» Wednesday, October 20, 2004


Asked about the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Vice President of Iraq today, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that discussion had included the run-up to the elections in Iraq in January and the joint determination to see that process through.

Asked if a decision on the deployment of British troops could be expected tomorrow, the PMOS said that as he had been underlining from the outset, the process would be carried out through the normal operational procedures, and would take as long as it takes. As frustrating as that might be for the Lobby, it was right to take the time to do things properly because we would be criticised were we not to do so.

Asked if the MoD had received a report from the recce team in Iraq, the PMOS said that as he had told journalists repeatedly, he had no intention of providing a running commentary on where we were in the decision-making process. It was right that such matters were resolved in the way they were normally resolved and for very good reasons. Asked if Ministers would see the recce team’s conclusions if it was being produced for military personnel, the PMOS said that the MoD would eventually put forward a proposal based on the recce team’s assessment, which would obviously be seen by the Prime Minister and other Ministers.

Asked if the Prime Minister was surprised at the number of MPs who seemed to believe that the request was politically motivated, the PMOS said that he had answered this question at practically every briefing this week. His reply was not going to change. He referred journalists to General John McColl’s comments this morning in which he had underlined that the proposal was a military response to a military problem and that it had been discussed within the military chain of command.

Asked again if the Defence Secretary had made a mistake on Monday when he had said that a decision would be made by the middle of this week, the PMOS said that, as he had told journalists this morning, Mr Hoon had been giving people an idea as to when the recce would be carried out. The final decision would be taken at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way. Asked if it was reasonable to assume that the deployment, were it to happen, would go ahead at some point during the Ramadan period in the light of the fact that military action was being taken because of a ‘spike’ in insurgent activity during this time, the PMOS said that he was not going to feed media speculation about timetables, not least because it was not helpful to speculate about the movement of our troops for obvious security reasons.

Asked for a reaction to reports today, based on defence sources, suggesting that a decision had actually been taken a week ago, the PMOS said that he would simply advise journalists to read a transcript of General McColl’s interview this morning during which he had underlined a number of important points. Firstly, the proposal remained a proposal at this stage following a request that had been made a week ago; no decision had been taken yet. Secondly, the proposal was a military response to a military problem. Thirdly, it was designed to deal with a spike in insurgent activity during the Ramadan period. Fourthly, the communications about it had taken place entirely within the military chain of command. Fifthly, what was envisaged was something that would last a matter of weeks, not months. The General was a very distinguished soldier and was very experienced in Baghdad in the light of his job as deputy to the head of the Multi-National Force. We preferred to give more credence to the General’s view rather than the supposed view of some anonymous defence source.

Asked to explain how the Prime Minister could be so sure that Black Watch would be back home by Christmas, the PMOS said that his view was based on General McColl’s comment today that what was being envisaged was something that would last a matter of weeks, not months. Asked if the Prime Minister’s reference to Christmas had been metaphoric, the PMOS said he did not think Christmas could in any way be considered a metaphor. Put to him that Black Watch had been told that they would be back home by January, the PMOS said that he would prefer to stick to General McColl’s words. Asked who was right, the PMOS said that he was not going to get drawn into an argument. The Prime Minister had been unequivocal in what he had said today.

Asked if Downing Street had been in contact with President Bush or Senator John Kerry about this whole issue, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had made clear yesterday, this was not an issue which had been raised by President Bush. General McColl had also underlined this morning that the issue had been discussed entirely within the military chain of command.

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

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