chinook, Sea King, Lynx and Gazelle helicopters.

Since the statement of 30 April, around 850 additional reservists have been accepted into service, and the call-out process continues. Our reservist men and women continue to play a vital role in supporting stabilisation operations in Iraq, in accordance with the aims of the Strategic Defence Review that the reserve forces should be more integrated, relevant and useable. In parallel to the call-out process, we have so far demobilised over 1,700 reservists who have returned from Iraq as a part of the wider programme of withdrawals.

I pay tribute to all the men and women who have contributed so successfully and professionally to the military campaign in Iraq. We continue to assess the situation as military operations contribute to the gradual return of stability to the country, and to respond in an appropriate manner; our presence will continue to be dictated by the requirements of Iraq and the Iraqi people. The House will be kept informed of any further significant developments.