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Iraq: UK Forces

Volume 690: debated on Wednesday 28 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What recent progress they have made with their exit strategy for British Armed Forces in Iraq.

My Lords, progress transferring security responsibility to the Iraqis continues to be good. Maysan province will be handed over to Iraqi control shortly. In Basra, we transferred the old state building to the Iraqi army on 20 March. We will withdraw from the majority of our other bases as Iraqi forces progressively take more responsibility for security. This should see UK force levels potentially reduce to below 5,000 in the second half of the year.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. In his future planning for the withdrawal of British forces, will he take into account the recent decision of the House of Representatives and yesterday’s decision by the US Senate to require the withdrawal of all American combat troops in the course of next year? Although that decision may be killed by presidential veto, is it not nevertheless clear that American withdrawal from Iraq is simply a matter of time and that it may be sooner rather than later?

My Lords, it would not be appropriate for me to get into speculation about US politics. However, as an integral member of the multinational coalition in Iraq, the United States would of course consult her allies should any outcome of a decision be to withdraw US troops from Iraq by the end of August 2008. The other members of the coalition would need to adjust their plans accordingly.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the handover of Maysan province in his Answer, and said that it would take place shortly. We had in earlier Statements an assumption that it would be handed over at the end of last year; that was delayed until early spring and in the Statement on 21 February, it was said to be in the next few months. Is “shortly” earlier or later than in the next few months?

My Lords, can the Minister give the House an assurance that everything possible will be done to protect the safety of our forces left in the Basra airbase and that they will not become sitting targets for the approaching militia?

Absolutely, my Lords. I visited the base earlier this month, precisely to assess the situation. We are making significant investments in force protection. It would not be appropriate for me to go into details, but I would be happy to give the noble Lord a private briefing if that would be useful.

My Lords, will any decision to withdraw British troops be taken on the basis that it is to the benefit of our country and will not be influenced by the United States?

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very important point. The decisions we take are based on the sovereign interests of the United Kingdom.

I do not believe so, my Lords. We have shown over the past few years that we have a process whereby the coalition makes decisions on these matters, and we are seeing progress on the ground. Any decisions about transition depend upon the progress of those conditions, but we can see in a number of areas that that progress is taking place.