Iraq

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 7th February 2005.

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Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman PPS (Rt Hon Richard Caborn, Minister of State), Department for Culture, Media & Sport 2:30 pm, 7th February 2005

If he will make a statement on the status of UK troops in Iraq following the elections of 30 January.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

The United Kingdom's armed forces continue to contribute to the establishment of a stable, free and democratic Iraq through the provision of security, the development and training of Iraq's security forces, and support to the Iraqi Government. UK forces remain in Iraq under the UN mandate set out in United Nations Security Council resolution 1546, which states that the presence of the multinational force is to be reviewed at the request of the Government of Iraq or 12 months from the date of the resolution. The mandate will expire upon the completion of the political process, and will be terminated earlier if requested by the Government of Iraq.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman PPS (Rt Hon Richard Caborn, Minister of State), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who seek a fixed timetable for the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq do those troops a disservice? Is not their task to finish the job in hand, building on the success of the elections and training Iraqis to take over? Is it not irresponsible to talk of timetables in a situation in which there are so many imponderables; and would it not give the terrorists and those who oppose democracy and freedom in Iraq an opportunity to hinder that fixed timetable and to profit from it?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend is right. A fixed timetable would simply provide comfort to the terrorists. It would give them a target against which to aim and would be extremely damaging to the job that British and other coalition forces are doing in Iraq. Let me emphasise that British forces will not stay in Iraq for a day longer than is necessary, but they will stay to complete the job.

Photo of Hugh Robertson Hugh Robertson Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

But does the Secretary of State agree that from a soldier's point of view, there is no greater threat to the status of UK forces in Iraq than the decision to prosecute through the civil courts a soldier whose case had been dismissed under military law by his own commanding officer? As the Secretary of State must realise, that crucially undermines the whole system of military justice, so what steps is the Ministry of Defence taking to ensure that that will never happen again?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes that view. The truth of the matter is that these issues are in the hands of an independent prosecuting authority, and decisions are taken objectively in accordance with the law. One thing that I know about Britain's armed forces is that they want to be governed by the rule of law—that is the example that they set to the world. It is right that these matters should be dealt with entirely independently of the political process.