» Monday, October 23, 2006


Put that General Richard Shirreff had said in an interview today that his aim was to get the security in Iraq to be "good enough", and was that Government policy as well, the PMOS rewound the clock back to April 2004, where he had first mentioned "Iraqiisation" and had laid out the strategy that we would be following. That strategy was that we would bring the security forces in Iraq to a capacity and a capability where they, as the representatives of the Sovereign Government and a democratically elected Government in Iraq, could take control of their own security. That was the strategy that we had been following since, and one that we were implementing. In terms of how that strategy worked, as we had made clear all along, the people who ultimately would decide were the democratically elected Government of Iraq.

Asked for figures on numbers of people trained, the PMOS replied that it was in the region of 300,000, but people should check with the FCO. The Capacity and capability was increasing all the time, but the person to listen to today was the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq who had said that progress and training was being made, but Iraq was a country in transition. While there were problems, ultimately, those would have to be resolved by the Iraqis. The PMOS said that the important point to remember about it all was as Des Browne had said at the weekend, it was a process, not an event. We were not working to an arbitrary deadline, but rather, to the point where Iraqis had the capability to provide for their own security.

Asked that by quoting April 2004, did that mean we were "on track", and that things had not changed since then, the PMOS replied that the journalist had missed the point of what had been said. The point was that this was a process, not an event, and we were not working to an arbitrary deadline. What we set out then was precisely what had happened, which was that it was dependent on the condition, the numbers, the quality, and the ability of the Iraqi forces. That remained the case. In the end, it would depend on the wishes of the Iraq Government, which we did not have in April 2004, and which we now did have in a turn out of 70%.

Put that both the Prime Minister and Des Browne had said that the troops were not going to go anywhere until the job had been done, but could we be specific about what the job was, the PMOS said that we had been specific since April 2004. That meant that there had to be Iraqi forces who were capable of taking control of their future. What we now had, which we did not have in April 2004 was a democratically elected Government, who were also the ones who would ultimately decide.

Asked if that job did not also include a peaceful, democratic Iraq, and peace that could be copied across the Middle East, the PMOS asked who had said otherwise? If people went back to what Sir Richard Dannatt had said recently, he had said that he still believed that the right achievable goal was a unitary state, in which the democratically elected Government was in charge of its security, and in which there was economic prosperity. As the Prime Minister had said, we agreed with every word of that.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be putting any pressure on the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq about withdrawal of British troops, the PMOS replied that any suggestion that that was the purpose of today’s meeting was 100% wrong. The Prime Minister was not putting pressure on the Deputy Prime Minister. Today’s meeting was routine, and was not the result of recent events, and part of the meeting would be taking up discussing the economy of Iraq, as that the primary responsibility of Mr. Salih. In terms of the situation on the ground, the important point was that we did what we could to get to our objective, which was Iraqis in charge of their own destiny.

Asked if we had any sense that we were doing what the US Administration were doing, and would there be a review on it, the PMOS said that we of course constantly kept tactics as a matter of consideration. However, there was not a specific review, and our goal had not changed since April 2004. We were still in the business of Iraqiisation.

Asked if the Iraqi Government decided that the only possibility of achieving Iraqiisation would be to partition Iraq, would that be something that the Government would accept, the PMOS said that the question was a hypothetical one that was not borne out of any quote that he had seen.

Put that the Iraqis did not want to set a deadline, and that it was not their fault, it was the Americans’, and what was the Prime Minister’s view on it, the PMOS replied that we had not set a deadline, nor would we set one. We had also not set an arbitrary date. What we had was a process by which we trained the Iraqi forces, and by which we reached an agreement at some point that they were capable of taking control. We had already done it in two out of four provinces in the South of Iraq. Therefore, that process would continue.

Put that it did not work in Al Amarah, the PMOS replied that so far, it had been the Iraqi forces that had been dealing with Al Amarah.

Put that in Al Amarah, the Iraqis had said that it was not their fault, as it was the policy that had been forced on them, the PMOS said that the people who were best placed to talk about this was the Iraqi Government. If people listened to what the Deputy Prime Minister said this morning, he had a rather different view of it.

Asked how closely was the UK Government co-ordinated with the US Government’s policy, and was there a risk that we would get presented with something that we had not had a part in shaping, the PMOS replied that we had always remained in very close contact with the Americans, and we continued to do so. There was a danger, as always in this sort of situation, that people got ahead of themselves, and the danger for the media here was that it had been reacting to reports of a report (the James Baker Report) that had not yet been published. The PMOS said that people needed to stand back, and not get caught up in the tide, and see what the approach had been all along.

Asked that when we were seeking a Cabinet assessment, would it not help to know the British and American Government’s views on the capability of the Iraqi forces, the PMOS said that the journalist had left out the Iraqi Government to whom these forces were responsible. It was for them to talk about their own forces. In the same way that we would not like anyone else to comment on our forces, that would apply in the same way. As Mr. Salih had said this morning, he had accepted that the situation was not perfect in terms of training, but there was considerable progress.

Put that General Shirreff had said today that his aim was to finish the operation early in the New Year, and to begin a general drawdown, and was the Government’s aim as well, the PMOS said that people should not confuse Operation Sinbad with the overall operation.

The journalist said that General Shirreff had meant Operation Sinbad, the PMOS replied that any drawdown would be a decision for discussions between us and the Iraqi Government.

Asked again if the General had spoken for the Government, the PMOS said that in the end, it was a political decision whether there was a draw down. In terms of getting to that point, we would have to see where we were.

Asked for a sense of what the discussions might be with regards to the economic talks the Prime Minister would be holding with Mr. Salih today, the PMOS said that they would talk about the economic progress that was happening.

Asked by the Daily Telegraph if the Prime Minister was worried about any series of embarrassing questions that might follow on from his meeting with the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister today, and was that why there was no press conference, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had spoken on Iraq at length at the monthly press conference last week. The Prime Minister had also spoken at length about Iraq at PMQs, and it was probable that he would be asked about Iraq at this week’s PMQs too. This Prime Minister had never been afraid to speak about Iraq, and he would therefore speak about it as and when. The PMOS said that the Prime Minister also recognised that people in the country wanted him to be engaged in other important business as well, therefore DNA was part of that.

Put that some Iraqis were worried about being left on their own, the PMOS replied that as we had said, we would stay until the job was done. We had also said that any decisions would be taken in consultation with the Iraqi Government. The PMOS said that he had repeatedly said that this was not about arbitrary deadlines. Des Browne had said at the weekend precisely that as well; this was about a process, not an event. Therefore, if people listened to some of the reports, then the PMOS could understand that worry. However, the reality, as we had explained, was different.

Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to President Bush over the weekend, and if not, when would they next speak, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister and the President spoke regularly, but the PMOS did not give a running commentary on when they did.

Asked if that meant that they had spoken at the weekend, the PMOS repeated his previous answer.

Put that Sir Jeremy Greenstock had said that the time had come for a general meeting of national diplomatic initiative to sort out Iraq, and were there any plans to do so, the PMOS said that what the Prime Minister had always made clear was two things. Firstly, in terms of the Middle East as a whole, he had made it clear in Los Angeles as well as by a trip to the Middle East, and he intended to return. In terms of Iran and Syria, we had always said that there was a choice to be made: whether they supported terrorism, or whether they wanted to be part of the international community and try to address these issues. That choice, however, was for them to make.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

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