» Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Asked again if Parliament would be given an opportunity to vote on a decision to deploy British troops to the Sunni triangle, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that it was common practice to inform Parliament about operational matters. This was something which Parliament was well used to. As the Prime Minister had said today, it was important to allow the military to make its own assessment of the situation on the ground. Constantly debating operational decisions in public would only help the terrorists who were obviously studying our every move. In answer to further questions, the PMOS said that it was important to follow the proper procedures. A recce was taking place in Iraq this week. This would be followed by an examination of its conclusions in consultation with the view of the military commanders on the ground. Only after that would the MoD make its own assessment.

Asked again about the Defence Secretary’s claim that the UK would be letting down its ally if it did not send British troops as requested, the PMOS said that it was important to be clear about the origins of the request. The US military had approached the British military in the first instance who were now making an assessment as to whether, in their view, it was the right thing to do and whether it was possible. 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 when a final decision would be made, the PMOS said that it would take as long as it takes. The recce team had yet to make its assessment. Asked if the request had been passed on from the White House, the PMOS pointed to the Prime Minister’s on-the-record remarks at a joint press event with Kofi Annan today in which he had said, “There has been a request by the American military to the British military – not a request politically from the United States President to me, but a request from the United States military to the British military. That request is being considered”. Asked to explain the need for the Defence Secretary to become involved if it was a military matter, the PMOS said that once the military had produced an operational assessment, it was up to the relevant Ministers to approve any proposals which might come about as a result.

Asked if the Prime Minister was satisfied that he would win hearts and minds, as Kofi Annan had said he would need to do, if he went ahead and agreed to a redeployment of British troops in an attempt to stabilise Falluja, the PMOS pointed out that Kofi Annan had also said that the international community should do everything possible to help stabilise the situation in Iraq to allow elections to take place next year. No doubt journalists would give as much prominence to this point as they would to the one contained in the question. It went without saying that we believed in winning hearts and minds. That was precisely why there was a political track running alongside the military track. The first truly democratic elections in Iraq were due to be held in January in which all sections of the community would be able to stand. However, as Kofi Annan had made clear this afternoon, security was paramount if all the UN’s plans for Iraq were to come to fruition. In order for that to happen, the situation needed to be stabilised in areas such as Falluja. This was not an impossible task. For example, stability had already been achieved in places such as 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.

Asked if the Prime Minister was aware of the apparent mood shift among ‘previously loyal’ backbenchers with regard to this issue and the suspicion that there was a link to the forthcoming US elections, the PMOS said that as a Civil Servant he was unable to comment on party political matters. In terms of the claim about the US elections, as the Prime Minister himself had underlined today, the only elections that mattered were the Iraqi elections. We wanted to ensure that they were able to take place in a relatively stable environment, thereby facilitating an early return home for British troops. Asked if the Prime Minister would accept the fact that the request and any decision that was made was bound to feed into the US elections, the PMOS said that the guiding factor was the run up to the Iraqi elections in January. It had nothing to do with the US elections. Put to him that the problem was the fact that it was perceived to be linked, the PMOS said that if the media persisted in making the link, then all we could do was repeat as often as we could that we had received the request through the military net. Put to him that if the Prime Minister decided to turn down the request it would be unhelpful to President Bush’s election prospects, the PMOS said that it wasn’t his policy to respond to hypothetical questions. He would simply point out again that since we had received the request through the military net, it would require a military decision. Put to him that no politician should be allowed to veto a military decision, the PMOS pointed out that it was the Prime Minister’s job to approve military operations. That was a statement of fact and the normal procedure that would be followed. Asked if the Commander-in-Chief had been made redundant, the PMOS said that it was the role of the military to propose operations. It was then for the relevant Ministers to express a view on them. Put to him that there should be a clear separation of powers, the PMOS said that there was a separation of powers – on the understanding that policy and military operations had an interface at times, whether it was in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Bosnia or Kosovo.

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. There was nothing unusual about this arrangement. Co-operation was a fact of daily life in Iraq. Indeed, we had had cause in the past to call on US troops for assistance.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Search for related news

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