Select Committee on Defence First Report


The UK presence in Iraq

1. UK Forces in Iraq are currently deployed under the mandate of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1723. This Resolution, adopted in November 2006, provided renewed authority for the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) to operate in Iraq until 31 December 2007. A further Resolution will be required to authorise the continued presence of the MNF-I into 2008.

2. The MNF-I, led by the United States, operates in Iraq in six sectors of divisional command: MND (Baghdad); MND (North); MND (West); MND (Centre South); MND (South East); and Logistical Support Area Anaconda.

3. The UK, the second largest troop-contributing nation after the United States, provides the leadership of MND (South East), which covers the southern Iraqi provinces of Basra, Dhi Qar, Maysan and Al Muthanna. Approximately 5,000 UK military personnel are currently serving in Iraq, the vast majority of whom are concentrated in MND(SE). In addition to UK Forces, MND(SE) includes troops from Australia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania and Romania. Italian and Japanese Forces, which served alongside UK Forces in MND(SE), were withdrawn from Iraq in 2006. The MNF-I as a whole currently comprises forces from 26 countries. The United States currently contributes around 169,000 personnel to the total of almost 182,000.

Table 1: Troop contributing nations, Multi-National Force-Iraq
Approximate troop contributions (alphabetical order)
Albania 120
Armenia 46
Australia 870
Azerbaijan 151
Bosnia-Herzegovina 37
Bulgaria 154
Czech Republic 100
El Salvador 280
Estonia 34
Denmark 55
Georgia 2,000
Japan *
Kazakhstan 29
Latvia *
Lithuania 50
Macedonia 40
Moldova 12
Mongolia 130
Poland 900
Romania 550
Singapore 35
Slovakia *
South Korea 1,200
UK 5,000
Ukraine *
USA 169,000

* Numbers not available from unclassified sources.

Source: House of Commons Library [1]

UK force levels

4. At the peak of major combat operations, in Spring 2003, the UK had a total of 46,000 military personnel deployed in Iraq. Force levels were reduced to 18,000 troops following the completion of these operations in May 2003, and to 8,600 the following year. There has since been a series of more modest reductions: force levels were reduced to 8,500 in May 2005, to 7,200 in May 2006, and to 5,500 in May 2007.[2] On 19 July 2007, the Secretary of State for Defence stated that, by the end of the next routine roulement of UK Forces in Iraq, scheduled to take place in late November 2007, overall force levels would be reduced to "around 5,000 troops".[3]

Table 2: UK force levels in Iraq since March 2003

Number of troops
March/April 2003
May 2003
May 2004
May 2005
May 2006
May 2007
November 2007

Source: Ministry of Defence[4]

5. On 2 October 2007, during his first visit to Iraq as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown announced that UK force levels in Iraq would be reduced to approximately 4,500 by Christmas.[5] The following week, Mr Brown told the House of Commons that he planned to reduce the number of troops serving in Iraq to 2,500 "from the Spring" of 2008.[6] These further reductions, Mr Brown explained, would be dependent upon both the conditions on the ground and the progress of transition to Provincial Iraqi Control and would follow a change in the role of UK Forces from one of combat operations to one of overwatch.[7]

6. During the course of the past year, UK Forces have continued the process of handing over security in the South East of the country to Provincial Iraqi Control (PIC). Responsibility for Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar Provinces was handed over to Iraqi control in July and September 2006 respectively. Responsibility for Maysan Province was transferred to Iraqi control in April 2007 and, on 30 October 2007, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, announced that Basra Province, the final province under UK control in South Eastern Iraq, would be transferred to Iraqi control in December 2007.

Our inquiry

7. In this report, we consider recent developments in the political and security situation in Iraq, the prospects for political reconciliation at both the national and the local level, the progress in implementing security sector reform, including the development of the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police, as well as the impending transition of Basra to Provincial Iraqi Control. The report also examines the changing role of UK Forces in South Eastern Iraq as they prepare to handover responsibility for security in the area and assume a position of overwatch. The report examines what overwatch means and whether the force levels proposed by the Government are sufficient to be sustainable.

8. This is our second report into UK operations in Iraq in this Parliament.[8] Our first report, published on 10 August 2006 following our visit to Iraq in June 2006, examined the security situation in South Eastern Iraq and the threat that the escalation of violence had posed to UK Forces.[9] It considered the prospects for transition to Iraqi control in Dhi Qar, Maysan and Basra provinces, none of which had then undergone transition to Provincial Iraqi Control, and the progress in the implementation of security sector reform. We also examined equipment and personnel issues raised with us by UK Forces during our visit to Iraq.

9. As part of our current inquiry, we visited Iraq in July 2007 to see for ourselves the changing operational environment in which UK Forces were working and to meet senior members of the Iraqi Government. In Basra, we met UK Forces at the Contingency Operating Base (COB) at Basra Air Station. We also held meetings with local politicians to discuss the political and security situation in Basra, the influence of Iran, and progress in reconstruction and development. In Baghdad, we met the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and other senior Iraqi politicians and US and UK commanders, including the US Commander of Multi-National Forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. We also visited Kuwait where we held discussions with the Kuwaiti Armed Forces and officials at the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the National Security Bureau.[10]

10. We also held discussions on the situation in Iraq during our visit to the United States in June 2007. We met senior officials at the Pentagon and the State Department, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees to discuss the security situation, the progress of the US surge of an additional 29,500 US Forces deployed to Iraq between January and June 2007, the prospects for political reconciliation, and the nature and extent of Iranian influence in Iraq.

11. We held three evidence sessions during the course of this inquiry. On 26 June 2007, we took evidence from Dr Ali Ansari, University of St Andrews, Dr Toby Dodge, Queen Mary College, University of London, Dr Eric Herring, University of Bristol, Dr Glen Rangwala, University of Cambridge, Professor Sami Zubaida, Birkbeck College, University of London, and Mr Nadhim Zahawi, YouGov. On 24 July 2007, we took evidence from Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Desmond Bowen, Policy Director, and Brigadier Chris Hughes, Director of Joint Commitments (Military) at the Ministry of Defence (MoD). On 23 October 2007, we took evidence from the Secretary of State for Defence, Rt Hon Des Browne MP, Lieutenant General Peter Wall, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Commitments) and Jon Day, Director General Operational Policy at the MoD. Earlier in the year, on 11 January 2007, we had held a joint evidence session with the Foreign Affairs Committee with the then Foreign Secretary, Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP, and the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, to consider the implications of the US Iraq Study Group Report.[11] We also received written evidence from the Ministry of Defence, Redress, and Dr Eric Herring.[12] We are grateful to all those who have participated in the inquiry.

12. Our report focuses on joint land-based operations in Iraq. It does not deal with maritime operations in Iraqi waters of the Gulf. During our visit to Iraq, we were briefed by Royal Navy personnel at Um Qasr on their role in supporting and training the Iraqi Navy in protecting the oil platforms, vital to the recovery of the Iraqi economy. We also met personnel of all three Services serving in joint land operations. The fact that this report does not comment on the progress of maritime operations in Iraqi waters is not a reflection of the relative importance we attach to those operations. We acknowledge the important contribution which all three Services are making to the security of the region.

1   House of Commons Library Standard Note SN/IA/4099, 20 September 2007 Back

2   Defence Factsheet, Operations in Iraq: Facts and Figures, Ministry of Defence website ( Back

3   HC Deb, 19 July 2007, cols 31-33 WS Back

4   Defence Factsheet, Operations in Iraq: Facts and Figures, Ministry of Defence website ( Back

5   Ministry of Defence press release, 2 October, 2007 Back

6   HC Deb, 8 October 2007, col 23 Back

7   The meaning of "overwatch" and its implications for UK force levels in Iraq are considered in Chapter 4. Back

8   Our predecessor Committee published two reports on Iraq in the last Parliament: Defence Committee, Third Report of Session 2003-04, Lessons of Iraq, HC57-I; Defence Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2004-05, Iraq: An Initial Assessment of Post-Conflict Operations, HC 65-I. It also visited Iraq in 2003 and 2004. Back

9   Defence Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2005-06, UK Operations in Iraq, HC 1241 Back

10   A full list of our meetings in Iraq and Kuwait can be found at Annex 2. Back

11   Oral evidence taken before the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees, 11 January 2007, Iraq, HC (2006-07) 209-i Back

12   Ev 41, 43 Back

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Prepared 3 December 2007