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Volume 472: debated on Monday 3 March 2008

The security situation in Iraq varies from province to province. Although levels of violence remain unacceptably high in some provinces, the security situation in Iraq improved significantly over the course of 2007. In and around Baghdad, violence has reduced to levels not seen since 2005. In the south, the security situation remains relatively stable, following the successful transfer of security responsibility for Basra province to the Iraqi authorities in December. We continue to work with the Iraqis and our coalition partners to develop further the capacity of the Iraqi security forces and to consolidate the solid progress to date, underpinned by various economic development initiatives that we are undertaking in the south.

Yet another British serviceman was killed in Iraq last week. There is widespread concern that rockets being used to kill our servicemen are, in fact, made in Iran. Is that true?

Of course I would like to take this opportunity, as have other hon. Members, to express my sympathy and condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the RAF sergeant who was killed in that dreadful incident on Friday. Recently, there has been an increase in indirect fire attacks against our forces in Basra, but they are still at a significantly lower level than they were last summer. We now deploy quite significant resources to protect those troops deployed in the contingency operating base from such attacks.

I am unable to say whether, specifically in relation to that attack, those missiles were thought to have been manufactured in Iran, but I can say—there is undoubted evidence—that in the past we have interdicted equipment, particularly weapons, which have clearly been manufactured in Iran. As I understand it, they are more likely to have been an improvised explosive device than of the missile variety. Over the past few days, President Ahmadinejad of Iran has visited Iraq and been welcomed there. There is no question but that, because of the geography of that part of the world, the Iranians will have a continuing and significant influence on Iraq—never mind the history of those two countries. My message to the Iranians—

My right hon. Friend will know that, last week, we were pleased to welcome six Iraqi trade unionists to the House of Commons, and they all talked about improved security. There were two women among them—one from Basra, one from Baghdad—and they were concerned about the continuing intimidation of and threats against women. Next time my right hon. Friend meets the leadership in Iraq, will he please impress on them the importance of saying that women in Iraq must be protected against threats and intimidation and that they have a role to play in the future of the country?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and her consistent support of trade unionists, women and others in Iraq over a long period—long before many others wanted to be engaged in that country. Her point is well made; I have made it in previous meetings with the Iraqi Government, and will seek an early opportunity to do so again. Although violence has decreased in Basra, there is some evidence of continuing violence against women. It is hopeful that General Jalil, who is in charge of the police, has identified that as a priority. I will continue to support him in that through our forces.

Bearing in mind our military commitments in Iraq and elsewhere, and the Army’s lack of medium-weight vehicles, will the Secretary of State confirm that future rapid effect system vehicle design will be based on current and foreseeable future operational requirements, and that recent lessons regarding troop protection will not be forgotten?

I give the hon. Lady that assurance with regard to the design of the FRES, particularly its hull, to which she alludes and which is most important. Valuable lessons have been learned, as can be seen in the improvement of the vehicles supplied over the past couple of years, and will be taken into account.