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Military Personnel (Protection and Immunity)

Volume 589: debated on Thursday 18 December 2014

I wish to inform the House of arrangements put in place to regularise the status of British military personnel serving in Iraq, as part of our contribution in response to the Government of Iraq’s request for support in dealing with the threat posed by ISIL. As I mentioned in my statement to the House on 16 October 2014, Official Report, column 468, and as described in the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 13 October 2014, Official Report, column 9WS, UK military personnel are being deployed in support of the Iraqi security forces’ capacity-building efforts.

ISIL is a clear national threat to the UK, as it is a global threat to our international partners and the region. ISIL makes no distinction between cultures, countries and religions. If it is left unchecked, we will face a so-called Caliphate, run by terrorists, on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member, with a declared and proven determination to attack our country and our people.

The Government of Iraq are in the front line of the struggle. It is vital that local Iraqi forces are able to take on ISIL terrorists, and that they are given the support they need to do so. We are keen to do what we can to help provide that support and enhance the Iraqis’ own efforts to defeat ISIL.

Deploying military personnel to assist the Government of Iraq is a key part both of building our relationship with Iraq and of our strategy to deal with the threat of ISIL.

UK military personnel initially deployed to Iraq in August 2014, at the explicit request of the Government of Iraq, in order to help stabilise the humanitarian situation in northern Iraq. The UK has since expanded its support to the Government of Iraq, by providing training and assistance, so that their forces can roll back ISIL’s advance on the ground.

After long discussions with the Government of Iraq, we are clear that coalition countries will not be offered a status of forces agreement at this time. The only way currently agreeable to the Government of Iraq to place coalition military personnel on a satisfactory legal footing is to accredit them to their respective embassies in Baghdad and, to facilitate that, to issue them with diplomatic or official passports. (United States military personnel are an exception. They are in Iraq on the basis of an existing strategic framework agreement.)

We will therefore exceptionally issue official passports to military personnel going to Iraq who will be on the ground and directly providing training and assistance. These staff will be accredited to the British embassy in Baghdad and will be accorded the privileges and immunities of administrative and technical staff under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations by the Government of Iraq.

This is an exceptional measure based on the urgency of the requirement to respond to the Government of Iraq’s request for assistance, and the need to ensure that our personnel have sufficient legal protection. Several of our coalition allies have adopted or are adopting the same measure.

In the meantime we will continue to work with the Government of Iraq and our coalition allies to find a more sustainable solution.

I will inform the House if the situation changes.