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Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): My right hon. Friend referred in his statement to the training of Iraqi security personnel. I have pressed his colleagues on this point before, because I am anxious to see Britain play a role in raising the standards of such personnel. That will help us to develop a systematic, organised exit strategy from this conflict. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what progress has been made in this regard and give us an assurance that Britain will play a key role in that process?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right to link the question of training, reconstruction and the prospect of democratic elections in Iraq to an exit strategy, because that is an exit strategy. The more training we can conduct of police, security forces and the new Iraqi army, the more opportunities there will be for those people to replace units of the British Army and, indeed, of other coalition forces. As I explained in my statement, that is precisely what has happened in al-Amarah, where British forces were constantly confronted by attacks throughout the summer. Now, they have been replaced by significant contingents of the new Iraqi army, and I am pleased to say that the situation there is much calmer.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): The Prime Minister has said that our troops are still at war in Iraq, but the Secretary of State said in his statement that we were at the end of what he described as "the war-fighting phase". Can he tell us what phase we are in now?

Mr. Hoon: What we are dealing with is clearly a very determined terrorist operation, affecting the Iraqis and our forces right across the country. We need to concentrate our efforts to deal with areas such as Falluja and other cities that have been out of the control of the Iraqi Government. That is the phase that we are in. We
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have to deal with the threat to innocent civilians and coalition forces by taking robust action against the terrorists, otherwise we would be letting our people down.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Could the Minister explain to the House why we should believe the reasons that he gives for the deployment of our troops to other parts of Iraq, when he is the very same Minister in the very same Government who continually informed the House that we had to believe them when they told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that it could use in 45 minutes, that it was a threat to the world, and that the war would be legal?

Mr. Hoon: I gave that information to the House in good faith, and the series of inquiries that has investigated those matters has confirmed that that was true.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): In his answer to the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), the Secretary of State placed great faith in the accuracy of modern air weapons. However, most of our constituents will still be concerned that, whatever the quality of the weaponry, innocent civilians are being killed in Iraq. There is particular concern when children are killed there. As he has said, what happens in the rest of Iraq affects the sector that British troops are in. He must therefore seriously address the point that the operations to control the insurgency have to be carried out in such a way that civilian casualties are kept to a minimum, even if that involves a greater risk to the American forces.

Mr. Hoon: That is precisely the legal rubric under which British forces operate.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): It is clear, is it not, that what this is about is the facilitating of a massive American assault on Falluja? Many of us are deeply sceptical about the assurances that civilian casualties will be minimised, because they simply do not fit with what we have seen over the past year from the US forces, or with the number of Iraqi civilian casualties that there have already been. It is impossible to go into a town such as Falluja with bombs and heavy armour without causing casualties among innocent civilians on a significant scale. We will be blamed for that, because of this deployment.

Mr. Hoon: May I adjust one aspect of what my hon. Friend has said? This will be a decision taken by a sovereign Iraqi Government in the interests of the Iraqi people. It is important that my hon. Friend should reflect that in the way in which he approaches these issues.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Very approximately, how many insurgents does the Minister believe the coalition is currently fighting? How does he reconcile the estimate, made in April, of about 5,000 with the more recent estimate that about 25,000 had already been captured or killed?

Mr. Hoon: One of the points that I made in response to a series of questions on Monday was that I accept that
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there is not a solely military solution to the problem of insurgency in Iraq. It is necessary to deal with foreign fighters and the likes of Zarqawi and his supporters in a vigorous way. There are increasing signs, even in places such as Falluja, that the local Sunni population in such cities are sick and tired of the suffering that they are experiencing at the hands of terrorists. I made the point the other day to the Iraqi Vice-President, who was visiting London, that alongside a determined military operation to deal with terrorists, there must also be a political operation to deal with those people who ultimately are citizens of Iraq and who need to participate in a political process and in the restoration of their country.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Since last Sunday, on what occasions has the Secretary of State spoken to Donald Rumsfeld or his deputy about the resources and assets available to the United States compared with those of the United Kingdom, where they are located and when they could be deployed in theatre? Can he also share with the House how a proper apportionment of responsibilities is made, commensurate with the scale of our country and our armed forces, compared with those of the United States?

Mr. Hoon: I have not spoken to Donald Rumsfeld this week, but I did spend two days with him last week at a NATO meeting in Romania. During those two days, the request from the United States was not mentioned once.

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[Relevant documents: Fifth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2003–04, HC 465-I, on the Defence White Paper 2003 and the Government's response thereto, HC 1048.

Minutes of Evidence on Future Capabilities taken before the Defence Committee on 15th September 2004, from Rt Hon Geoffrey Hoon MP, Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Kevin Tebbit KCB CMG, Permanent Under Secretary of State, and General Sir Michael Walker GCB CMB CBE ADC Gen, Chief of Defence Staff, Ministry of Defence, HC 1031-i; and uncorrected oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 20th October 2004, from Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup KCB AFC ADC, Chief of the Air Staff, Ministry of Defence, HC 1031-ii on Future Capabilities.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Derek Twigg.]

2.10 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to open today's debate on defence in the world. The British armed forces, and the civil servants who support them, make a huge contribution to international efforts to improve security around the world. More than 9,000 servicemen and women are currently deployed in the Gulf region, and there are significant deployments in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Cyprus.

It is not just on major operations that our armed forces make a valuable contribution; we also have training teams and advisers providing support to partners and allies across the world. Let us not forget the important contribution that our armed forces make in the Falklands Islands, Gibraltar and Cyprus.

We owe our armed forces a debt of gratitude, and I know that the House will wish to join me in again paying tribute to the bravery and professionalism of our servicemen and women, and to their contribution to creating a better world. Nowhere is that more evident than in Iraq, where the armed forces are focused on training and supporting the Iraqi security forces. We must continue to help Iraq to develop the necessary capabilities and capacity to be able to protect its security and stability. This is of particular importance in the light of the forthcoming elections in January.

We know that the Iraqi security forces are enthusiastic, but they require command and leadership training, as well as basic weapons-handling skills. Prime Minister Allawi is aware of that, and he recognises the need to accelerate the process and to deliver results on security and crime. We are committed to supporting him and his Government, which is why the armed forces are providing essential training for the police and the coastal and border defence forces, as well as for the new Iraqi army and air force. Military advisers are also working with our Iraqi partners on a number of national security committees. Based on current planning, all major elements of the Iraqi security forces, particularly those designed for counter-insurgency, will be fully manned, trained and equipped by 1 July 2005. Three battalions of the regular army—about 2,250 personnel—are already operational, and we expect that all 18 battalions, involving about 27,000 personnel, will be in place by February 2005.
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The Iraqi national guard is being trained and expanded to take over guard and patrol duties. Its 40 battalions—consisting of some 36,500 personnel—now have the capability to conduct significant operations. They are routinely undertaking a wide range of duties, such as fixed site security, route and convoy security, patrols, and cordons and checkpoints. In addition, some 89,000 Iraqi police are on duty in Iraq. Altogether, more than 200,000 Iraqis are now providing security in that country.

While it is clear that we are making good progress, we accept that there is still some way to go. As the Prime Minister stated, however, this is not the time to cut and run; we have made a commitment to the Iraqi people and we are determined to see it through. We will continue to work with the Iraqi Interim Government and with our coalition partners to achieve our common goal of a stable and secure Iraq. It is for that reason that I announced our agreement to the United States' request that United Kingdom land forces operate outside Multi-National Division (South-East) in support of a combined Iraqi-US force. Together, we will work to increase the pressure on, and deal with, those terrorists and insurgents who are trying to prevent the rebuilding of Iraq, and who threaten the holding of free elections in January.

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