» Tuesday, October 19, 2004


In answer to questions about British troop deployments in Iraq, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) underlined the point that the request had come through the military net. It went without saying that it would have to be thoroughly investigated – hence the recce in Iraq today. Its purpose was to examine in detail the request that had been put forward and consider any implications which might stem from it. The conclusions of the recce team would then be considered and would determine our response. In the meantime, it was important for people to recognise that no decision had been taken at this point. That was why it would not be helpful to get drawn into a speculative discussion about what the outcome might be, when it might be discussed further and by whom. Put to him that the recce couldn’t be all that detailed if it was aiming to report back by the end of the week, the PMOS cautioned journalists against pre-judging the outcome of the expedition. We would wait and see what the recce team’s conclusions were and consider them carefully. Questioned further, the PMOS pointed out that the request had come though the military net and was therefore not something which had been sprung on the military as of twenty-four hours ago. We would await the outcome of the recce and then consider where we went from here. Asked to clarify how the request had been made and what the input of the US had been, the PMOS said that the usual discussions between the Coalition partners would have taken place, as would be expected. The Multi-National Force had also been working with the Iraqi Interim Government through the National Security Council in Baghdad on which we were represented at deputy level. Thus the normal procedures would have been followed.

Asked if the Prime Minister would agree with Charles Kennedy’s call for a Parliamentary vote were a decision to deploy British troops to be made, the PMOS said that of course Parliament would be kept abreast of the situation, as the Defence Secretary’s Statement yesterday had demonstrated. However, the operational deployment of British troops would be carried out according to the usual rules and procedures. Asked if he was indicating that the Prime Minister would make the final decision, the PMOS said that the issue would be discussed in the normal way that such military requests were discussed – i.e. by Ministers and the Prime Minister. He did not think it would be helpful to put a timescale on any decision because it would depend on what the recce team’s conclusions were and what the resulting proposal might be. Pressed as to whether it would be a Prime Ministerial, Cabinet or Parliamentary decision, the PMOS said that we would await the proposal and then take things from there.

Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the Defence Secretary’s suggestion that the UK would be letting down its ally if it did not send British troops as requested, the PMOS said that the important thing was to listen to the military advice being provided and for the process to be guided by that if we were to achieve our overall goal in Iraq – i.e. to stabilise the situation and allow elections to take place in January.

Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the Foreign Secretary’s suggestion that Saddam Hussein would have been strengthened had the policies of the anti-war groups been followed, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had pointed out even before the war, backing down in the face of Saddam’s refusal to comply with UN Resolutions would have left Saddam strengthened because it would have sent a strong signal that he could defy the international community – as indeed he had been doing for twelve years – and get away with it. That would have further strengthened his belief, as outlined in the ISG report, that sanctions were being eroded, which would have meant that he would have been able to resume his plans to continue the production of his WMD programme as he had always intended to do.

Asked when the Prime Minister had last spoken to President Bush and whether they had discussed the issue of troops redeployments, the PMOS said that it wasn’t our policy to give a running commentary on conversations between the Prime Minister and the President other than to say that the two leaders were in regular contact, as you would expect. The PMOS also reminded journalists that the request had been put forward via the military net.

Asked if the continuing attacks in Iraq, including the latest one today in which many people had been reported killed and injured, would have any bearing on the final decision on redeployment, the PMOS repeated that it was important to wait for the military’s assessment of the situation on the ground. We had always said that the run-up to the elections would be a difficult period because those who were against the move to democracy in Iraq were aware of their importance and would try to stop them taking place. That was why it was necessary to do everything we could to ensure that their efforts were thwarted. It was the role of the military to decide what would be possible and necessary. Constantly debating operational decisions in public would only help those who wanted to stop us achieving our goal. That was why it was important to allow the military do their job and for us to keep people informed about what was happening.

Asked if the Prime Minister continued to believe that he shouldn’t be seen to be interfering in the forthcoming US elections in any way, the PMOS said that as he had underlined to journalists yesterday, the only elections that this issue had any bearing on were the Iraqi elections next year, not the US elections. Put to him that the redeployment issue did, in fact, have a bearing on the US elections, the PMOS said that just because the media was saying that it had a bearing did not mean that was so. If a decision that was supposed to be taken on a military basis was taken for other reasons, then that would be considered interfering with the military process. We were determined that the proper procedures would be followed. Asked if we would simply ‘rubber-stamp’ the assessment of the military, the PMOS said that we would have to make a proper assessment of their conclusions and ensure that the legitimate questions relating to potential risks and any implications for our present obligations were addressed.

Asked if the Prime Minister had any ‘qualms’ about the proposed attack on Falluja, the PMOS said that people should not lose sight of the fact that we had been able to stabilise the situation in Najaf, Samarrah, Al Amarrah, Karbala and Sadr City through a combination of a willingness to negotiate wherever possible and the use of military force if that failed. Clearly, the decision as to whether to use the political or military track was determined by the nature of the opposition. Obviously the Iraqi Interim Government would prefer to find political solutions. However, where that was not possible – for example in cases where troops come under attack – it was necessary to respond with military force. That was an assessment which would have to be made about Falluja because Falluja’s residents were just as entitled to vote in next year’s elections as anyone else. Questioned as to whether it would be ‘feasible’ to hold elections in Iraq if Falluja was unable to take part in them, the PMOS said that there were twenty five million people in Iraq. Obviously we wanted the elections to be as widespread and as representative as possible. As Afghanistan had shown, previously undemocratic countries were keen to become democratic. Preparations for the elections in Iraq were beginning, assisted by the UN. The Iraqi people clearly wanted them to take place. The question was why the terrorists and insurgents did not. What did they have to fear?

Asked if the request for the redeployment of British troops to areas not under British control was the first which had been received by us, the PMOS pointed out that co-operation between US and UK troops was a fact of daily life in Iraq. This was underlined by the fact that the deputy head of the Multi-National Force in Baghdad was British. Asked why six hundred British troops should make any difference to the vast numbers of American troops stationed in Iraq, the PMOS said that there was obviously a balance to be struck in any Coalition in terms of where particular troops were placed at particular times. There were no demarcation lines drawn in the sand. Postings and deployments depended on what was needed on the ground at any given time. The purpose of the recce this week was to find out precisely what that need entailed.

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

1 Comment »

  1. If this is the ‘democracy’ that we are supposedly fighting for now then god help us ! Whatever happened to governments supposedly being accountable to the people they represent. blair is so far up bush that you can only just see his feet……youd almost think we were an american state.

    not that im cynical at all………

    just think what a refreshing change it would be though if we DIDNT do something dubya asked!

    Comment by tony — 19 Oct 2004 on 11:16 pm | Link

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