Select Committee on Defence Thirteenth Report



In June 2006, we visited Iraq to meet UK Forces and senior members of the new Iraqi Government. Our visit gave us an opportunity to see for ourselves the work of our troops and the difficult conditions in which they operate. In this report, we do not attempt to offer a comprehensive examination of the political and security situation in Iraq. Rather, we seek to highlight some of the issues which were raised with us during our visit.

We are concerned at the deterioration of the security situation in South Eastern Iraq over the past months and about the implications for UK Forces. If the situation is to improve, it is essential that the Iraqi Government in Baghdad maintains its interest in Basra and the wider region.

We welcome the progress in the development of the new Iraqi army, but are concerned at the serious challenges that remain in the development of the Iraqi Police Service. Security sector reform will be crucial to the drawback and eventual withdrawal of UK Forces from Iraq. Transition to Provincial Iraqi Control in Muthanna is a positive development. But the conditions for transition in South East Iraq remain unclear. The key test of transition will be Basra, where significant obstacles remain.

It is clear that there are problems with equipment that require urgent attention from the Ministry of Defence (MoD). We are concerned at the vulnerability of our troops travelling in Snatch Land Rovers and about the extreme temperatures to which Service personnel are subjected. We are impressed by the work of the Joint Helicopter Force—Iraq, but are deeply concerned at the shortage of helicopters in theatre and at the strain on both air and ground crew.

The MoD's confidence that the UK Armed Forces are not overstretched contrasts with what we heard from Service personnel on the ground. The Armed Forces can tolerate short-term pressure but sustained breaches of Harmony Guidelines will damage the Services' operational capability. The MoD's reliance on reservists also gives us cause for concern.

We call on the MoD to meet capability gaps as a matter of urgency, even if that means opting for interim solutions. This may well require more money.

We believe these concerns give rise to a fundamental question: are our Armed Forces structured, trained and equipped to fulfil the roles envisaged for them?

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Prepared 10 August 2006