My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The formal transfer of responsibility for security from UK military forces to the Iraq civil authorities in Maysan province took place yesterday. The decision to transfer to provincial Iraqi control was taken by the Iraqi Government in close consultation with the coalition, based on a thorough assessment of the local security situation and the capability of the Iraqi security forces in the province. Maysan is the fourth of Iraq's 18 provinces to be handed over to Iraqi control, and the third of the four within the UK's area of operations in Multi-national Division (South East) (MND(SE)).
This is another important milestone that demonstrates the continuing progress in building Iraq's political institutions and security capacity. It underlines the progress made by the UK forces and our partners in MND(SE) and the growing maturity of the Iraqi security forces. Establishing provincial Iraqi control does not guarantee that Maysan is a benign environment in security terms, or that future challenges may not arise, but it does mean that the Iraq security forces are judged now to be able to respond effectively to those challenges themselves. The UK will continue to support them as they do so. Other provinces across Iraq will be transferred during 2007, including Basra province in MND(SE).
UK and coalition forces, which withdrew from fixed bases in Maysan province in August 2006, will continue training and mentoring the Iraqi security forces, particularly the Department of Border Enforcement, in order to improve border security. The Prime Minister's announcement on 21 February 2007 (Official Report, cols. 261-66) that force levels will reduce to around 5,500 by June this year took into account the likely transfer of security responsibility in Maysan.