My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Bill Rammell) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Armed Forces served with distinction in Iraq in successive Telic operations. A number of allegations of abuse of Iraqi citizens by British service personnel have been brought to our attention by public interest lawyers and more are anticipated. Many of them are sketchy and incomplete in their details; all relate to events that occurred a long time ago; we are no longer in Iraq in significant numbers; we do not have access to the claimants; and the seriousness of the behaviour alleged varies considerably. Investigating these allegations thus presents a huge challenge. Over 120,000 British service personnel have served in Iraq and the vast majority have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour, displaying integrity and selfless commitment. The uncertainty created by these allegations risks unfairly undermining their reputation and achievements and we owe it to them, and to the claimants, that these allegations are properly investigated.
We are therefore determined to ensure that such investigations are carried out thoroughly and expeditiously, so that—one way or another—the truth behind them is established. We firmly believe that open consideration of the issues will establish once and for all that the vast bulk of British forces behaved professionally and responsibly in Iraq in the most challenging of circumstances.
The Special Investigation Branch (SIB) of the Royal Military Police (RMP) has made progress in investigating the claims. To date we have been treating these allegations on a case-by-case basis, but as more have been brought to our attention we have decided to devote even more resource to this work. We are therefore looking to set up a dedicated team—the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT)—to concentrate on these allegations, so that these can be addressed as soon as possible.
Some argue that the Government should hold a public inquiry into these allegations: we disagree. We do not believe that a public inquiry would uncover criminal behaviour, but in the unlikely event that it did, a public inquiry would unable to investigate it fully, even less impose punishments: that would be wrong. Instead we want the court to be assured that, so far as possible, the facts will be investigated—and that this will be done transparently, fully and in a reasonable timescale. The additional resource which the IHAT represents will help to bring matters to as swift a conclusion as is possible. And with this assistance the independent service justice system, including the independent Director of Service Prosecutions (analogous to the DPP) will be able to take appropriate action against anyone who might not have behaved in accordance with the standards which the MoD and the Armed Forces expect of them.
Setting up this new team is not an admission of fault. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather it is a demonstration of the continuing commitment of the MoD and the Armed Forces to transparency and our respect for proper investigation. The time has come to deal with these unproven allegations once and for all. We have nothing to fear and everything to gain by this approach, because the truth is important for the vast majority of British troops who behaved to the highest standards in Iraq.