» Monday, May 17, 2004


The PMS advised journalists that the Prime Minister had added his condemnation to that voiced by Iraq’s leaders and citizens over this morning’s explosion in Baghdad in which several Iraqis had been killed, including Izzedim Salim of the Iraq Governing Council (IGC). The Prime Minister’s thoughts were with the families and friends of the victims. Mr Salim had been working with his colleagues for the last year to give Iraq a future of freedom, democracy and security, all of which were goals were rejected by the terrorists. But we would continue to help the Iraqis attain what they had been denied for decades. The PMS also drew journalists’ attention to words from the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zubari, today who had said regarding the attack, “This shows our enemies are still there and will do anything to intimidate Iraqis to derail the political process. This will strengthen our resolve to continue the political process….This will not derail the process”.

Asked how this morning’s events would fit in with our ‘accelerated exit strategy’, the PMS said we had always acknowledged that there would be many challenges facing the Coalition in Iraq. However, this sort of attack only served to underline what was at stake and strengthen our resolve. It emphasised the importance of increasing ‘Iraqi-isation’ in terms of getting Iraqis more involved in the security process, which we believed would be more effective than perhaps might be the case through the Coalition. Asked to explain why it would be more effective, the PMS pointed out that the people on the ground in Iraq understood their own country and were familiar with its citizens. We had always said that we wanted to create a peaceful, stable Iraq run by the Iraqi people for the Iraqi people. That was what we were continuing to work towards.

Asked to explain how Iraqi-isation was different to the previous strategy, the PMS said that we were reaffirming our strategy and setting out the fact that we were keen to improve the training processes which those Iraqis working in the security forces needed to enable them to carry out the duties that were required of them. Security was obviously a big problem in Iraq at the moment. Asked if the timetable for that training had changed, the PMS said that we wanted it done as soon as possible. The concept of Iraqi-isation was a reiteration of our position so that people would recognise that the Prime Minister was focussed on this issue and believed that it would lead to an improvement in the situation as quickly as possible.

Questioned repeatedly as to whether there had been a gear change in our strategy, the PMS said that there had been a lot of discussion about the situation in Iraq and we had therefore decided to take the opportunity to remind people of what we wanted to do. Our strategy was to create a peaceful and stable Iraq run by Iraqi people for the Iraqi people. We were simply reminding people about how we intended to fulfil that objective by improving the quality of the training that was available for people on the ground. Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken about the reaffirmation of the strategy with President Bush, the PMS said that the Prime Minister and President spoke on a weekly basis. It wasn’t our policy to brief on their private conversations. Our objective yesterday had been to reiterate the point that our strategy was to enable Iraqis to take control as quickly as possible. Asked if she was implying that that had always been our strategy, the PMS observed that sometimes we found it necessary to remind people what it was we were trying to do. This was obviously a case in point. Asked what changes to the training of Iraqis had been made, the PMS said that she didn’t have a list of every single training course that was available in Iraq. She was simply making the point that we were looking to improve the quality, rather than the quantity, of the training of Iraqis on the ground. Asked if we were happy to allow former members of Saddam’s army to join an Iraqi security force, the PMS pointed out that most of Saddam’s army had disappeared by the time Coalition forces had arrived in Iraq. Many had been conscripts who had not wanted to fight in any event. We were now looking to create an army of professionals involving those who wanted to participate in the security of their own country.

Asked if she was backtracking on the last few days when we had appeared to be giving the impression that we were trying to speed up the process of Iraqi-isation, the PMS said that she was simply setting out the position. Our strategy was to enable Iraqis to take control as soon as possible, so that we could leave the country as soon as possible. Asked if the decision to reaffirm our strategy had been prompted by the allegations relating to the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, the PMS said not as far as she was aware.

Asked if the Iraqi-isation of security would make it easier for us to withdraw our troops from Iraq, the PMS said that as we had been underlining from the outset, we had never intended to remain in Iraq forever. We wanted to see the country run by the Iraqi people for the Iraqi people. Asked for an update on proposals to send additional troops to Iraq, the PMS said that the Defence Secretary had been asked about this issue in an interview yesterday. The position had not changed. As he had underlined, discussions were continuing with our Coalition partners but no decision had yet been taken. Asked when a decision was likely to be made, the PMS said that she was unable to give a specific timescale. The issue was kept under constant review. Various factors needed to be taken into consideration, such as conditions on the ground. Discussions were continuing. Asked if the delay in making a decision had anything to do with a reluctance to put it to the vote in Parliament, the PMS said no. There were normal processes to be gone through. She advised journalists to check with the MoD what those procedures were. She pointed out that any decision relating to the deployment of troops obviously had to be carefully considered. The situation on the ground was kept under constant review. If any decisions had to be taken, they would be taken at the right time. Asked if the UK had been asked to provide additional troops, the PMS said that the situation was kept under constant review, as you would expect.

Asked where we were on efforts to achieve a further UN Resolution on Iraq, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations on this issue. She did not have a timetable for the completion of the process at this stage.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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