» Monday, October 18, 2004


Asked if he would agree with the suggestion that putting British troops into an area which was under US military control would cross some sort of line in terms of the UK’s authority over the context in which British troops were used, the PMOS cautioned journalists against jumping too far ahead at this point. He said that it was important to understand the context of the request and the decision-making chain. This was a proposal which had been put forward on an operational level rather than a political level. Consequently, a decision would be made on an operational basis within the MoD from the ground up. The Prime Minister and the relevant Ministers would await any firm proposals before making any decision. The PMOS also took the opportunity to point out that the UK already worked together with the US and others within the Multi-National Force in different areas in Iraq. This was in addition to working with the Iraq National Security Council which, itself, interfaced with the Multi-National Force. The idea of working with others was therefore not new and should not come as a surprise to anyone. Put to him that the very act of moving British troops from Basra to the Sunni triangle could be considered a fundamental crossing of the line in terms of increasing our military involvement in Iraq and therefore putting the lives of British troops in danger, the PMOS said that he would disagree. Any proposals would be based on an assessment on the ground of what was necessary – and possible – operationally. He underlined the fact, however, that no decision had been made at this stage. He also emphasised that, contrary to the suggestions put forward by some, this issue did not have anything to do with the forthcoming Presidential elections in the US. It was the job of the Multi-National Force to help restore stability in Iraq, deal with the insurgency and terrorism there, help the process of Iraqi-isation which aimed to build up the capability of the Iraqi forces themselves and so help to prepare both for the Iraqi elections and the day when a democratic Government would be able to take responsibility for itself. Consequently, if this was about any elections, it was about preparing for those taking place in Iraq, not the US.

Questioned as to whether additional British troops would be moved to Basra to take over the duties and responsibilities of those troops who were moving to the Baghdad area, the PMOS said that he was not aware of any proposal to move British troops to Baghdad or to Falluja. Asked again if the Prime Minister would acknowledge that there was a political dimension to this issue, the PMOS said that the only perceived political dimension related to the fact that Ministers would have to participate in the decision-making process if and when the MoD came up with a firm proposal. That said, it was important to be clear that any decision would be based on operational assessments on the ground. Asked if the Commanders on the ground would be able to reject any decision were they to deem it too dangerous, the PMOS pointed out that the initiative for this idea had come from those on the ground in the first place. That was why it was now important to give the relevant people the time and space in order to allow an operational assessment to be made. The Defence Secretary would be making a Statement to the House on this issue later today when he would no doubt be able to give more detail about this issue.

In answer to further questions, the PMOS said that what mattered was what was necessary to deliver our objectives – set out as long ago as April – together with the Iraqi Government, namely to create a more stable Iraq in which elections could be held and a democratic Iraqi Government capable of looking after its own security needs could be established. He thought it was more worthwhile to look at it in that sense rather than search for a convenient political analysis which had no particular relevance to the reality of the situation.

Asked if he would accept that British troops would be in greater danger of losing their lives were they to be moved to the Sunni triangle because they would be required to operate in a markedly different way to the way they operated in Basra, the PMOS said that he did not think it would be helpful to pre-empt or pre-judge any proposal which might be made or any decisions which might follow on from that. All he would say was that the media’s characterisation of the situation was over-simplistic inasmuch as US troops operated in different parts of Iraq in different ways in the same way that British troops in Basra operated in different types of ways according to the level of the security threat as assessed at the time. That said, it was clear that the issue of Falluja was one that needed to be addressed. It was therefore important to recognise that this was a process which had been driven by the needs of the Iraqi Interim Government and not other issues. Asked if the movement of British troops to the Sunni triangle would give them an opportunity to show their American counterparts how they had managed to control the situation in Basra, the PMOS pointed out that in areas such as Samarrah and Sadr City different approaches had been applied by those currently being accused of having only one mode of operation – with positive results. It was important to recognise that the Multi-National Force as a whole operated in different areas in different ways to suit the different circumstances on the ground at any given time. As we had seen in Samarrah and Sadr City, those circumstances could change over a period depending on the response from local people.

Asked when a decision on the deployment of British troops might be made, the PMOS said that if proposals were to be put forward, any decisions would be driven by operational needs on the ground, not political considerations which some in the media might wish to impose. Asked if the assessment was likely to take hours or weeks, the PMOS said that it would depend on the proposal. Asked if the Prime Minister believed that Parliament should be consulted and should give its approval were a decision to be made to deploy British troops to the Sunni triangle, the PMOS said he did not think it would be helpful to get drawn into a hypothetical discussion about this issue. Journalists should exercise a little patience and await any proposals. The Defence Secretary would be making a Statement to the House later today because we believed in the need to keep Parliament informed about what was going on.

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


  1. I’m sorry I just don’t believe that the USA can’t find 650 extra troops from within its own military resources.

    This is such a cynically blatant electioneering move by Bush that it defies belief.

    Comment by Roger Huffadine — 18 Oct 2004 on 4:30 pm | Link
  2. According to this post on the BBC website the decision has already been taken….

    I am a Scottish soldier. The Black Watch Bn will be redeployed; this decision has already been taken. Other troops including our unit have been warned off to move back to Iraq (Op TELIK 5) for the elections! This move will see the British troops bogged down in a US sector and extremely stretched. The British Troops have become a pawn in the US elections to secure Bush a second term. Agree or disagree we just get on with it and do our job.
    A SL Dier, Glasgow, Scotland

    Comment by nidge — 18 Oct 2004 on 4:57 pm | Link
  3. Good article here

    <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/international/middleeast/17basra.html?pagewanted=1">http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/international/middleeast/17basra.html?pagewanted=1</a&gt;

    Comment by Colonel Mad — 19 Oct 2004 on 11:49 pm | Link

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