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ISIL (Iraq)

Volume 596: debated on Monday 8 June 2015

The UK contributes significantly to the coalition against ISIL by providing sophisticated aircraft such as Tornado, Reaper, Rivet Joint and Sentinel from across the middle east and Cyprus to support Iraqi ground forces. We lead the coalition’s counter-improvised explosive device training programme and have trained more than 1,400 Iraqis in counter-IED and other infantry skills. Yesterday, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) will have heard, we offered to expand that counter-IED and other training to additional coalition training sites.

Major General Tim Cross, who was the senior British officer involved in post-war planning in Iraq, attributed the fall of Ramadi to a lack of will or, as he put it, “moral cohesion” on the part of Iraqi forces. What is my right hon. Friend’s Department doing to help promote that moral cohesion in an Iraqi army that frequently heavily outnumbers its ISIL opponents?

The partners in the coalition and Prime Minister al-Abadi recognise that the Iraqi security forces need support to help them take the fight to ISIL on the ground. That is why we are contributing not simply to air support but to the building partner capacity programme, which aims to boost the capabilities and confidence of the Iraqi security forces.

It is certainly correct that the Iraqi forces need strengthening. What further measures does the Secretary of State have in mind to do exactly that, as it is the long-term guarantee of security?

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced at the weekend, we have offered a further 125 troops to join the coalition troops training the Iraqi security forces, including more than 60 counter-IED trainers. Those additional troops will be the first UK personnel deployed to training sites outside Irbil or Baghdad and, subject to the needs of the coalition, will take our presence in Iraq to more than 275 troops. As well as further counter-IED trainers, we are offering specialist training in areas such as medical skills, equipment maintenance, manoeuvre support and information operations.

Building and strengthening partner capacity is happening not just in Iraq but in neighbouring countries. Will the Secretary of State say a little more about what we are doing with Jordan and whether we are expanding our capability there?

We have begun the training of moderate Syrian forces in bases outside Syria and a number of people are contributing to that training. Progress will depend on identifying suitable moderate forces that are prepared to take the fight to ISIL, particularly in the north of Syria, and ensuring that once they are trained they are ready to rejoin that fight. We are making that contribution to the training effort being led by the Americans and proposed for four different sites, all outside Syria.

What steps is the Department taking to work with other Departments, particularly the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, to ensure that measures being taken to counter extremism include aid to support education, not just military action?

The hon. Lady is quite right. The effort has to be spread across diplomatic activity, political activity and communications activity. We have to make efforts to deradicalise extremists in our societies, so we have to take measures across the board. ISIL cannot simply be defeated militarily, and I can assure her that this is an effort that is spread across the Whitehall Departments to which she referred.

Will the Secretary of State clarify, with the additional deployment, how many UK troops will serve in Iraq? Will he confirm that they are working not just with the Kurdistan Regional Government and in Baghdad but with the very varied ethnic groups in Iraq whose support is essential to a successful coalition effort?

The number involved, as I told the House, is about 275, but it will vary as the training forces begin and end service. The significance of the announcement at the weekend is that we will—[Interruption.] Two hundred and seventy five is the number that I have given the House. The significance of the announcement at the weekend is that some of those trainers will train at the building partner capacity bases outside the Kurdish areas.