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Iraq: UK and US Forces

Volume 686: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What consultation has taken place with the Government of the United States about the strategy for the future deployment of British and American forces in Iraq.

My Lords, we have regular discussions with our US and other coalition partners on all aspects of our operations in Iraq, including the strategy for future deployment of British and American forces.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that response. Perhaps I may press him a little further on how the United States Department of Defense is engaging in the process. The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, is widely regarded as the main architect of pretty much all US activity on the ground in Iraq, but he is not widely regarded as a big enthusiast for consultation even in his own Government. Can my noble friend assure the House that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is himself fully engaged in the exchanges taking place?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me an opportunity to give exactly that assurance to the House. We have excellent relations with the Pentagon at all levels. At the highest level, the Secretary of State has regular discussions with his opposite number; he met him most recently on 28 September at the NATO Defence Ministers summit, at which they discussed a number of issues. I think that it is clear that the United Kingdom has influenced and continues to influence US policy on Iraq. For example, we have had an effect on the conditions for transition in Iraq, which were drawn up by the joint committee, on the strategy for the multinational division in the south-east of the country, and on the negotiations on the renewal of UN Security Council resolutions. We focus on outcomes, and we can see the way in which the first of the provinces have achieved transition in Iraq as evidence—given that those were areas under the leadership of the United Kingdom—of our clear influence on the US Administration.

My Lords, last night the Defence Secretary said that there would be an inquiry into the Iraq war, contradicting what the Foreign Secretary had said earlier in the other place. Who should we believe?

No, my Lords, there has not. What the Defence Secretary said has been clearly stated: we are not ruling in and we are not ruling out an inquiry. We are saying that there should not be an inquiry now. It would be wholly inappropriate to undermine the work being done by our troops in very difficult circumstances by undertaking to hold an inquiry at this time.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that British forces are still deployed in considerable numbers in two separate theatres at levels that cannot be sustained indefinitely without causing lasting damage to the capabilities of the services? In the light of this serious situation, what is the Government’s future strategy for our deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan to ease the present difficulties?

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord is right to say that our forces are under considerable pressure in the operations that we are undertaking in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, data that came out yesterday on the level of morale in our Armed Forces showed that soldiers’ morale is up by 14 per cent since April of this year.

It is not spin, my Lords. The level of job satisfaction in the Army today is the highest that it has ever been. Those are the data. When I have talked to members of our Armed Forces about the challenges that they are undertaking, the high level of morale that exists today has been made very clear to me. The pressures that we are under are there, but we are coping with those pressures, and the facts underline that.

My Lords, I assume that your Lordships’ morale is probably up 12 per cent having heard how much influence we are having on the United States. However, does the Minister agree that the real and urgent need is for consultation between the United States and British Governments on the question of promoting stability, the rule of law and economic development in Iraq? Only after that can we make sensible, clear judgments about force deployments.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that decisions about force deployments need to flow from the development of conditions on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is clear that the strategies that we are following in both those theatres are working. But I do not think that we should mock the data that come out of attitude surveys. It is easy for people to speak about headlines criticising what our Armed Forces are undertaking without looking at the data. We look at the data and take action on them.

My Lords, what consultations are taking place between Her Majesty’s Government and the United States about a possible role for the United Nations when our joint strategy indicates a withdrawal from Iraq?

My Lords, the role for the United Nations is one of a number of factors that we discuss with our coalition partners, including the United States.

My Lords, what discussions have taken place with other members of the European Union that are actively involved in Iraq?

My Lords, as my noble friend indicates, the relationship that we have with all our coalition partners is important to us. Those in the European Union have an important voice in these matters. The way in which we work together in the coalition and the progress that we have achieved together in difficult circumstances show that the process of consultation works.

My Lords, I am not aware of it being officially described as a “slip”. The descriptions in the reports differ. What is important is what was actually said—and that is what I have relayed to the House.

My Lords, if the strategy in Iraq is to transfer authority and regions to the Iraqi Government, should it not then be the first priority to start to give that Government some authority over the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police? At present, they have virtually none.

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. The situation is changing quite rapidly in that regard in Iraq. We are seeing signs of the sovereign Government having a willingness to take control and responsibility for their armed forces. We saw that recently in the disturbances in one of the provinces that we have handed over, where the Iraqi forces were perfectly able to intervene without the support of coalition forces. This is to be supported.