Select Committee on Defence First Report


1.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. (Paragraph 12)
2.We note the progress of the US surge in and around Baghdad and welcome the apparent reductions in the level of violence, both against Coalition and Iraqi Forces and the civilian population. But it is important not to overstate the successes of the surge. The level of violence in Iraq is still worryingly high. It remains to be seen whether the improvements in the security situation represent a lasting reduction in insurgent, militia and sectarian violence or whether the violence will once again increase after the US withdraws the surge element of its Forces. (Paragraph 26)
3.The Iraqi Government must make the most of the reduction in violence to move the political process forward to achieve meaningful and lasting political reconciliation in Iraq. In the long-term, it is only through reconciliation, both nationally and locally, that Iraq can develop into a secure and stable country. (Paragraph 27)
4.In the long-term stability and security in South Eastern Iraq will only come about through progress with political reconciliation. But, as at the national level, political reconciliation at the local level demands a degree of security for the political process to function. (Paragraph 40)
5.The reduction in the number of attacks on UK and Coalition Forces in South Eastern Iraq since August 2007 is significant. However, the fact there has been no corresponding reduction in the number of attacks against the civilian population of the city is a matter of concern. Violence in Basra Province continues to undermine the development of civil society. The relative security of Basra is said to owe more to the dominance of militias and criminal gangs, who are said to have achieved a fragile balance in the city, than to the success of the Multi-National and Iraqi Security Forces in tackling the root causes of the violence. Although the reduction in attacks on UK Forces can only be welcome, this alone cannot be a measure of success. The initial goal of UK Forces in South Eastern Iraq was to establish the security necessary for the development of representative political institutions and for economic reconstruction. Although progress has been made, this goal remains unfulfilled. (Paragraph 41)
6.Iranian influence in Iraq is longstanding and religious and cultural links between Iranians and Iraqis is strong, particularly in the Shia South. However, reports that elements within Iran are fuelling the violence in Iraq through the supply of arms are deeply troubling. (Paragraph 47)
7.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. (Paragraph 59)
8.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. (Paragraph 64)
9.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. (Paragraph 65)
10.It will be important for the MoD to monitor closely the progress of the Merlin and Chinook programmes and, if necessary, take appropriate action to prevent slippage so that these helicopters are available for operational use as soon as possible. (Paragraph 70)
11.We welcome the deployment of additional armoured vehicles to our Forces in Iraq and are reassured that the Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) process is delivering much needed equipment to our Forces in theatre. The deployment of additional Mastiff and Bulldog armoured vehicles has significantly improved the force protection available to our Forces in Iraq. However, we are concerned that current operations are reducing the planned lives of equipment and that this could lead to potential capability gaps in the future. We are also concerned that equipment returning from operational theatres—whether it was procured through the routine acquisition process or as UORs—will require substantial expenditure to repair, refurbish, support and store, and it appears that no provision has been made for this in the MoD's budget. This will make the management of the MoD's budget increasingly difficult. We expect the MoD, in its response to our report, to set out how it plans to address any capability gaps arising from the intensive use of equipment on current operations, its estimate of the costs needed for repairing and refurbishing equipment returning from operational theatres, and how this will be funded. (Paragraph 72)
12.We also welcome the planned increase in the number of Chinook and Merlin helicopters. This should improve helicopter availability when these helicopters become available for operational use over the next two years. The purchase of an additional C-17 large transport aircraft will further improve the MoD's strategic air-lift capability and we look forward to receiving the MoD's end-to-end review of the airbridge—the Air Movements Process Study—when it is published in December 2007. We will continue to monitor the MoD's equipment programme, the support to troops in theatre, and the impact of the current high tempo of operation on our Forces in our current inquiries into Defence Equipment and the MoD's Annual Report and Accounts. (Paragraph 73)
13.The detention of Iraqis without trial is a matter of public concern. We call on the MoD to respond in its response to this report to the questions raised by the Redress Trust about the handling of detainees in Iraq. (Paragraph 78)
14.As the UK moves towards full operational overwatch in South Eastern Iraq, the key issues are how many troops will be needed in theatre, whether overwatch could be performed outside Iraq, and whether the UK might need to maintain a reserve of troops to re-intervene if the security situation in South Eastern Iraq deteriorated significantly. (Paragraph 90)
15.The MoD has said that, despite transferring security responsibility to the Iraqi Security Forces, UK Forces will retain the capability to re-intervene in South Eastern Iraq if the security situation deteriorates. If that re-intervention capability is to be credible the UK will need to be capable of drawing upon Forces from outside Iraq. We call upon the MoD to clarify how it plans to maintain a re-intervention capacity, which Forces would be assigned to that role, and where they would be based. (Paragraph 97)
16. The Prime Minister's announcement that the number of UK Forces in Iraq will be reduced to 2,500 from the Spring of 2008 is noted, but 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. (Paragraph 98)

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Prepared 3 December 2007