Select Committee on Defence First Report



For UK Forces serving in Iraq, 2007 has been a very significant year. Responsibility for security across much of South Eastern Iraq has now been transferred to local Iraqi control. Basra, the final province remaining under UK direction, will pass to Iraqi control in December 2007. With transition has come a change in the role of UK Forces, from combat operations to overwatch.

The security situation in Iraq continues to cause concern. While the surge of additional US Forces under the command of General David Petraeus appears to have been successful in countering the worst of the sectarian violence, the precarious security situation continues to impede progress towards political reconciliation. In South Eastern Iraq, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of attacks against UK and Coalition Forces since the decision was taken to withdraw from Basra Palace, but there has been no corresponding reduction in the number of attacks against the civilian population of Basra.

The development of capable and effective Iraqi Security Forces is fundamental to the long-term security of Iraq and to the drawdown and eventual withdrawal of UK Forces. Significant progress has been achieved over the past year in training, mentoring and equipping the Iraqi Army. The 10th Division, which following transition to Iraqi control in Basra will be responsible for security across South Eastern Iraq, is now reported to be close to achieving full operational readiness. However, similar progress has not been achieved with the Iraqi Police. There remain murderous, corrupt and militia-infiltrated elements within the Police which must be rooted out as a matter of priority. The UK continues to play an important role in training and mentoring the Iraqi Army and Police. It is unclear how its trainers will be supported once UK force levels are reduced further in the Spring.

The deployment of additional Mastiff and Bulldog armoured vehicles has significantly improved the force protection available to our Forces in Iraq. We are reassured that the Urgent Operational Requirement process appears to be delivering much-needed equipment to our Forces in theatre. The planned increase in the number of Merlin and Chinook aircraft should improve helicopter availability when they enter Service and the purchase of additional C-17 large transport aircraft will improve the UK's strategic airlift capability. But current operations are reducing the planned lifespans of equipment and this could lead to potential capability gaps in future. The MoD must say how it plans to address gaps arising from the intensive use of equipment and how this will be funded.

The Prime Minister has said that the Government plans, from the Spring of 2008, to reduce UK Forces in Iraq to 2,500. Important questions remain about the sustainability of a force of this size. If there is still a role for UK Forces in Iraq, those Forces must be capable of doing more than just protecting themselves at Basra Air Station. If the reduction in numbers means they cannot do more than this, the entire UK presence in South Eastern Iraq will be open to question.

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© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 3 December 2007