Select Committee on Defence Sixth Report


4  CHALLENGES IN SOUTHERN IRAQ

Background to the Challenges in the South

74. In this report we use the term 'southern Iraq' to cover the southernmost four of the country's eighteen provinces. Tensions between Saddam Hussein's Sunni-based regime and the predominately Shiite population of southern Iraq were always high. Saddam Hussein subjugated the south through a range of punitive policies. The scale and severity of the regime's attacks on Shia civilians were reported by human rights organisations. In 1991, when the Shiites revolted following the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein's army brutally crushed the revolt and drained the extensive marshlands between the Tigris and Euphrates river to deny the Shiite rebels a sanctuary.[87]

75. This history of struggle left a legacy of resentment between Baghdad, representing the centre of government, and the south. Any attempts by the Coalition to re-establish central government would therefore inevitably experience difficulties. Furthermore, because of the struggle between Saddam Hussein and the Shiites many prominent Shias developed even stronger links with Iran than religious kinship necessarily would have dictated. Iranian interests and influence was accordingly stronger in the south than elsewhere in Iraq. The prominent Shia political figure, Ayatollah al-Hakim, who was killed by insurgents on 29 August 2003, had lived in exile in Iran since the 1980s and founded the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI's militia, the 5,000 to 10,000 member Badr Corps, was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

76. While the entire country's economic assets—from oil refineries to infrastructure—were mismanaged by Saddam Hussein's regime, this mismanagement became an overt policy of denied investment in the south. Economic reconstruction therefore had to start from a much lower base than in many other parts of the country.

Success in the South

77. In the immediate post-conflict period the four governorates in Multinational Division South-East (MND (SE)) were plagued by rioting, looting and general lawlessness. This seemed to take British forces by surprise and they struggled to maintain order. The circumstances of the deaths of six soldiers from the Royal Military Police on 24 June 2003 in Al Majarr Al Kabir to some extent illustrated the Coalition's lack of preparation for the developing anti-Coalition sentiment.

78. But despite initial setbacks, four factors have allowed British forces to turn the occupation of southern Iraq into a relative success story.[88] The challenges in MND (SE), which covers the four governorates, were different from those in other parts of the country. Approximately 60 percent of the residents in the governorates are Shia and therefore more predisposed than the Sunnis to the MNF-I and the 'new' Iraq which the war heralded. The same was the case in the Kurdish areas in the north. US troops, however, confronted an insurgency in the largely Sunni-dominated area around Baghdad. Furthermore, apart from Basra, which is Iraq's second biggest city, large swathes of MND (SE) are sparsely populated. This environment differs significantly from the heavily populated, urbanised areas in and around Baghdad which US troops had to deal with and which have presented such a difficult operational challenge.

79. Moreover, while the UK had to confront Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army in April and August, the Mahdi Army represented a more traditional opponent than the insurgents. Muqtada al Sadr's activity was also related to the cleric's inclusion in the political process. The more he was included in the political process, the less violence he directed at the Coalition. During periods of calm, however, the Mahdi Army no doubt re-armed itself in anticipation of the next round of violence. As a result, violence against British forces was not an issue in June and July 2004, because Muqtada al Sadr was part of the political process; in August 2004, however, it was at the heart of Coalition's work in MND (SE). General Rollo told us:

    If you look at the number of incidents in August, there was a huge great spike, and at the end of August, broadly speaking, it went right back down to where it was. So the politics of this are critical.[89]

The MoD made the same point in the memorandum they submitted to us:

    The security situation in the MND(SE) area of operations has continued to be relatively stable in comparison to the northern half of the country, in particular the areas west of Baghdad. There was a particularly quiet period in July [2004] which could be attributed to the fact that the Muqtada Militia (MM) were re-arming and retraining after a period of intense fighting during the period prior to handover of sovereignty, particularly in Al Amarah and Nasiriyah.[90]

80. Closely related to this, is the fact, as we noted above, that MND (SE) has never faced the same kind of insurgency as other parts of the country, in particular the so-called Sunni Triangle. Referring explicitly to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the threat posed by him in MND (SE), General Rollo explained: "he does not like the Shia; they do not like him".[91] Other elements of the insurgency only appeared in MND (SE) sporadically. As General Rollo's described it: "one or two bomb making teams, a trickle of incidents. They do not go away, every now and again you catch some of them, and then nothing happens for a period".[92]

81. Perhaps most important, however, was the posture and approach of the Armed Forces. Major Lincoln-Jones submitted the following commentary to us:

    The British approach since the end of the high intensity conflict to the operations within their Area of Operations (AO) has been highly successful and has deservedly drawn high praise from many commentators. It is of course based on our experience on this type of military task and the many lessons learned over time. It should be remembered that this experience does not confine itself to operations in Northern Ireland (NI); we have campaigns like Malaya and Aden, which also confer valuable lessons learned. The experience in Ulster is of course the easiest to grasp, and the evidence of its utility is obvious from the conduct of our troops on the ground.[93]

He explained further:

    Engagement with the population rather than engaging the population has been the secret of success, even if this entails some risk. Some of the most effective Tips Tactics and Procedures (TTPs) have ranged from, a willingness to abandon the dehumanising effect conferred by wearing a helmet to, simply removing ones sunglasses when communicating with people.[94]

82. In his submission, Dr Thornton similarly argued that pragmatism and minimum force played a key role in the success which British forces achieved in MND (SE):

    When the Army came to operations in Iraq, therefore, it displayed its characteristic caution. During the war itself, when the Army was faced with forcing its way into Basra, it held back. This was an act criticised by US officers at the time, but it allowed the Army, after negotiations, to eventually enter a city that was intact and where there had been few casualties. Thus there was less local hostility and more consent once troops moved in. Such consent is vital if, as was the case, the Army had to become the police force once it entered Basra and other towns. The level of consent allowed troops to carry through their usual measure—such as foot-patrolling. In a consensual environment they can do this without the usual protection of body armour and helmets. Such insouciance creates the impression that everything is normal, that the threat is diminished and everyone can go about their normal lives. It also reduces the sense of distance between soldier and civilian and makes soldiers seem more accessible to the local populations. It is a technique the Americans try to utilise but their sense of 'force protection' normally militates against it. The British philosophy has always been that physical barriers prevent soldiers from picking up the 'on the street' intelligence that can protect them from attack.[95]

83. The nature of the challenge to MNF-I and US forces in northern and central Iraq has been significantly different from that faced by British forces in MND (SE). First, the most vicious, probably the most ideologically committed and possibly the most popularly supported elements of the insurgency have been located in the areas around Baghdad. These areas have always been the Sunni heartland of Iraq and the insurgents have been able to take advantage of a Sunni sense of political exclusion and disempowerment. Additionally, central Iraq is the home ground of many former Baathists: Sadaam Hussein's place of birth, Tikrit, is located in central Iraq. Second, Baghdad was more damaged during the combat phase than many other parts of the country and therefore provided a favourable battle space for insurgents and their guerrilla-style tactics. Third, the counter-insurgency campaign was made more difficult in the US-controlled areas simply because of the US presence.

84. We note that the relatively stable security environment in southern Iraq has been caused by a number of factors, including population density, topography and the attitude of the Shia population to Coalition forces. But we are also in no doubt that the approach and tactics of the British Armed Forces have played a major part.

Abuse

85. On 23 February 2005, three members of the 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (1RRF) were found guilty of abusing Iraqi civilians in May 2003. This case has turned out to be one of several incidents of Iraqi civilian deaths, injuries and ill-treatment allegedly at the hands of British soldiers. The allegations and the recent verdicts have rightly provoked sympathy for the indignity suffered by the Iraqis and outrage at the behaviour of the soldiers involved. In a written memorandum, the MoD told us: "We continue to follow-up incidents and allegations with determination and rigour".[96] Similarly, in a press conference, General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff, has said he "condemns utterly" any abuse.[97] The Minister for the Armed Forces echoed these words before us: "We have always got to examine anything which is happening … there is no question at all about that, because this is about ensuring we maintain the good name of the British Army and the British Armed Forces".[98] MoD's memorandum added that "it is nevertheless clear that these are isolated and diverse incidents involving only a very small proportion of the over 55,000 Service men and women who have so far served in Iraq".[99]

86. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much has been made in the media about the impact of the cases on the attitude of ordinary Iraqis towards British soldiers. The alleged incidents have been compared to the abuse perpetrated by US service personnel in Abu Ghraib. A number of media outlets even compared the abuses by the Coalition to those perpetrated by Saddam Hussein's regime. General McColl told us that reports on Arabic channels such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya had made the abuse charges a talking point across the Middle East. Ahmed Versi, editor of Muslim News, has said:

    The reaction in the Arab and Muslim world, and even here, has been of shock and also surprise because until very recently the British troops were considered to be much better in their conduct in Iraq than the Americans.[100]

87. But General Houghton and General Rollo told us that the impact on the ground had been limited:

    There was not, certainly, a discernible change of mood … people on the streets of Basra know how they have been treated and how British soldiers behave to them and they behave accordingly and respond accordingly. People are human. I think the record speaks for itself. We would not have the low level of violence, the really—still, I think, on the whole—very amicable relations we do have there, if there had been an overwhelming belief that we were all like that. It just did not happen.[101]

88. General McColl, while admitting that the cases had affected the perceptions of the MNF-I as a whole, went on to argue that the impact did not affect the British forces more particularly: "I sensed that the majority of that criticism was focused on those who were directly responsible; I do not think there was a general condemnation of the way in which the force in general, and the British in particular, were conducting themselves".[102] This was confirmed to us when we visited Iraq in May and December 2004. Both during our discussions with the Basra Governing Council and during our walk-about in Basra we were told that many Iraqis, while eager to see all foreign troops leave, welcomed British forces much more than they would have welcomed US forces.

89. Even though British forces have escaped the recriminations and attendant backlash that has been directed at US service personnel following the Abu Ghraib scandal, the alleged incidents raise legitimate questions about the way British forces prepare service personnel for dealing with prisoners and civilians in Peace Support Operations. We asked the Minister for the Armed Forces whether the MoD had had any cause to conduct a review of the circumstances surrounding the abuse. He told us that there was an on-going process in the Army to "look to see what is happening, and if there is a need to alter some of these processes it will do so and ministers will be kept fully advised of this".[103] He did not, however, indicate that the specific allegations had led to a root and branch review of policies, procedures or training standards. On 25 February 2005, following the verdicts in the courts martial, General Jackson announced that he would "be appointing a senior experienced officer to assess what lessons we may need to learn".[104] This was confirmed by the Secretary of State to the House on 1 March 2005.[105] We note that the Intelligence and Security Committee in its recent report on The Handling of Detainees by UK Intelligence Personnel in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq, concluded that the Secret Intelligence Service, Security Service and Defence Intelligence staff were not sufficiently trained in the Geneva Conventions prior to their deployment to Iraq.[106]

90. We condemn any abuse of Iraqi civilians by British forces. We believe, however, that coverage given to these cases has been magnified because British forces are known—both in Iraq and beyond—for the professionalism and sensitivity which they bring to their tasks. As such, we trust that the actions of a few soldiers will not be allowed to overshadow the contribution made by the many soldiers who have served in Iraq.

91. We welcome a review of the circumstances that led to the incidents in March 2003. We have noted previously that the Coalition did not expect—and did not have adequate facilities to deal with—large-scale looting and looters. The consequent pressure on individuals may have been a contributing factor in some of the cases. But we are also concerned that the incidents may have been connected to the way in which soldiers and officers are instructed in their legal obligations during post-conflict operations. We therefore urge the senior officer leading the lessons-learned process established by the Chief of the General Staff to approach the review of the issue of abuse by British service personnel in Iraq as broadly as possible, examining not only the circumstances in Iraq, but also more generic questions related to the policies, preparations and pre-deployment training provided for Peace Support Operations.

Detentions

LEGAL ISSUES

92. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1546 and the attached exchange of letters between Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and United States Secretary of State Colin Powell the Coalition retained the power to intern individuals "where this is necessary for imperative reasons of security".[107] Before the Transfer of Authority on 28 June 2004, British forces acted under the powers given to an Occupying Power under Geneva Convention IV, which allowed them to restrict individuals' liberty for security reasons under certain conditions including proportionality of length of internment and regular reviews of the internment. Under CPA Memorandum No. 3 the British forces, as part of the MNF-I, also have the authority to arrest individuals for suspected crimes under Iraqi law.

93. The legal situation governing internees in Iraq has caused some confusion. In particular, the human rights community has raised concerns about the legal status of the power of internment. Human Rights Watch told us:

    In his June 5, 2004 letter to the President of the Security Council, annexed to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546, then - Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that the Multi-National Force will "undertake a broad range of tasks to contribute to the maintenance of security and to ensure force protection," including "internment where this is necessary for imperative reasons of security". This language, reminiscent of article 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention on internment of civilians "for imperative reasons of security," suggests but nowhere affirms compliance with the Geneva Convention provisions relating to the treatment of "protected persons" by an Occupying Power in an international armed conflict.[108]

94. Human Rights Watch goes on to argue that, if the MNF-I is not an Occupying Power, then the Interim Iraqi Government and the MNF-I may apprehend individuals who pose serious security risks, but must charge such individuals with criminal offences under Iraqi law or violations of international law. Human Rights Watch argues that it is unlawful to detain such individuals without charge indefinitely or until the end of the armed conflict.

PRACTICAL ISSUES

95. The UK initially operated a facility to house internees near Umm Qasr, which was subsumed into the US Camp Bucca on 10 April 2003. The UK was represented at Camp Bucca by a UK Prisoner of War Registration Unit and Prisoner Monitoring Team. The UK also maintains a Divisional Temporary Detention Facility (DTDF) in Shaiba Logistics Base. After 15 December 2003, all the internees who were originally taken into custody by British forces were transferred to the DTDF.

96. When we visited the DTDF in May 2004 there were 127 internees; when we visited in December 2004 there were just eighteen internees. Those eighteen were a mixture of former Baathists, suspected terrorists and a few 'ordinary' criminals. Mr Howard explained MoD's policy on internment:

97. Mr Howard previously told us: "Always in these circumstances our objective will be to detain people for as short a period as possible and that as soon as possible we would want to either hand them over to the Iraqi authorities or indeed release them".[110]

98. The Minister for the Armed Forces assured us that all was being done to ensure the highest standards were followed: "We will always operate within the legal framework and will always apply the highest standards of international law". Throughout the process of internment, whether on arrest or upon actual internment, MoD's policy reflects what we heard from the Minister. For example, MoD policy states that individuals must be treated humanely and in accordance with International Humanitarian Law. When individuals are apprehended, MoD policy states that they must be informed, in a language they understand, why they have been apprehended, where they are being taken and that their next of kin will be informed of their whereabouts.

99. An MoD memorandum elaborated further on the safeguards in place: "Internees receive a written Notice of Reasons for Internment within 14 days of being detained (unless, exceptionally, the GOC decides that it should not be given to an individual)". Once internees are brought to the DTDF their cases are considered by a Detention Review Committee. The Committee makes recommendations which the General Officer Commanding acts upon. Cases are reviewed at 10 and 28 days, 3 months and 6 months and each 3 months thereafter. Throughout this process, internees have the right to make written representations, and many do. MoD's memorandum went on to describe the daily routines in the DTDF: "Internees have three daily exercise periods. They have two showers a day. There have also been improvements to the catering, which is now based on a seven-day cycle. Visiting times have been lengthened from 30 minutes to 60 minutes".[111]

100. Perhaps most importantly, the cases of internees are reviewed regularly and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has regular, unhindered access.[112] ICRC reports are confidential, but their February 2004 report was leaked to the press. The ICRC visited the DTDF before it opened and have visited the facility on four occasions since. In its leaked report from February 2004, the ICRC was critical of the Coalition, highlighting "a number of serious violations of International Humanitarian Law". The ICRC also described an event in September 2003 in Basra where Coalition personnel allegedly abused nine individuals, and allegedly caused the death of one. MoD assured us that the ICRC had no complaints and consistently reported their satisfaction with conditions and procedures at the DTDF. In a response to a written question, the Armed Forces Minister stated: "No reports have been received by the UK of abuse either at the UK prisoner of war facility near Umm Qasr or subsequently the UK's Divisional Temporary Detention Facility at Shaibah".[113]

101. Internment without trial is a draconian measure, which no force can take upon itself lightly. It is important that the Iraqi Government develops the capabilities to detain, prosecute and imprison those it considers a serious threat to its security as soon as possible. Dr Hutton told us that the Government expects the DTDF to remain as long as the Armed Forces remain in Iraq.[114] By maintaining the power to intern individuals, the MNF-I may be assisting Iraq in the short-term, but may simultaneously hinder the development of indigenous capabilities in the long-term. It is not inconceivable that MNF-I will be asked to remain in Iraq, perhaps in a mentoring and advisory role, long after the Iraqi police, judicial and penitentiary systems are capable of detaining those judged to be a serious threat to the country's security. We accept that circumstances in Iraq currently call for the limited use of internment of civilians by MNF-I. We believe, however, that this extraordinary power needs to be reviewed regularly and should only be maintained for as long as there is a compelling operational need for it. MNF-I should, as matter of priority, assist the Iraqi Government in developing the capabilities to detain, prosecute and imprison those who are judged to present a serious threat to the country.

Cost of Operations

102. The MoD's Annual Report and Accounts 2003-04 sets out the cost of UK operations in Iraq for the financial year 2002-03 and 2003-04 as follows:

Table 1: Cost of UK Operations in Iraq, 2002-03 and 2003-04

£ million
2002-03
2003-04
Total
Resource Costs
629
1,051
1,680
Capital Expenditure
218
260
478
Total
847
1,311
2,158


103. We examined the cost of the war-fighting phase in our Lessons of Iraq report. It was also examined by the National Audit Office in their report Operation TELIC—United Kingdom Military Operations in Iraq. Finally, the MoD issued their own report, Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the Future.

104. At our evidence session on 9 February 2005, we asked Dr Roger Hutton, Director, Joint Commitments, what the cost of UK operations were likely to be in the current financial year—2004-05. He told us:

105. We were surprised that a more accurate estimate could not be provided, given that we were nearing the end of the financial year. On 22 February 2005, the MoD provided us with a memorandum on its 2004-05 Spring Supplementary Estimates. The estimate for the cost of UK operations in Iraq for 2004-05 was as follows:

Table 2: Costs of UK Operations in Iraq, Spring Supplementary Estimates 2004-05

£ million
2002-03
Cash Resource Costs
732.3
Capital Costs
218.5
Non-Cash Resource
23.9
Total
974.7


106. These costs include £40 million for equipment for the Iraqi Security Forces. The non-cash resource figure covers depreciation and costs of capital charges associated with equipment purchased under Urgent Operational Requirements. In summary, the cost of military operations in Iraq to the end of 2004-05 is likely to be in excess of £3.1 billion. As we noted in Lessons of Iraq these sums cover only the net additional costs of operations.

107. The UK has contributed to Security Sector Reform expenditure through the Global Conflict Prevention Pool (GCPP). A break down of GCPP expenditure is given below.

GCPP Iraq Strategy—Committed SSR Expenditure 04/05
MoD Vetting Agency
£0.1m
Police Monitoring / Mentoring
£6.1m
Prisons Mentoring
£1.7m
Training at Sandhurst / ACSC[116]
£0.15m
Police equipment projects
£0.6m
Equipment for Iraqi Civil Defence Corps
£0.1m
Equipment for Iraqi Police and Border Guards
£2.5m
Total
£11.3m


GCPP International Peacekeeping Strategy—Committed SSR Expenditure 04/05

Police training and mentoring in Iraq and Jordan  £8.3m

Project Osiris, the provision for equipment and infrastructure for ISF in MND(SE), has been funded by GCPP (£2.5m) and the Treasury Contingency Fund (£40.6m)

108. The total UK commitment for humanitarian and reconstruction work in the period 2003-2006 amounts to £544 million. The DFID part of this (including a £38 million contribution to EC spending) is £422.5 million.[117]

109. The cost of UK military operations in Iraq for the three years 2002-03 to 2004-05 is expected to be in excess of £3.1 billion—equivalent to the target acquisition cost for the two future aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy. The 2004-05 Spring Supplementary Estimates provide only limited information on the costs of operations in Iraq. We consider that a more detailed breakdown of costs, for operations involving such substantial sums of money, should be provided in future to facilitate effective parliamentary scrutiny.


87   According to a UNEP study carried out in 2001, approximately 90% of the marshlands had disappeared by May 2000, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 18 May 2001, Study Sounds Alarm about the Disappearance of the Mesopotamian Marshlands Back

88   'British Peace-Support Operations In Iraq: Low Density, High Demand', Tim Ripley, Jane's Defence Weekly, 4 February 2004 Back

89   Q 361 Back

90   Ev 123 Back

91   Q 361 Back

92   Ibid Back

93   Not printed Back

94   Ibid Back

95   Ev 143-144 Back

96   Ev 126 Back

97   Statement by General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff, 18 January 2005 Back

98   Q 630 Back

99   Ev 126 Back

100   'Outrage at 'Iraq abuse' pictures', www.itv.com/news, 19 January 2005 Back

101   Q 375 (Major General Rollo) Back

102   Q 378 Back

103   Q 361 Back

104   Statement by General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff, 18 January 2005 Back

105   HC Deb, 1 Mar 2005: cols 77-78WS Back

106   The Handling of Detainees by UK Intelligence Personnel in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq, Intelligence and Security Committee, Cm 6469, para 120 Back

107   Letters from the Prime Minister of the Interim Government of Iraq Dr Ayad Allawi and United State Secretary of State Colin L Powell to the President of the UN Security Council, 5 June 2004 Back

108   Ev 134-135 Back

109   Q 381 Back

110   Q 57 Back

111   Ev 124 Back

112   The Geneva Conventions recognize the right of ICRC delegates to visit prisoners of war and civilian internees. Preventing them from carrying out their mission would itself amount to a violation of humanitarian law. Back

113   Letter from Secretary of State placed in House of Commons Library pursuant to HC Deb, 18 November 2004, col 1831W Back

114   Q 634 Back

115   Q 564 Back

116   Advanced Command and Staff Course Back

117   Figures provided by International Development Committee Back


 
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