Select Committee on Defence First Report


UK objectives in building the capacity of the ISF

48. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence have made it clear that the change in role of UK Forces from combat operations to overwatch is dependent upon the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to assume primary responsibility for security in South Eastern Iraq. The Prime Minister told the House of Commons on 8 October 2007 that "the main work of our troops is […] to train the Iraqi Forces so that they can do the job themselves".[69] Similarly, in evidence to us on 23 October 2007, Des Browne stated that "our job is to set the conditions whereby the Iraqis can take charge of their own destiny". He emphasised that although "significant challenges" remained "there are no international or coalition resolutions to those issues; they have to be resolved by the Iraqis themselves". Mr Browne told us that "what it means in the short term is building up the Iraqi Security Forces so that increasingly they are able to take over responsibility for the security of the people without our support".[70] In written evidence to our inquiry, the Ministry of Defence stated that building and strengthening the Iraqi Security Forces was all part of the broader "coalition strategy in Iraq […] to help to develop a functioning state".[71] Only when the Iraqi Security Forces become capable of conducting operations independently of the Multi-National Forces would UK Forces be able to complete the projected drawdown and withdraw from Iraq.

49. In our last report on Iraq, published in August 2006 following our visit to Basra and Baghdad in June 2006, we noted that UK Forces had achieved considerable successes in the training of the Iraqi Army and we expressed our hope that the 10th Division of the Iraqi Army would soon achieve full operational readiness. But we voiced our serious concerns at the level of corruption, militia infiltration and politicisation of the Iraqi Police Service. We noted that sustainable progress in increasing the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces as a whole would only come about if problems in the Iraqi Defence and Interior Ministries were addressed.[72]

Developments at the national level

50. Recent reports have suggested that the development of the ISF has been uneven across the country and progress in building an operational capability independent of Coalition Forces inconsistent.

51. On 12 July 2007, in its Initial Benchmark Assessment Report to the US Congress, the White House concluded that "the Government of Iraq has made unsatisfactory progress toward increasing the number of ISF units capable of operating independently". Although it considered that "ISF performance has generally been adequate, particularly when units are partnered with Coalition Forces" and that the shortcomings observed did "not necessitate a revision to the current plan and strategy" of building the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces, the Report concluded that "the presence of Coalition partners and support remains necessary for ISF operations".[73]

52. In August 2007, the US National Intelligence Estimate presented a similarly mixed picture of the development of the ISF. It reported that:

    Iraqi Security Forces involved in combined operations with Coalition forces have performed adequately, and some units have demonstrated increasing professional competence. However, […] the ISF have not improved enough to conduct major operations independent of the Coalition on a sustained basis in multiple locations and that the ISF remain reliant on the Coalition for important aspects of logistics and combat support.[74]

The Estimate went on to note that:

    Militia and insurgent influences continue to undermine the reliability of some ISF units, and political interference in security operations continues to undermine Coalition and ISF efforts.[75]

It concluded that, although the Maliki Government was implementing plans to expand the Iraqi Army to address "critical gaps", "significant security gains will take at least six to 12 months, and probably longer, to materialise".[76]

53. In his testimony to the US Congress on 10 September 2007, General Petraeus gave an upbeat assessment of the development of the ISF. He stated that "Iraqi Security Forces have […] continued to grow and shoulder more of the load, albeit slowly and amid continuing concerns about the sectarian tendencies of some elements in their ranks". He continued:

    Iraqi elements have been standing and fighting and sustaining tough losses, and they have taken the lead in operations in many areas […] despite their shortages, many Iraqi units now operate across Iraq with minimal coalition assistance […]Iraqi elements are slowly taking on more of the responsibility for protecting their citizens. Innumerable challenges lie ahead; however, Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces have made progress to achieving sustainable security.[77]

Iraqi Security Forces in South Eastern Iraq

The Iraqi Army

54. The MoD has presented a generally positive assessment of the development of the Iraqi Army in MND(SE). In evidence to us on 23 October 2007, Lieutenant General Wall described the UK's training and mentoring of the Iraqi Army as "a very good story". According to Lieutenant General Wall, there had been "considerable progress" over the past year in building the capacity of the Iraqi 10th Division, the result of "quite a protracted effort" by UK and Coalition Forces, "through considerable materiel investment by, of course, the United States and some by ourselves".[78] Similarly, the Secretary of State told us that "we are making good progress across Iraq in building the capability and capacity of the security forces". The 10th Division, he argued, continued to show "its growing capability". It was now "taking the lead in many operations in the south with minimum support from the coalition" [79]:

    Overall, in the south of Iraq the Iraqi Security Forces have shown themselves as capable of dealing with isolated incidents of violence in the three provinces that have been handed over to Iraqi control and that is what they have had to face. In Basra city, they have assumed the primary role for security and they have proved able to deal efficiently with incidents of violence.[80]

55. According to Brigadier Chris Hughes, in evidence to us on 24 July 2007, the 10th Division had "had some genuine success". Overall, UK Forces had been "pleased" with its progress.[81] But he acknowledged that the Division still faced a number of challenges. Loyalty had been a particular problem but this was now being addressed through the creation of a new Division, the 14th Division, which had grown out of the 5th Brigade of the 10th Division, to operate in Basra. When we were in Iraq in July 2007 we were told that because the 10th Division was raised in Basra, the soldiers and their families were subject to intimidation and violence, and were, therefore, susceptible to intimidation and sometimes corruption. As the new 14th Division was raised in other provinces within South Eastern Iraq, the difficulties with loyalty and reliability were less likely to occur.

56. A further problem the 10th Division had encountered had been the lack of "rear end" capability, such as logistics support and intelligence assets. Although "in terms of equipment levels they are well-equipped at the moment with their frontline kit", and "have got 100% of the up-armoured Humvees that they were due to get and their other vehicles and equipment" they nevertheless lacked this important supporting capacity.[82] However, when we were in Iraq in July 2007, the UK Military Transition Team told us that the Iraqis themselves wanted additional heavy equipment. While it was recognised that Humvees were suitable for their needs they nevertheless wanted to have tanks and artillery. We also heard that it had often proved hard to unlock resources from the Iraqi Ministry of Defence. The 14th Division, in particular, was under-equipped to such an extent that militia groups and tribes had more powerful weaponry.

57. Brigadier Hughes told us that the UK Government had put £54 million through Operation OSIRIS, a project for provision of equipment and infrastructure for the Iraqi Security Forces in MND(SE). Around £13 million of this had been used to support the Iraqi Army 10th Division which was in addition to the equipment that had "flowed down from Baghdad, originally from the Coalition and now from the Iraqi Ministry of Defence".[83] But, overall, Brigadier Hughes suggested that the 10th Division had enjoyed significant progress:

    Are they a reasonable force, given where they have come from in the timeframe that they have come from, yes they are. Do they have problems? Yes, they do […] They continue to be taken forward and […] we continue with the SSR [Security Sector Reform] process.[84]

58. One significant development over the past year was the appointment of General Mohan as Commander of Iraqi Security Forces in Basra Province. According to the Secretary of State, General Mohan had "brought strong Iraqi leadership to the security situation in Basra" which was "extremely welcome from our perspective" as he "takes a very robust approach to the development of the Iraqi Security Forces as a whole".[85] The Minister for the Armed Forces told us in July 2007 that he believed that the appointment of General Mohan was "very important" and "a good sign of potential" for improving the leadership of the Iraqi Army.[86] According to Mr Ainsworth, the appointment, together with that of General Jalil to command the Iraqi Police in South Eastern Iraq, amounted to a "recognition" by the Iraqis "that their getting a grip of their security arrangements in Basra is increasingly important and that we are not prepared to hold on forever". There had, he suggested, been "a concentration of the mind" among Iraqis in the South of the country.[87]

59. There has been significant progress over the course of the past year in building the capacity of the Iraqi Army in South Eastern Iraq. Major improvements have been made to the capacity and readiness of the 10th Division, to its ability to operate independently of the Multi-National Forces, and to the equipment made available to it. We welcome the creation of the new 14th Division for Basra as a way of addressing the problem of loyalty which had confronted the largely Basrawi-recruited 10th Division. We also welcome the MoD's assurance that General Mohan has adopted a robust approach to the development of the Iraqi Security Forces in Basra. But the job is not yet complete. Despite its increasing capability, the Iraqi Army in South Eastern Iraq still requires the support of UK Forces, particularly in logistics and intelligence. The MoD should explain in its response to this report how it is addressing this lack of "rear end" capability in the Iraqi Army, when it expects this capability gap to be filled, and for how long it expects UK Forces to be required to lend support to the Iraqi Army. We also call upon the MoD to provide in its response an analysis of UK expenditure on, and the results of, projects for the provision of equipment and infrastructure to the Iraqi Security Forces, including Operation OSIRIS.


60. The development of the Iraqi Police Service stands in marked contrast to the development of the Iraqi Army. There continue to be serious problems of corruption and militia infiltration, and the loyalty and affiliation of many police officers remain in question. In evidence to us Dr Dodge suggested that the training of the Iraqi Police had been "an abject failure". He stated that "the Police are responsible for a great deal of kidnapping in Baghdad and have been thoroughly penetrated by the militias in the South".[88] According to Dr Dodge, the reform of the Police compared very poorly with that of the Army:

    although there are undoubtedly problems in the Army, they are much, much less, and if you look at opinion poll data […] the Army consistently gets a much higher recognition of trust than the Police Force, which, again, not detracting from the problems inside the Army, indicates the Army has more professionalism […] although the Army has problems, it is more coherent, a more nationalist force than the Police themselves.[89]

61. Dr Herring suggested that the emphasis on the training of the Police, like the Army, missed the point; "training", he argued, "is not the issue, loyalty is the issue". The Iraqi Security Forces as a whole were "riddled with […] embedded insurgents" and "we are not going to train that out of them".[90]

62. The Ministry of Defence accepts that the development of the Iraqi Police has not been as successful as the development of the Iraqi Army. In evidence to us on 23 October 2007, the Secretary of State acknowledged that there was "no question" that there was "an endemic level of corruption in the police".[91] Similarly, the Minister for the Armed Forces told us in July that "progress with regards to army capability and army capacity is a lot more reassuring than it is in the area of the police". He stated that "the police have got a lot more work to do" and that "the problems are far deeper and more difficult to deal with".[92] According to Brigadier Hughes, the Iraqi Police Service was the "biggest challenge". There was "effectively […] a small, murderous, criminal element within the Iraqi Police Force which we have to root out […] because they are truly irreconcilable".[93]

63. The MoD maintains that the appointment of General Jalil to command the police in Basra Province is a positive step and one that is beginning to deliver results, albeit slowly. In a memorandum to us, the MoD stated that General Jalil "has shown much determination to reform the Iraqi Police Service in [Basra] province" and was committed to the "aim of building an independent, loyal police force". According to the MoD, General Jalil's efforts to root out corruption had already led to the dismissal of a total of 111 officers for corrupt activity, including affiliation with militias and a further 40 officers were under investigation by the Province's Department of Internal Affairs. The Government of Iraq, which holds responsibility for the Police in the other three provinces of MND(SE), had dismissed over 2,000 police officers since August 2006.[94] According to the Secretary of State, there was "very strong evidence" that General Jalil was "building […] an independent and loyal force which is increasingly capable of serving the people at Basra and patrolling the streets". General Jalil and his family had become a target for attacks by those opposed to his attempt to root out corruption and militia infiltration.[95]

64. The development of the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police Service as credible, capable, and effective Forces, which enjoy the confidence and support of the Iraqi people, is fundamental to the long-term security of Iraq and to the drawdown and eventual withdrawal of UK Forces. If Iraq is to evolve into a stable, functioning and prosperous country, the Iraqi Army and Police must be properly equipped and trained. The Iraqi Government must ensure that corruption and militia infiltration are rooted out and that the Army and Police are properly supported by the Defence and Interior Ministries. We call upon the MoD to explain in its response to this report how the training of the Iraqi Security Forces—both the Army and the Police—will progress once the number of UK Forces in Iraq has been reduced to 2,500.

65. While we welcome the efforts reported to have been made by General Jalil to counter murderous, corrupt, and militia-infiltrated elements within the police in Basra, we remain concerned about the present state of the Iraqi Police. Progress with reforms has been painfully slow and serious questions appear to remain about the loyalty of a significant number of officers. Unlike the Army, which shows clear signs of progress in achieving operational independence, the Police would seem to have a long way to go in becoming truly effective and in gaining the trust of the population. Given the scale of the problems which still need to be tackled, there would seem to be a need for an ongoing commitment by the UK to training and mentoring the Iraqi Police. We call upon the MoD to explain in its response to this report how it proposes to continue its mentoring and training programme following the proposed reduction of UK Forces.

69   HC Deb, 8 October 2007, col 27 Back

70   HC (2006-07) 1091-i, Q 2 Back

71   Ev 40 Back

72   HC (2005-06) 1241, para 27 Back

73   Initial Benchmark Assessment Report, published by the White House, 12 July 2007, p 22 Back

74   US National Intelligence Estimate, August 2007, p 2 Back

75   Ibid., p 3 Back

76   US National Intelligence Estimate, August 2007, p 3 Back

77   Report to Congress on the Situation in Iraq by General Petraeus, pp 1, 5, 6 Back

78   HC (2006-07) 1091-i, Q 38 Back

79   Ibid. Back

80   Ibid. Back

81   Q 131 Back

82   Ibid. Back

83   Q 131 Back

84   Ibid. Back

85   HC (2006-07) 1091-i, Q 38 Back

86   Q 83 Back

87   Q 96 Back

88   Q 58 Back

89   Q 59 Back

90   Q 58 Back

91   HC (2006-07) 1091-i, Q 41 Back

92   Q 83 Back

93   Q 131 Back

94   HC (2006-07) 1091-i, Ev 21 Back

95   Ibid., Q 41 Back

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