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Volume 448: debated on Monday 26 June 2006

The requirement for a continuing coalition presence in Basra will persist until clearly defined conditions are achieved. As with all 18 Iraqi provinces, it is the achievement of those conditions that will ultimately determine when Iraqi security forces can take over responsibility for security.

Is not the purpose of UK forces in Basra to maintain order and to ensure basic amenities? If so, why did a state of emergency have to be declared after a surge of killings, and why is Bill Neely, ITN’s international editor, reporting on limbs amputated for lack of basic medical supplies, children dying from preventable diseases, and no treatment for cancer patients for three years in Basra’s main hospital? Why are Ministers sleep-walking when they should be waking up to their responsibilities? If they say, “Can’t do”, should not it be a case of “Can’t stay”?

My hon. Friend’s position on the presence of British forces in Iraq is well known, as it has been over the years. The fact is that British forces in Basra have seen an improvement in a significant number of the services available to the people of Basra. There has been an increase in violence over the last few months, but that is entirely coincidental with the period between the election and the formation of the Iraqi Government. The Iraqi Government are now in place and the Prime Minister, the new Defence Minister and the new Minister of the Interior have publicly stated that security in Basra is a priority. They have developed a plan that will be led by the Iraqi security forces themselves, in the form of the Iraqi army. There are significant difficulties; the Iraqi police have been significantly infiltrated by violent groups who are part of an outside process and there is a degree of corruption, but the plan addresses those issues. To suggest that the situation for the ordinary people of Basra is no better since British forces have been there is not true—it has improved for them.

Whatever the time scale for our armed forces in Basra, the Secretary of State’s earlier comments on possible replacements for the Snatch Land Rover in Basra and elsewhere in Iraq are welcome, provided they lead to early action. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to consider the grievous gap in our capability for clearing mines for light forces, which in practice means most of our forces in Iraq, and indeed in Afghanistan. Both those factors are putting lives at risk unnecessarily.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening comments. I have already made my position clear to the House, so it is unnecessary to repeat it. I shall take into account the hon. Gentleman’s second point, although I am not aware of a level of risk immediately generated by the absence of capability that he suggests.

When the members of the Select Committee on Defence were in Iraq recently we met members of the 10th Division and General Latif. As well as giving the Iraqis support in training, did my right hon. Friend hold discussions with the Iraqi Government about how they can be resourced in terms of equipment and other things they need to do the job that they are eager and willing to take over in neighbouring states, as well as playing their part in bringing security to Basra?

I, too, met General Latif and visited the 10th Division. At that stage, he was proudly showing off to me the equipment allocated to him. The indications were that if there had been a blockage in relation to the necessary equipment, the equipment was now forthcoming. The 10th Division was deploying forces in Basra city when I was there, giving security in the city a clear Iraqi face, which was welcome both to our troops and to the people of the city.