HL Deb 27 October 2004 vol 665 cc1289-92

3.8 p.m.

Lord Redesdale asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps are being taken to protect police and army recruits in Iraq against repeated violent attacks.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) continues to support the Iraqis in the provision of force protection for the Iraqi security force. I do not want to go into the details of this for obvious reasons, but practical measures include physical protection, detailed briefs to the Iraqi security force on prevalent threats, advice on force protection for training centres and police stations, the provision of body armour and helmets as part of the overall equipment programme, and enhanced operational security.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I am sure that the thoughts of noble Lords on all sides of the House will be with those who lost loved ones in the recent terrorist attack on the Iraqi National Army and the continued assaults on the new Iraqi police force.

What steps are being taken to upgrade the training and equipment provision for the army and police force? It would seem that up until now this has not been a priority in the American sector. I understand that in the British sector training is a priority. What representations have been made to the Americans to ensure that people who are fundamental to a democratic and stable Iraq are properly trained and properly protected?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he said about the outrageous incidents that occurred last weekend, and one in particular. All civilised people will share his horror at that act. Effectively, it was the assassination of 49 unarmed young men. Its coldness, calculation and pure brutality should leave no one, in this House or outside, in any doubt at all that the coalition and, particularly, the Iraqis themselves are dealing with ruthless men who have to be stopped.

Increased protection has been primarily a matter for the Iraqi Interim Government since they took over on 28 June this year. Of course the multinational force is there to assist and support wherever and whenever it is requested to do so—and that is exactly what it is doing.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, everyone recognises that the Iraqi military forces, the police and security forces and the national guard—who have taken such terrible punishment, as the Minister has reminded us—will not be at anything like full strength until well into next year, some months after the election, which we all want to see happen. As the Japanese forces' contribution to the coalition has now been increased; as the Americans are apparently thinking of increasing their troop commitment to see us through the very difficult period ahead; and as Mr Ayad Allawi himself has urged the need for more troops to provide protection both for Iraqis and to see the election through, are we beginning to face the unpalatable prospect that we may need to send more troops—that is, if we have any spare troops left?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I attempted to answer this question last week when we were debating the Black Watch and its new temporary role. I made it clear that we have no plans at present to send more troops to Iraq. It is clear that the next few months leading up to the January 2005 elections—which are absolutely critical to the future of the country—will be very difficult indeed. We have at present though no intention to increase our number of troops.

Lord Garden

My Lords, Prime Minister Allawi has been remarkably critical for once of the multinational forces in respect of how much protection they are giving to these new recruits. The future depends on establishing the security forces and recruiting enough brave men and women from Iraq to train for them. Given the drawdown of forces going elsewhere, is the Minister certain that he is now able to provide such protection for Iraqis under training in the British sector?

Lord Bach

My Lords, Prime Minister Allawi's comments are alleged to have been related to the incident to which I referred a moment ago. I am aware, as the House will be, of the comments purported to have been made by the Prime Minister. The most recent information I have is that an official speaking for Dr Allawi has said that his comments on the attack have been taken out of context. We shall have to see exactly what he said and in what context.

As to the main part of the noble Lord's question, we are as sure as we can be that we give the right amount of security force protection to those who are training in our area, but I cannot give any guarantees. As I said earlier, the people we are dealing with are ruthless criminals who are capable of being both clever and cold. We will do our best to ensure that we give the brave people who join the Iraqi security forces—the House should recognise the bravery and pure courage that they show in wanting to move their country forward in this way—what protection we can.

Lord Neill of Bladen

My Lords, can the Minister comment on the mismatch in intelligence? The assassins, as he rightly described them, must have been aware that a bus containing 49 unarmed men would be going along a particular road at a particular time. The regrettable fact seems to be that on the other side—our side—there was no intelligence whatever of the likelihood or possibility of such an attack. It is not the first time that one has been dismayed by the apparent lack of knowledge and intelligence on our side.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I cannot reply to the noble Lord's comments on intelligence. He has great experience in this field and I take note of what he has said. We do not yet know whether the assassins, as I call them, had intelligence concerning these recruits. One can only suspect that.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, my noble friend will be more aware than anyone in the House of the number of murderous attacks that have taken place on Iraqis queuing up in the roads to join the police or the Iraqi army. While I appreciate that operational matters cannot be readily discussed on the Floor of the House, perhaps my noble friend will comment on the following proposition. If roads were to be closed where these individuals are queuing, at least their safety might be a little greater than at the moment. The method has been used in other areas where there have been threats of terrorism. Is it being used in, for example, Baghdad?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, who has experience of the problems in Northern Ireland, in particular. I do not know what operational methods are used to protect the people to whom he refers. I suspect that they are fairly sophisticated in order to try to prevent these cruel attacks. But where you have suicide bombers who are determined to achieve their ends and do not mind if they lose their lives, it makes the provision of protection much more difficult.

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