Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)


Rt Hon Adam Ingram MP, Lieutenant General Nick Houghton CBE and Dr Roger Hutton

  Q20  John Smith: No, but it is something that I have been given.

  Mr Ingram: It is useful to know source. It may well be I have said, in the past, that is the figure and then I am going to try and dissemble a wee bit. I make this plea: let us not deal with anecdotes; where we can establish facts let us give the facts. Is that measurable? If 80% of the attacks are against security forces, you said, and 80% of the casualties are civilians, I do not know whether, off the top of my head, I could confirm or otherwise. I know I do not have anything in my briefing.

  Q21  Chairman: Minister, the answer to the question is you do not recognise the figures.

  Mr Ingram: I am trying, as I am talking, to think if there is anything in my memory bank that tells me that is accurate. If we can get best assessment then, again, we will do that, and we may do that in a letter.

  Lt General Houghton: What I would broadly offer is that that sort of statistic is probably supported when you aggregate up all the incidents across the whole theatre of Iraq, but it differs from place to place. For instance, within Baghdad itself there is little doubt that the vast majority of the casualties are civilian ones as opposed to security force ones, but that is not the same across the piece. There is no doubt that certainly the Jihadist terrorists, as a policy, are going towards incidents that try to trigger mass civilian causalities as an attempt to forment inter-sectarian strife. So I do not know what the authority for that figure is but I can recognise the broad statistic.

  Q22  Mr Holloway: Minister, to what extent do patrols in Basra have an Iraqi face to them?

  Mr Ingram: What is the mixture between us on the streets with Iraqi—?

  Q23  Mr Holloway: Exactly.

  Mr Ingram: I could not give you precise figures but, again, the CJO may be best placed to give you an assessment of that.

  Lt General Houghton: The reason I am hesitating is that that figure will have changed significantly over the last week or two. Since the introduction of a Prime Minister Maliki-endorsed security plan for Basra, the requirement for a security force presence to wear an Iraqi face has changed significantly and there has been the introduction of a significant number of Iraqi Army troops on to the streets of Basra. So it is certainly nothing like 100% but the move in that direction is significantly under way.

  Q24  Mr Holloway: Do all of our patrols have an Iraqi with them, for example, if not even an interpreter?

  Lt General Houghton: They will carry our own interpreter capability with some of them, not all of them. It depends: foot patrols into certain areas will be joined and will have interpreters; other patrols which might be mobile ones going outside the city might not.

  Q25  Mr Holloway: If we are patrolling in someone else's country without a single Iraqi, does that not look very bad?

  Lt General Houghton: The aim is, normally, to always attempt to accompany Iraqi police within Basra, so that there is a police presence with them. What I am saying is that there is an increasing Army presence as well to give the whole of the patrol a more Iraqi flavour. What I am not saying is that patrols which relate to convoy escort towards administrative tasks, and all that, there are many patrols which go out without an Iraqi presence within them.

  Mr Ingram: The comment was: "Doesn't it look bad?" I think (and you will know from your experience as well) you have got to do what is realistic as well. The basis of your question is, without doubt, desirable, but then we have to deal with the real and evolving situation. So who knows where that profile could end up, and unquestionably that would be the desired objective. So, increasingly, you have that close engagement, and that is what we will do no matter where we are; we will work to seek to achieve that objective, but it may not always be practical, and there may be different purposes being served by our patrols. Therefore, we have to deal with the real environment we are in and not against some notion of whether there is an ultimate set of relationships, desirable though they may be. I do not think it is bad, I think it is a reflection of reality.

  Chairman: We are just about to come to the capacity of the 10th Division, but before we do, Dai Havard.

  Q26  Mr Havard: Can I just return to this question of the Iranian border? Is the truth not, really, that for Maysan province to be given control (which, really, ought to come fairly soon) the one thing that needs to be done is confidence has to be given to the United States and to General Casey, in particular, and to the Iraqi Government, that this question about border security in relation to Maysan is sufficient enough for them to make that political jump and allow that to have its own control? I think, personally, and I have talked to various people about it, that is a doable thing, but is it not really the fact that it is less to do with perceptions on the street and it is more to do with questions about confidence, if you like, that the process of control being handed over can be sufficiently maintained, particularly given that Maysan is a border province?

  Mr Ingram: Everyone who has a share in the developing situation in Iraq, and it is positive, will have a view as to what should happen next. That then is part of the discussions that take place, and that is why I spoke, at the beginning, about the confidence of the Iraqi security forces in their own capabilities (our confidence that they can deliver), and increasingly we are seeing that the other international partners, not just the US but others who are working alongside us, also have a right to say: "Well, if this happens what are the implications?" if they are in a particular location. That is the nature of those rounded discussions. Yes, everyone has to have confidence in what we are seeking to do before you move forward, and some people may have 110% confidence and some people may have less than that. You do not make progress unless people are buying into that process. So if someone is holding up a red card and saying: "This is just not going to work" then that has to be talked through: why is that being argued in that particular way? What can we do to show that this is the desired way forward? That, clearly, will happen in terms of the border issue and in terms of Maysan. Everyone has to be assured that if that is the next step, and we have said it should be (and I would agree with you, the sooner the better because that is another indication of good progress, but the sooner based upon best assessment and best confidence), they will actually deliver and you do not have a reverse. So that is the nature of the discussions that have gone on at senior military level so that everyone has a full appreciation, full understanding and full acceptance of the next step in the process.

  Q27  Linda Gilroy: In those positive moves towards Iraqi control, what assessment have you made of the availability of equipment, firepower and transport to the 10th Division? We had some remarks made to us about some significant shortages and we did raise that with people we met in Baghdad, but I wonder what is your assessment of that as a barrier to moving more towards Iraqi control.

  Mr Ingram: That, in a sense, may be another technical question about what is happening specifically on the ground. It depends who says this. Again, we are into if someone says something you will get contacts—

  Q28  Linda Gilroy: Can I clarify? We met the 10th Division.

  Mr Ingram: And they were saying what? They were under-resourced?

  Q29  Linda Gilroy: Particularly on transport, there were issues about getting transport made available to them that would enable them to continue along the path of taking control.

  Mr Ingram: Before General Houghton replies, this goes back—

  Q30  Linda Gilroy: Adam is reminding me it was Polish armoured vehicles, particularly, that they were expecting and they had not been able to take.

  Mr Ingram: And they had not been given them?

  Linda Gilroy: They had not arrived.

  Q31  Chairman: They had not been bought.

  Mr Ingram: They had not been bought? That is the information you have got. This goes back to the point, in general terms, I was making about the confidence of the Iraqi forces themselves to be able to deliver on the ground. I suppose, like any military force, they always want the best and they always want a sufficiency. Therefore, we have an objective to try and deliver on all of that because then that makes sure that we then have the confidence in their capabilities. It would seem to me instinctively, as a civilian and not a military person, that what you do not do is build in problems where they then cannot effectively deliver on the ground, whether it is ground mobility or whether it is air cover or whatever else. Part of Operation Overwatch is about ensuring that if they do experience any difficulty they then have a combination of forces as back-up to them. That is an important aspect of all this. On the specific, I do not know whether there is more detail to give you on this.

  Lt General Houghton: In very general terms, the assessment on the condition and the state of the Iraqi Army and the police is done on a monthly basis. As a result of the assessment they fall into one of four criteria, from four to one, with one being the very best and four being the very worst, and it is across personnel, training, logistics, equipment, firepower and all those sorts of things. TRA, as it is called (Transitional Readiness Assessment), Number Two is the one they need to achieve in order to be ready for transfer. There is a level of capability beyond that which is One, which allows them an increased level of capabilities, but over and above that which is specifically required to deal with an internal security situation. Many of the commanders, and General Latif of the 10th Division is no different, want a lot of what I might crudely say are the "goodies" associated with Transition Level One, even though they are not actually required to meet the basic transitional requirement. Such things as the Polish armoured vehicles are in that Level One basket. However, I can confirm, I was there last week, and I know the first few vehicles have arrived and the crew, driver and maintenance training on them is ongoing, and I have no reason to believe why a reasonably steady deployment of those vehicles should not ensue from now on in. There are, I accept, and you will have come across this in your various briefings, various levels of capability particularly to do with enhanced levels of firepower, with logistic sustainability and with protective mobility vehicles which are not the requirements of the transition criteria at Level Two; they come on stream later.

  Q32  Linda Gilroy: Can I ask a brief, follow-on question to that? What assessment have you made of the capacity of the administration in the Iraqi Department of Defence to be responsible for procurement issues? Certain things that we (learned is maybe too strong a way of putting it) picked up—and we greatly welcomed the appointment of the Minister for Defence while we were there; I think that is very important to the leadership—it caused me, certainly, to wonder about the capacity of the administration to deal with these matters.

  Mr Ingram: Can I say you make the same criticism of our MoD as well about procurement matters, so it seems to be the iron law of MoD procurement that we can never satisfy select committees. One of the issues, of course, has been the question of governance in the administration departments. Clearly, one of the key developments in that is getting a minister in place. We now have that. I have not met the minister so I cannot speak from any personal experience but it would be down, again, to how powerful he is and how he then relates to the Prime Minister. It would seem to be that these are probably early days in all of this. How does he then—not unlike what happens here—get his share of the budget and then how he disburses that budget? Part of the process of good governance is making sure that they get best advice, if they so seek it, in the way in which they approach all of this. However, at the end of the day, they are the Government of their country; I do not think it is for us—and I am walking very carefully here—to comment one way or the other. On the competences, we will do what we can to ensure that their competences are raised, but they are a sovereign government and I am not going to criticise their capacity in that sense. Roger may want to give you some detailed information on the way we approach this in Baghdad.

  Chairman: Do you want a quick follow-up on that Linda?

  Q33  Linda Gilroy: I am very happy to listen to what Dr Hutton has got to say. I was just going to ask a more general question about other obstacles, which, perhaps, we have not raised and that the Minister may be aware of, to achieving the transition.

  Dr Hutton: We recognise that procurement within the Iraqi MoD has been a problem in the past, and we have been working very hard to try and put that and other structures, processes and procedures within the Iraqi MoD right. We have people in the Iraqi MoD sitting alongside both ministers and officials introducing those new procedures and structures. So 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.

  Q34  Linda Gilroy: Are there other obstacles—we have discussed a number about confidence, about the right timing, etc—to moving sooner rather than later on the transition to Iraqi control in the four southern provinces? We have discussed, obviously, the security situation in Basra.

  Mr Ingram: Are there other obstacles? I suppose the security environment on the ground would be one of the major obstacles. That is one of the key conditions; we have to ensure that the conditions on the ground are right for all of this. This is an iterative process; it is progressive. We have one big step, I suppose, in terms of what has been announced over the last 24 hours or so, but it is only one part of the ongoing process. Will it all work smoothly into the future? We hope so, and we will throw all our effort into achieving that. Do we have to plan for it not happening that way? Yes, we do, and we have to identify as best we can what those obstacles are. Overall, it is about the competency of the security forces, it is about the competency of the governance of the country itself and about the relationship between the provincial governments and central government. This is only a young country in that sense, in terms of its democratic overwatch and relationships.

  Q35  Mr Havard: Can I ask about one of those areas? We are now going to see the setting up of Provincial Reconstruction Teams. This is an idea that we have seen partly working in Afghanistan under one sort of model, but really the question in relation to Iraq is whether or not this is the right construct to introduce into Iraq. Part of the reason I ask that is that whilst it is quite clearly necessary that all the organisations come together as efficiently as they possibly can (and if it is a vehicle for bringing them together that is a good thing), on the other hand, those are all of the organisations that are separate from the Iraqi Government. The Iraqis have their own national development plan and there are provincial development plans. Is a PRT going to be an enabler of that process or is it going to actually be competing with Iraqis in setting up their own processes of distribution to do the things that you rightly agreed, which are not necessarily all military tasks? They are the people appearing at the barricade to do their bit.

  Mr Ingram: The PRTs have proven successful in Afghanistan, and I think increasingly we will see greater success for them there. The concept is fundamentally sound (I will talk about the relationship with the Iraqi Government in a moment), and that is to try and bring as much non-military expertise into play, and it is about reconstruction, it is about economics, it is about social, it is about political—all of those key aspects—and, also, importantly, to try to make it multinational and multi-agency. So the concept, as I say, has proven itself. You cannot, of itself, say that because it has worked in one part of Afghanistan it is going to work throughout Afghanistan, and, therefore, the same argument and logic applies: it will not necessarily work with certainty with Iraq. However, it is a very sound concept and it does ensure, from a UK Government point of view, other departmental buy-in. It forces us, as a government, to make sure that we have got our act together; that we are co-ordinated in all that we are seeking to do. Then you have got to work in a relationship with what else is happening on the ground. In terms of what the Iraqi Government is seeking to do, it is not to be in competition but to be complementary. So we may be getting to parts that they are not touching and they certainly, hopefully, are getting to the bigger parts that we cannot touch, because at the end of the day it is the responsibility of the Iraq Government to make the country whole again; all we can do is assist as best we can. A key ingredient of all of that is having a stable environment so you can deliver those programmes. Let us remember the history of the early days of Iraq when the UN had a very bad experience of some sad loss of life and, therefore, disengaged. The key to this, as I say, is to get other agencies involved, NGOs, all those international donors, to be supportive—

  Q36  Mr Havard: That is part of why I asked the question.

  Mr Ingram: That is why I am answering in the way I am.

  Q37  Mr Havard: Is there a mechanism that does that, because quite clearly what we have seen in previous visits there is this basic sort of stuff about water and infrastructure and all the rest of it? The message that came to us very strongly was that the Basra province is quite clearly the economic engine of the country of Iraq and more attention needed to be put to it from elsewhere, namely Baghdad or the USA or wherever, and its relative importance in being able to generate the money for all the other things as being something, if you like, that had not been given sufficient consideration, and there needs to be sufficient spend there. That is what we see. We see a frustration there, and frustration amongst some of our military, I think, which is that, frankly, they are being asked to do tasks that are not theirs to do with money that they have not got. So where are all the other agencies coming together to actually provide to do these other things? Is the PRT mechanism the efficient way to do that, or does it actually, in some way or another, stop the Iraqi processes? You now have a new interior minister and you have a new minister for the MoD. So that is the fear: is it another talking shop or is it actually an enabler?

  Mr Ingram: You said: "Is it the way forward?" It is not the way forward, it is a way forward, and it is a component part. It is actually delivering and it has the potential to deliver on some of those areas where we can actually make a difference. Is it the total solution to the problem? No, it is not. We are not offering it up in that way. This is part of the process of engaging with the wider community, because the way in which the military can be accepted in carrying on the security role is if people can see there is some benefit accruing on the other side of all of this, in terms of economic infrastructure development, political development or social development. That is what we are specifically trying to tackle. Is it perfectly formed? Not yet. Will it ever deliver on every objective 110%? Probably not because of the very nature of the environment in which it is trying to operate. Will it fail because of a lack of effort? No, it will not. Will it fail because of a lack of funding? That depends on what the funding demands are. There are significant tranches of money being put in both by the US and the way in which we will operate our central allocation, mainly through DfID money, but it will be small by comparison to what is required and what the Iraqi Government itself has to do. Clearly, in terms of the underlying aspect of your question about the vitality of Basra and the region as an economic engine room, that is the case, and the more that can be stabilised the more it generates wealth and the more that wealth can then be reinvested back into Iraq overall and into Basra and surrounding provinces.

  Q38  Mr Havard: The success of the PRT is also in direct relationship to the success of our drawback plan, the rebating strategy and our ability to actually have overwatch as opposed to current engagement.

  Mr Ingram: They work together. It goes back to this point of creating the stable environment. You cannot put civilian agencies out into a very hostile environment. It does not matter how much money you have got or how solid your plans are if your people are being threatened and, probably, even being killed. You will not be able to deliver on those mechanisms. So they are a part of the whole, and the more we can create that stable environment the more the agencies can then go out and deliver.

  Q39  Linda Gilroy: Minister, if I understood correctly, that PRT is only part of the reconstruction. Where can we look at what the whole strategy for reconstruction in those provinces is to make an assessment of what the relative value of the PRT is in contributing towards that?

  Dr Hutton: DfID has its own strategy for reconstruction in Iraq which I do not have with me today, but it is publicly available and readily available to the Committee. Getting back to the point made by the Minister, the PRT is not a panacea here; it is about oiling wheels, brokering solutions and establishing relationships, but above all acting as a conduit for international engagement in Basra and, also, international engagement in Baghdad being directed towards Basra.

  Linda Gilroy: Exactly, and I think that is what Dai was saying. We experienced some frustration that that was not being directed in a focused way. I am still not certain of the extent to which the PRT is the means of focusing that, or if there is another means of focusing the overall reconstruction.

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