My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Bill Rammell) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am making a Statement on the UK’s bilateral agreement with the Government of Iraq on defence training and maritime support. Copies of the text of this agreement were placed in the Library of the House on 26 July.
The House will be aware that the UK concluded combat operations in Iraq on 30 April and that our combat forces were withdrawn by the end of July in accordance with our previous arrangement with the Government of Iraq.
As the Prime Minister announced on 18 December last year, the Iraqi Government have requested our continued military assistance, particularly in officer training, naval training and maritime support. The two Governments therefore concluded an agreement concerning naval training and maritime support to Iraqi forces in June. Since then, the agreement has been considered by the Iraqi Council of Representatives and received its Third Reading on 13 October. The agreement will now enter into force once both parties have completed their parliamentary procedures and exchanged diplomatic notes.
My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary wrote to Opposition spokesmen and the chair of the House of Commons Defence Committee last month to explain our intention to bring the agreement into force as soon as the Iraqi Government are ready. Training of the Iraqi Navy has been paused since June, and it is important to resume this activity as soon as possible to ensure that it quickly develops the capacity to protect its own territorial waters and the offshore oil platforms which are so vital to Iraq’s economic revival. A prompt resumption of training would allow our Royal Navy trainers, who have been held at readiness since June, to return to the task that they are so adept at delivering.
The agreement was published as a Command Paper and laid before both Houses on 25 September. However, due to our Summer Recess, it will not now be possible to allow the agreement to lay for the full 21 sitting day period before exchanging diplomatic notes. Since it is agreed that our training activity should resume as soon as possible, and having kept Parliament informed of progress throughout the recess, the Government intend to notify the Iraqi Government within the next few days that the UK is ready to bring this agreement into force.