Select Committee on Defence Thirteenth Report



6. The Multi-National Force—Iraq (MNF-I) is divided into six major Areas of Responsibility (AORs):

7. The UK provides the leadership of MNF-I's Multi-National Division (South East) (MND(SE)), which covers the southern Iraqi provinces of Basra, Maysan, Dhi Qar and Muthanna. In addition to UK Forces, MND(SE) includes troops from Italy, Denmark, Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania, Lithuania, Australia, Japan and the United States.[2] The MNF-I as a whole currently comprises forces from some 27 countries. The United States, which leads the Coalition, remains the principal contributor, with over 130,000 service personnel out of a total of around 150,000. The UK provides approximately 7,200 troops, the vast majority of which are concentrated in MND(SE).

Approximate troop contributions (alphabetical order)[3]
Albania 120
Armenia 45
Australia 550
Azerbaijan 150
Bosnia-Herzgovina 30
Czech Republic 100
Denmark 530
El Salvador 380
Estonia 35
Georgia 850
Italy 1,700
Japan 550
Kazakhstan 30
Latvia 120
Lithuania 50
Macedonia 40
Moldova 3
Mongolia 130
Netherlands 2
Poland 900
Portugal 2
Romania 600
Slovakia 100
South Korea 3,000
Ukraine 45
UK 7,200
USA 130,000

Security in Multi-National Division (South East)

8. During our visit to Iraq, we received briefings on the security situation in MND(SE). We were told that since late 2005, the security situation had deteriorated significantly. The number of attacks on Coalition troops and Iraqi Security Forces had increased. There had been a rise in sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis, albeit limited compared with the rest of the country, and intra-Shia tensions had also developed. In contrast to the early phase of post-conflict operations, UK Forces were now exposed to a higher level of threat, particularly from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

9. Despite the deterioration in the security situation in Basra, we were told that there was still no evidence of an insurgency in the region of the kind being waged in and around Baghdad. The recent escalation of violence was instead a reflection of competition for local political and economic power. This competition had been exacerbated not only by the political vacuum caused by the absence of a functioning central government in Baghdad, but also by the decision of the elected Governor in Basra, Mohammed Al Wa'ili, to suspend co-operation with the multi-national forces.

10. In evidence to us on 20 June, Lieutenant General Nick Houghton, Chief of Joint Operations, PJHQ, accepted that the security situation had deteriorated and blamed the increase in violence on the political stalemate that followed the December 2005 elections:

11. He continued:

    What we have in the South of the country, quite different to elsewhere in the north, particularly in the Baghdad region, is we do not have an active Sunni insurgency; we do not there have active signs of the Jihadist terrorist movements such as AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) and Ansar al-Sunna and those sorts of organisations. So the nature of the security dimension is different and it is one in which, as it were, there has been inter-factional rivalry, much of it then reflecting in non-judicial killing between rival Shia factions struggling for political and economic power. In relative terms, vis-à-vis elsewhere in Iraq, the security situation there is still relatively low or modest.[5]

12. On 31 May 2006, the new Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, declared a month-long State of Emergency in Basra. This declaration reflected the seriousness of the security situation but was welcomed by UK commanders we spoke to as a demonstration of active interest and commitment to security and reconstruction in the region by the new Iraq Government in Baghdad, particularly the new Prime Minister.

13. In evidence to us, on June 20, Mr Ingram told us:

    It is an undesirable step when you have to declare a state of emergency, but there is an important element to this because it does show that the new Prime Minister and his government are now focusing Iraq-wide and, indeed, on the important city of Basra and the surrounding provinces. One of the issues is that it has been too Baghdad-centric. Now there is a greater engagement and a greater focus on looking at where all the attendant problems are…I think it is very significant that Prime Minister Maliki has turned his attention to all of this. That is a very positive engagement and one that unquestionably shows a greater roundness to what is happening in Iraq from Baghdad.[6]

14. Dr Roger Hutton, Director of Joint Commitments Policy at the MoD argued that:

    The basic problem in Basra is…one of poor governance, and the only way you are going to fix that in the medium term is to have a stake in Baghdad, in putting that right, and that is the real significance of Prime Minister Maliki's intervention. This is Baghdad saying: "We want to put governance in Basra right". That is its real significance.[7]

15. We are disturbed by the deterioration in the security situation in MND(SE) over the past months. Coalition forces in the region now operate in the context of a significantly higher threat than they did during the initial post-conflict phase of operations. And for ordinary Iraqis, lawlessness remains a particular difficulty. We recognise that the security situation in South Eastern Iraq is very different from, and more benign than, in some areas beyond the UK's area of responsibility. We accept that the increase in violence in the region is due largely to the local struggle for political and economic power, rather than from a sectarian-based insurgency. But we remain concerned about the implications for UK Forces of the steady escalation of violence in the region.

16. The interest in the region demonstrated by the new Iraqi Prime Minister is a positive development. It is essential that Central Government in Baghdad, as a whole, maintains its interest in Basra and the wider region and has the capability to deliver its intentions.

Iranian influence and border security

17. During our visit to Iraq, we heard that Iranian influence was historically very strong in South Eastern Iraq. One politician we met in Baghdad even remarked that Basra was an Iraqi city with an Iranian administration. UK commanders had no doubt that specialist weaponry and IED technology was being smuggled into the region from Iran, though the level of Iranian Government involvement in supporting terrorist and insurgent groups was unclear, and specific intelligence was limited.

18. In evidence to us on 20 June, the Minister said:

19. On 26 June 2006, the Secretary of State for Defence told the House:

    We are very aware of the malign influence that interference by those outside Iraq's borders can have on its politics and destiny…That is significantly high in our interest and that of the Iraqi Government, and will figure in the Basra security plan.[9]

20. He continued:

    Some of them [the weapons] are believed to have their roots in Iran. Whether they are being brought into Iraq on the instructions of the Iranian Government or by other elements is not yet clear. However, those sophisticated weapons pose a considerable threat to our forces.[10]

21. Establishing greater border security is a key challenge for the Coalition troops and Iraqi Security Forces. It will not be an easy task. The border with Iran is extremely long, much of it is marshland and waterway and, historically, locals have not recognised it. According to Lieutenant General Houghton, policing that border in those conditions "in any way that one might consider an absolute guarantee of control of all border movement" was "quite impossible". He assured us that much was being done by UK, Coalition and Iraqi forces to secure the border, including surveillance, patrols, "surge operations", and the construction of border forts.[11] The policing of the border was being co-ordinated through the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement. Ultimately, though, these measures, while proving effective, had to be put "in the context of a task which will never guarantee 100% security of a controlled border".[12]

22. We were given differing assessments of the extent of the smuggling of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) across the border from Iran but we remain troubled about the implications of any such smuggling for the security of our forces and Iraqi civilians. Given the apparent ease with which IED technology can be smuggled across the border with Iran, we were pleased to hear of plans to support and develop both the Iraqi Navy and the Border Forces to help contain this threat.

Security sector reform

23. During our visit to Iraq, we witnessed at first hand the progress being made in the development of the Iraqi army in MND(SE). At Basra Air Station, we met the 10th Division of the Iraqi army and its Commanding Officer, General Latif. We also met the UK-led Military Transition Team which is assisting General Latif in ensuring the operational readiness of his Division.

24. We heard that the 10th Division had a very good working relationship with UK Forces in MND(SE) and that they were working closely together in implementing the new security plan for Basra announced by Prime Minister Maliki in May 2006. General Latif told us that the 10th Division had made rapid progress towards achieving operational readiness; its key strengths were its ability and willingness to learn from the Multi-National Forces. The principal weakness of the 10th Division was its continuing shortage of equipment and firepower. General Latif mentioned that procurement of new Polish armoured vehicles by the Iraqi Government had been subject to lengthy delays which had compromised his Division's operational effectiveness.

25. Mr Ingram suggested that now the Iraqi Government in Baghdad was in place, and a Defence Minister had been appointed, the procurement process for the Iraqi Army was likely to improve. Dr Hutton added that although "procurement within the Iraqi MoD had been a problem in the past", the UK had "been working very hard to put that and other structures, processes and procedures within the Iraqi MoD right".[13] He told us:

    I am not going to claim that we have solved all of that, but we are at least on the starting blocks and the Iraqi MoD is starting to look like a functioning body now, which we think will start to deliver the goods, including in the region of procurement.[14]

26. During our visit to Iraq, we also received briefings on the progress being made in training the Iraqi Police Service. We were told that the mission of UK Forces was to enable the local police to conduct security operations and to plan and sustain such operations independently of the Multi-National Forces. We heard that, as part of this training, UK Forces had included Iraqi Police in routine foot patrols and ground-holding operations. Although progress was bring made, serious problems remained, especially in terms of militia infiltration of the Iraqi Police Service and in the adherence of local police officers to ethical standards of conduct. Improvements were needed in eradicating criminal and corrupt elements within the Iraqi police and in providing greater finance and logistical support.

27. Security sector reform will be crucial to the drawback, and the eventual withdrawal, of UK Forces from Iraq. UK and Coalition forces have achieved considerable successes in training the new Iraqi army. We hope that the Iraqi 10th Division will soon gain full operational readiness and progressively assume responsibility for the security of the region, with Multi-National Forces in a mentoring and supporting role. But we are concerned at the serious challenges that remain in training the Iraqi Police Service (IPS). Corruption, militia infiltration and politicization of the IPS should be addressed as a matter of priority. Sustainable progress for both the Iraqi Army and Police will only come about if problems in the Iraqi Defence and Interior Ministries are addressed.

Transition to Provincial Iraqi Control

28. During our visit to Iraq, we were told that transition to Provincial Iraqi Control in each of the four provinces of MND(SE) would depend upon a local transition assessment which would examine:

29. It is not clear how the four elements of the local transition assessment will be measured and what level of threat, or capability, will be required prior to transition. We call upon the MoD to clarify, in detail, the criteria for transition.

30. At the time of our visit, we were told that Muthanna province was considered ready for transition. The commencement of the formal process of transition in Muthanna was announced by the MoD on 19 June 2006.[16] We were told that conditions in Maysan province augured well for transition at some stage in the coming months, as did conditions in the province of Dhi Qar. The greatest challenge to transition in the region would come in Basra, the most populous and economically important of the four provinces of MND(SE). Transition here remained some way off due to continuing rogue militia activity and distrust within and between elements of the Iraqi Security Forces.

31. We welcome the recent hand-over of Muthanna province to Provincial Iraq Control, as a first step in the transition process in MND(SE). The next 12 months will be critical in setting the conditions necessary for long-term Iraqi self-reliance. The key test in MND(SE) will be the transition of Basra, where significant problems remain.

Implications of Transition

32. Transition to Provincial Iraqi Control will allow UK Forces to draw back and assume a supporting role to Iraqi Security Forces. It does not mean that UK Forces will be able to withdraw from theatre, although we would expect some consequent reduction. We call upon the MoD to clarify the role which UK Forces will fulfil following transition and the implications for troop numbers in theatre.

33. During our visit to Shaibah Logistics Base we were briefed on the logistical challenges that transition to Iraqi control—and the drawback of UK Forces—will pose. Our predecessor Committee highlighted the lack of a robust system to track equipment and stocks as one of the key lessons of Operation Telic.[17] The first task has been simply to establish what equipment there is in theatre—we were told there were around 4,700 container-loads of UK equipment in Iraq; the next is to decide whether it is worthwhile bringing it home. Every convoy required to take equipment back to port for shipment home is expensive and risky. It would be foolish to risk lives bringing equipment home which is obsolete or of disproportionately low value.

34. The MoD has recently laid before the House of Commons two Departmental Minutes concerning the gifting of bases to the Iraqi Government. One proposes the gift of infrastructure at Camp Smitty in Muthanna (worth £313,000) and Camp Driftwood in Basra (less than £1,000).[18] The other proposes the gift of infrastructure at Camp Abu Naji in Maysan (worth £292,000).[19] In both cases the MoD Disposal Sales Agency has recommended that it is not economically viable to return these assets to the MoD Supply System. The gifting will strengthen the Iraqi Army and reduce the burden on British Forces.

35. While we would expect the MoD to make reasonable efforts to recover equipment of high value, we support the pragmatic cost/value approach being taken, with equipment and bases passed on to the Iraqi Army where appropriate.


36. The future stability of Iraq will, to a great extent, depend on the reconstruction of its economy. During our visit to Iraq, we received briefings from UK members of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Basra, and from representatives of the Department for International Development (DfID) in Baghdad.

37. The Basra PRT was created in April 2006 and began operating on 15 May. It is supported by Coalition Forces and includes UK representatives from DfID, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Armed Forces. The PRT is intended to act as a hub for multi-national capacity-building and to promote the coherent and efficient use of resources for reconstruction by encouraging civil-military co-operation, focused use of assets and money, coherence among regional players and targeted application of donor resources through the Southern Iraq Steering Group. We were told that the PRT was helping to develop and support the Iraqi Provincial Development Strategies, which would guide priorities for international support to Iraqi institutions at a provincial level, and was intended to pull together existing efforts in a co-ordinated manner that would deliver greater effect. It was intended to energise, rather than duplicate, the work of the Iraqi Provincial Reconstruction and Development Committee. We were told that the PRT implied a fundamental change in the approach to reconstruction. We continue to be uncertain about the role of the PRT and believe that its value remains to be demonstrated. It is essential that the PRT should serve to enhance, rather than replace or duplicate, Iraqi decision-making.

38. We heard that funding for the PRT was dependent on the USA. We were told that although the UK had provided over £517 million for reconstruction in Iraq, it was providing no direct project funding to the PRT. DfID had a 90/10 rule according to which it must spend 90% of its money in poor countries and 10% in others. Some of the UK personnel we met were concerned that the PRT risked failure because of a lack of project funding and argued that an injection of a relatively small amount of UK funding would ensure quick impact, help to create leverage and act as a signal of the UK's commitment to reconstruction. Iraq is potentially a wealthy country and we share the view that it should not be a priority for UK development funding, if this is at the expense of development support to poorer countries. Nevertheless, the Government should consider whether an injection of funding would help the Basra PRT deliver quickly.


39. The UK maintains a Divisional Temporary Detention Facility (DTDF) at the Shaibah Logistics Base. This is used to house people who are considered to be a threat to security. In its memorandum of 6 July, the MoD states that:

40. The DTDF opened in December 2003 and has the capacity to hold 180 internees. According to the MoD's memorandum, the highest number of detainees held by UK Forces was 140 in January 2004, and the lowest 7 in October 2004. The memorandum further states that:

    The UK is currently holding around 81 security internees. The internees are all male and range in age from 22 to 56. Three of the internees are Sunni, 78 are Shia. There is one dual UK/Iraqi national in the facility, Mr al-Jedda. The average length of time each one has been detained is 198 days (the 18 month review point is at around 550 days). All of them are held because they are assessed to represent an imperative threat to the security of Coalition forces and Iraqis. The most recent release of internees took place on 8 June, when five internees were set free.[21]

41. The memorandum maintains that "there are stringent review procedures to ensure that detainees are released as soon as they cease being an imperative threat to security". It states that:

    Individuals held by the UK have their cases reviewed by the Divisional Internment Review Committee. The first review is within 48 hours of internment and monthly thereafter. Individuals have the right to provide written representation at the hearings and have regular access to lawyers…A joint Iraqi/coalition detention committee, which is co-chaired by PM Maliki and the MNF, in Baghdad reviews detention cases after 18 months to assess whether continued internment is necessary.[22]

42. During our visit, it was explained to us that the absence of a functioning courts system within the Basra area made it very difficult to bring alleged offenders to trial.

43. In evidence to us on 20 June, Mr Ingram stated that "everything we do is fully consistent, and in full compliance," with the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR 1637). He told us that the UK detention facilities "are inspected by the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and…we do not receive adverse comments". He assured us that "if there are things which need to be attended to, then we immediately attend to them" and that "in terms of the governance of the facility, it is to a very high and professional level.[23]

44. The MoD's memorandum points out that:

    The High Court found last year that our review procedures met the standards of the Geneva Conventions, subject to a small change which has now been rectified in Theatre…The International Committee for the Red Cross, and the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights has unfettered access to the DTDF. The ICRC has made regular visits to the facility since it first opened in December 2003 and is satisfied with the conditions there as is the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights.[24]

45. These statements echo those of the Secretary of State for Defence, who told the House on 26 June:

    Detention…is an important issue and, in my view, there is no possibility of a sustainable and long-term future for the new Government of Iraq beyond the point of relying on coalition forces if they have large numbers of people in detention and insufficient judicial capacity to deal with them…However, hon. Members have to understand that many of those people are detained because they are a danger to the Iraqi people. The Government's ability to deal with those detained will be a function of their ability to build a judicial system that can deal with that number of people.[25]

46. We call upon the MoD to make public, on a regular basis, the number of detainees UK Forces hold in Iraq, how those figures have fluctuated since the opening of the Divisional Temporary Detention Facility at Shaibah, and the grounds for detention. Detention without trial is, of itself, undesirable, though we understand the reasons for it.

47. In our meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister in Baghdad, the issue of detention by UK Forces was raised as a key concern. Mr Maliki argued that a number of the people held at the DTDF—particularly, those with links with political parties—should be released and that failure to do so was causing resentment amongst the local population. We were told that detention was a factor in explaining why local people felt hostility towards the Multi-National Forces and a reason for the declining consent of the people for the continuing presence of foreign troops in Iraq.

48. The number of people detained by UK Forces is very small in comparison with those held by US Forces, and there seems to be a widely held perception that detention is used more sparingly by UK Forces. However, it was brought to our attention that in one respect US policy was preferable: the US procedures incorporate local Iraqis in the process for reviewing the detention of individuals whereas, at present, the UK's procedures do not. The MoD's memorandum stated:

    We are currently looking closely at ways we can involve the Iraqis in our review process and are in discussions with the Iraqi Government and our Coalition partners to achieve this.[26]

49. We are pleased that the MoD is considering new ways of incorporating local Iraqi representatives in the review process for detainees held at the UK's Divisional Temporary Detention Facility.

50. We call upon the MoD to explain what its plans are for the future of the DTDF after the closure of the Shaibah Logistics Base.

2   On 7 June 2006, the Italian Government announced that its troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year. On 20 June 2006, the Japanese Government announced it would withdraw its troops over the course of the summer of 2006. Back

3   As at 1 June 2006 Back

4   Q 11 [Houghton] Back

5   Ibid. Back

6   Q 11 [Ingram] Back

7   Ibid. [Hutton] Back

8   Q 15 Back

9   HC Deb, 26 June 2006, col 6 Back

10   Ibid. Back

11   Q 16 Back

12   Ibid. Back

13   Q 33 Back

14   Ibid. Back

15   These points were also highlighted by Des Browne in his article for the Royal United Services Institute. Des Browne, "Government and security in Iraq: The evolving challenge", RUSI Journal, vol 151, no 3 (June 2006), p 12 Back

16   Ministry of Defence Press Release, 19 June 2006 Back

17   Defence Committee, Third Report of Session 2003-04, Lessons of Iraq, HC 57-I, para 291 Back

18   21 June 2006: not printed. Back

19   28 June 2006: not printed. Back

20   Ev 20 Back

21   Ibid. Back

22   Ev 20 Back

23   Q 57 Back

24   Ev 20-21 Back

25   HC Deb, 26 June 2006, col 6 Back

26   Ev 20 Back

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