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Iraq: UK Armed Forces

Volume 706: debated on Monday 12 January 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether any withdrawal of British troops from Iraq will apply to the 250 deployed in Baghdad as well as the 4,100 deployed in southern Iraq.

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House would wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of the servicemen killed in Afghanistan since the House last met. They were Rifleman Stuart Nash, Corporal Robert Deering, Lance Corporal Ben Whatley, Corporal Liam Elms—all of them Royal Marines—and Sergeant Christopher Reed of the 6th Battalion The Rifles. Our thoughts are likewise with the family of the marine who was killed in Afghanistan yesterday.

The legal basis that took effect on 1 January requires the withdrawal of UK forces from Iraq, including those in Baghdad, by 31 July. As part of the normal bilateral defence relationship that we will move to in 2009, the Iraqis have indicated that they wish the UK to continue to provide military training. Negotiations to establish the scope of that activity will begin shortly.

My Lords, we on these Benches associate ourselves with the condolences the Minister sent to the families and friends of the servicemen tragically killed in Afghanistan.

Can the Minister confirm that the 600 British troops in Kuwait who are currently acting as a reserve for Iraq will also be withdrawn? The Minister mentioned training; will the Royal Navy’s training and advisory mission, carrying out the vital work of training the Iraqi navy, remain for the time being?

My Lords, we do have reserves in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti Government continue to support the ongoing operations in Iraq through the provision of facilities such as logistics and engineering staff. That will continue for the time being because we need to see an orderly withdrawal from Iraq. We have a good, long-term and strong bilateral relationship with the Government of Kuwait, which will of course continue.

We are significantly contributing to the training of the Iraqi navy, which is important for protecting energy reserves and maritime movements in that area. There is still a significant amount of work to be done, and we anticipate that that may be one of the areas in which we have ongoing work. However, as I have said, no direct decisions have been made at this stage.

My Lords, I associate these Benches with the condolences that have been given. Will the Minister guide us on the status of the troops who will be left in Iraq? Will they still be regarded as front-line troops, even after the withdrawal of the majority of their colleagues, and will they receive the same support packages when they return from their tours of duty?

My Lords, we have been in direct negotiations with the Iraqi Government about the protection that will be offered. We would not allow troops to maintain a presence there if we were not satisfied that there were proper safeguards for their positions, and the service chiefs agree that that is the case. As the Prime Minister indicated in his Statement in December, we are now moving away from a combat role to one of training, support and mentoring. The discussions that we will have with the Iraqi Government about our future presence, which will be a more conventional presence, as I said, will scope the exact extent of that military support. However, we can all be assured that the agreement we have will safeguard the positions of any troops that we will have in Iraq.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that this withdrawal of troops from a combat role removes the Government’s objection to an inquiry into the Iraq war?

My Lords, it has been made very clear that at the appropriate time there will be an inquiry into what happened in the events leading up to the war in Iraq. We have said repeatedly that that is not appropriate while we have servicemen there.

My Lords, will that inquiry include an investigation into those companies, some of which are British, particularly the Weir Group, which were responsible for breaching the sanctions legislation in the early part of this decade?

My Lords, as no decision has been made on the exact extent or remit of any such inquiry, I cannot comment on that. I have heard some very interesting suggestions about the scope of any inquiry, including from my noble friend Lord Soley, who suggested that the inquiry ought also to include the circumstances in which international organisations failed to live up to their commitments.