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Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I emphasise to the House, to her and to her constituents that considerable efforts are always made in any operation to minimise civilian casualties. At the same time, we must all face up to the fact that in Falluja, determined, ruthless, fanatical terrorists must be dealt with. They have to be dealt with in a way that is militarily effective and has regard to the safety and security of the forces carrying out those operations.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP): There will be a distinct chill felt in the homes of forces families across Tayside, Fife and beyond as the significance of this statement is assessed. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that the Black Watch would be home by Christmas, yet nowhere in the statement is that confirmed. Will it be home for Christmas, or does the Secretary of State envisage some situation or set of conditions in which that pledge will not be honoured?
Mr. Hoon: I made it clear that this was a limited, specific deployment. The request from the US military command was for a deployment limited precisely in time. That is why the Prime Minister was able to say what he did yesterday. If there is any doubt, I can repeat it.
Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab):
A number of questions have already been asked
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about the rationale behind this release of American forces. I am still not clear exactly what tasks the Americans will be able to carry out once we provide this alleviation. The Secretary of State must understand that part of the problem is the lack of confidence that what he says, in relation to what the Brits will do in minimising civilian and other casualties, will be true in American deployments. We need some explanation of what the Americans will do once we assist them in doing it.
Mr. Hoon: May I make two points clear to my hon. Friend? First, whatever operations follow will be combined operations, involving Iraqi forces, led by an Iraqi decision-making process, but with support from US forces. Those will be consistent with the sorts of operations that I have already described to the Houseoperations to deal with centres of terrorism and areas that are outside the control of the Interim Government and providing a base from which terrorists can attack innocent Iraqi civilians and other innocent civilians operating in Iraq. Secondly, if we do not deal with those secure bases, it is much more difficult to see a secure, stable future for Iraq, and very difficult to see how democratic elections can safely be held.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm what his statement implies but does not quite saythat the 1st Battalion the Scots Guards will be fully deployed before the Black Watch deploy on this new operation?
Mr. Hoon: Obviously, there will be a period of overlap, as one force gets into place as another moves north. The hon. Gentleman will know from his experience that it is not sensible at this stage to give the precise dates and timings of those things.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is the Secretary of State aware that someone does not have to be a lover of Saddam Hussein to be against this deployment and against the war? We are mirroring the views of millions of people in Britain, and of people in his constituency and mine. That is valid reason enough. Does he not think that it is slightly ionic that the American President and his Vice-President, who both refused to face the muck and bullets in Vietnam, are now calling on British forces to bail them out?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend and I have regular discussions on all manner of issues. I say to himand to the Liberal Democrats, although they may not like itthat the issue is that there is a difficult situation in Iraq. No one is in any doubt about that. There is significant terrorism in Iraq, and a sovereign Interim Government struggling to establish peace, freedom and democracy for their people. The issue that my hon. Friend and other Members must face is what they will do now. They can perfectly rightly say that they are opposed to the war, which I respect, but the issue is what action we take now to deal with terrorism and the people who would ruthlessly murder our citizens and the citizens of Iraq.
We welcome the assurance given by the right hon. Gentleman earlier this week and again today that British troops deployed in this relatively more dangerous area would be under the control of British senior officers, and would be able to apply the advanced counter-insurgency techniques in which they are so proficient. If, as a result, their methods prove superior to those previously applied by American forces, what steps will he take to ensure feedback to our American allies, so that they can benefit from the experiences of our troops?
Mr. Hoon: I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is a close exchange of both information and technical operation between the United States and the United Kingdom. If the hon. Gentleman considers the way in which US forces, for example, are deployed and operate further north than the so-called Sunni triangle, he will note that they operate in a very similar way to British forces in the south.
Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend rightly said that this was a military decision, and the House must have confidence in it, but can he confirm for the sake of clarity in the House and outside that such decisions are made on military grounds? Can he also confirm that this is the first time our forces have operated outside MND(SE)?
I accept that this is part of the role that coalition forces expect to play when they are part of a wider multinational operation. That is why it was important for us to look carefully at the military justification, and why we accepted advice given to us on that basis by the chiefs of staff.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): The Black Watch and the other UK regiments deployed in Iraq will have benefited significantly from their operational experience in Northern Ireland, which has contributed to the success of UK forces in the south-east zone. Will the Secretary of State assure us that that operational mode of deployment will not be set aside in the new deployment, although the Black Watch will remain under the command of the UK General Officer Commanding?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman would not necessarily expect me simply to agree with his question. The decision will be a matter for the commanding officer on the ground, once he has assessed the nature of the threat, the terrain on which the troops operate, and so on. However, having visited Northern Ireland many times and observed the techniques that the British Army has used in the pastand having seen the same techniques operating in such places as BasraI pay full tribute to the support that the Army has been given by the people of Northern Ireland.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Many of us are concerned about mission creep. What if the Americans make a formal request for British troops to go into Falluja or, perhaps, Baghdad? Would a decision on that be a matter for the UK military command alone?
I assured the House on Monday that the request was not for troops to operate in either Falluja or
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Baghdad. I have set out the precise operational command today. In the very unlikely event of such a situation arising, the matter would have to be referred to commanding officers, and ultimately referred back here to chiefs of staff and Ministers.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Can the Secretary of State tell us who will replace the Black Watch in the American sector when that regiment returns to Britain? Will it be replaced by British or American troopsespecially if the Americans get bogged down in Falluja?
Mr. Hoon: I have made it absolutely clear that the request is for a deployment limited in time. At the end of that limited period, assuming that operations have been completed in Falluja, it will be a question of whether it is necessary to occupy that area or whether it is possible to take the area at risk. That is a matter for the Americans; it is not a matter for us.
Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab): I welcome the statement and the clarification of the reasons for redeployment of our troops. May I now invite my right hon. Friend to explain the importance of the redeployment to the ability to hold free elections in Iraq?
Mr. Hoon: As I made clear on Monday and again today, this is about ensuring that pockets of resistance in places such as Falluja are dealt with, in order to reduce the terrorist threat to the Iraqi people and to coalition forcesand, of course, to ensure that progress is made not just in rebuilding Iraq, but in giving the Iraqi people an opportunity to participate in democratic elections.
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