The situation in Iraq and Syria and the response to al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq al-Sham (DAESH) - Defence Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  It is our considered view, that the UK are right to wish to respond actively to the threat and horrors represented by DAESH and the current instability in Iraq. Failing to do so, would mark a substantial departure from the UK's long-term security partnership with both the United States and its partners in the Middle East. It would heighten perceptions that the UK has stepped back from its international role and could risk undermining wider commitment to the US-led coalition, possibly weakening the effort against DAESH. It would also make it harder for the UK to influence political developments thereafter. Furthermore, it would undermine the UK's national security interests through destabilisation of the region, and through DAESH's sponsorship of terrorist attacks and training of British foreign fighters in military tactics which could be used upon the UK public following their return home. We, therefore, believe that the UK should actively look for more ways to contribute constructively to the stability of Iraq. (Paragraph 83)

2.  The first priority is for the UK to develop a clear assessment of the situation on the ground, and to be able to provide a clearly formulated strategy and campaign plan. We were shocked by the inability or unwillingness of any of the Service Chiefs to provide a clear, and articulate statement of the UK's objectives or plan in Iraq. We were troubled by the lack of clarity over who owned the policy—and indeed whether such a policy existed. (Paragraph 86)

3.  We believe it is unacceptable for the United Kingdom simply to 'sign-up' to providing military support for a campaign plan entirely developed and owned by another coalition partner—in this case, apparently, the United States—without having any independent assessment or analysis of the assumptions, detail and viability of that campaign plan. (Paragraph 89)

4.  While Australia, Spain and Italy have committed troops to the new training package, the UK is yet to do so. Such a deployment—to a remote desert base for counter-IED training—does not involve UK troops in combat, provides useful skills to the Iraqi Forces, saves lives, and ensures that the UK retains some involvement in the overall mission and some 'equity' and influence in shaping future decisions. (Paragraph 94)

5.  At the very least any training of the Iraqi Security Forces should be related to institutional reform. The Iraqi Security Forces have already been trained and equipped extravagantly and repeatedly in the past decade. To do so again, without first addressing the structural issues, would be a total waste of time and money. (Paragraph 96)

6.  We recommend that once the Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga show increased capability and are ready for major offensives against DAESH, the UK should be prepared to provide an increased level of support to those operations from the air. This in turn relies on the UK providing the planes and resources to be able to expand and maintain air support for the military campaign. (Paragraph 98)

7.  Arguably, the most powerful contribution which the UK could make to the Peshmerga is in structural reform:

·  firstly, the unification of the Peshmerga in to a central, cohesive fighting force with a stated allegiance to the Kurdish Regional Government;

·  secondly, the confirmation that Peshmerga fighters would be made available to be trained; and,

·  thirdly that the Peshmerga are willing to cooperate with the Iraqi Security Forces.

If such commitments are set and adhered to, we believe that the UK Government is capable of providing much greater support to the Iraqi Government and for the Kurdish Regional Government than it has done to date. The level of that support should increase exponentially in terms of both gifting and sale of equipment and the number of UK troops provided for training, particularly in the area of command and control. (Paragraph 103)

8.  Special Forces operations will be of great use to the Iraqi Government and a counter-terrorism strategy is highly relevant to the UK's national security. The UK Government must ensure, however, that such operations are not undermining any political strategy and are in accordance with the law. (Paragraph 107)

9.  We recommend that there be an increase in analytical capability in Iraq and at home, with the priority being placed on a member of staff to monitor the progress of the Sunni outreach programme on the ground. This is vital to ensure that the conditions which have led to the current situation are not recreated in the future. (Paragraph 111)

10.  We recommend that the UK Government radically increase their diplomatic and defence engagement with the key regional powers—particularly Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran—to develop a much more detailed picture of the potential benefits and challenges of a regional solution. (Paragraph 116)

11.  The first step of the UK must be to develop a serious independent assessment of the situation on the ground in Iraq (including individual specialists posted immediately to Iraq to focus separately on the Sunni communities, the Iraqi Security Forces, the Peshmerga, the Shia militia, and DAESH). It must develop a much more complete picture of the current coalition strategy, and be in a position to assess its costs, benefits and risks and to use this understanding to influence that strategy, and ensure that it is more than simply a repeat of the 2007 'surge' strategy conducted with a fraction of the resources. (Paragraph 123)

12.  There is no demand from the Iraqi Government for combat troops; nor any question of the UK deploying such troops. But Iraqi forces continue to have significant requirements for air support and training in IED awareness and disposal. Both the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Security Forces are in need of structural reform, which the UK is in a position to support. In the absence of such reform, we question whether broader training is worthwhile. There is a pressing need to study, analyse, and reach out to Sunni communities, and integrate them into the fight against DAESH. It is essential that the Iraqi Government reins in the influence of the Shia militia. We fear, however, that Sunni reconciliation and the taming of the Shia militia may prove impossibly difficult. There is considerable scope for Special Forces operations provided that they are able to operate within the increasingly stringent legal constraints. And there is an urgent requirement for regional support for Iraq, both politically and militarily. (Paragraph 124)

13.  These are all areas in which the UK can assist. And they are an ideal opportunity for a broader 'comprehensive approach', bringing in the best of UK international development expertise, intelligence, Special Forces, and diplomacy; all with an aim of decreasing the probability of an ongoing civil war, and increasing the chances of a political settlement, however distant these objectives may be. (Paragraph 125)

14.  Such activities would require only the deployment of a few hundred personnel, the cost would be relatively modest, and it would not entail the risks inherent in deploying UK troops in combat roles. These roles are also consistent with the scale of the £38 billion Defence budget, commensurate with its global presence, the expectations of Iraq and the Kurdistan region of Iraq, its status as a P5 member of the Security Council, and its traditionally close relationship to the United States. (Paragraph 126)

15.  We are not calling for combat troops, still less for an attempt to repeat the counter-insurgency and state-building agendas of Iraq in 2007. Any contemporary intervention must be far more focused and incremental. But this is not a reason for the UK to lurch from over-intervention to complete isolation. We face a situation in Iraq, where we have significant interests, history, and obligations, where our closest allies have requested our assistance, and where we have the expertise, and resources to influence the country in a positive direction. Given the deep polarisation and structural weaknesses of the Iraqi State, we wonder whether containment and suppression of DAESH would not be a more realistic goal than total elimination. There are, however, many highly constructive tasks we could be performing, which do not entail combat operations. The foreword to the 2010 SDSR begins with the lines "Our country has always had global responsibilities and global ambitions. We have a proud history of standing up for the values we believe in and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come." We question whether the UK actions in Iraq begin to match such ambitions. (Paragraph 127)

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© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 5 February 2015