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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Statement by Air Marshal Brian Burridge, UK National Contingent Commander - 27 March 2003


I should like to start by addressing the shocking close up pictures broadcast by Al Jazeera last night. They claim that these show UK personnel killed during recent operations. Quite apart from the obvious distress that such pictures could cause friends and families of the personnel concerned, such disgraceful behaviour is a flagrant breach of the Geneva Convention. We have yet to undertake formal identification but it is probable that these are the two UK personnel who were listed as missing last Sunday. Next of kin have been informed that the two soldiers have now been categorised missing believed killed. Our thoughts are with their families and friends.

The decision by Al Jazeera to broadcast such material is deplorable and we call upon them to desist from future broadcasts of such a nature. I appreciate that all media outlets have a strong desire for "exclusive" pictures and we have no desire to limit journalistic freedom in any way. However, all media outlets must be aware of the limits of taste and decency and be wary that they do not unwittingly become tools for Iraqi propaganda.

Over recent days UK forces have been extremely active.

The Royal Navy, United States Navy (including mine clearance dolphins) and Australian naval forces have been involved in a massive operation to sweep the shallow waters leading into the Iraqi Port of Umm Qasr. The Royal Navy have taken the lead in this operation as they are acknowledged as the world experts in this type of work. Additionally, divers from the Royal Navy and Australian Navy have been clearing the port area. The mine threat to shipping in the Khawr Abd Allah has so far prevented humanitarian aid from being delivered by ship to the Iraqi people. The threat is very real. Last night UK Mines hunters discovered and then detonated two mines outside the swept shipping channel. This proves beyond doubt that Saddam's regime has attempted to stop essential stores and humanitarian supplies from being delivered to his own people. This also illustrates his disregard for civilian shipping which may have encountered these mines. The close co-operation between the three coalition naval forces has cleared a channel but the overnight discoveries of mines just outside the swept channel may now delay the arrival of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Sir Galahad with her cargo of over 200 tons of aid donated by both the Kuwaiti and UK Governments. The humanitarian aid includes bulk food such as rice, lentils and chick peas; flour; bottled water and World Health Organisation medical packs. In the interim, essential humanitarian supplies are being delivered over land.

Turning to land operations, 3 Commando Brigade and the US 15 Marine Expeditionary Unit have completed operations to mop up the last remnants of resistance on the Al Faw peninsula. They have secured Umm Qasr and 3 Commando Brigade are already starting the process of normalisation. You have all seen the remarkable TV pictures of Royal Marines engaging with the local population. After decades of repression from Saddam's regime it is a testament to the professionalism of our forces that the Iraqi people are already getting their first taste of freedom. Life is already moving on, there are already children being born who will never have to suffer under this regime. Four Two Commando are now sweeping the town to remove the weapons and explosives left behind by Iraqi forces - most of you will have seen the coverage of weapons finds within a school in Umm Qasr.

While life is returning to normality for some, there are, of course, still many others who have yet to be liberated. Elements of 7 Armoured Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade have been in action over recent days around Basra and As Zubayr. In both of these locations, UK forces have been taking the fight to the remnants of the regime's paramilitary forces including the Special Security Organisation and Ba'ath Party Militia.

When we put together the force package for this operation we knew we would have to deal with regime paramilitaries - our force was therefore designed with this in mind. The UK have deployed highly effective and experienced infantry and Royal Marines who are expert in this type of operation. The Regime Paramilitaries are beginning to realise the level of our expertise. In As Zubayr, members of the 1 Division took swift and crucial action in the early hours of 26 March against these forces - killing around 20 personnel. In a separate action, they captured a senior Ba'ath Party Paramilitary official. There is still Regime Paramilitary activity in this town but at a much reduced level - UK forces are dealing with the remnants on an opportunity basis.

In Basrah, we have come up against some stiff opposition from a mixture of Regime paramilitaries and the remnants of the Iraqi Army's 51st Division who we believe have been coerced by the Regime to re-occupy their equipment. On Tuesday, 1 UK Armoured Division using AS-90 Self Propelled Artillery destroyed 11 firing positions for heavy mortars, D-30 artillery and T-55 Tanks on the outskirts of the city. Later that day, a column of around 20 armoured vehicles left Basrah in an attempt to engage UK forces. They were destroyed by a combination of AS-90 Artillery, coalition aircraft including Tornado GR4 and Harrier GR7 and 3 Commando Brigade using Milan.

As darkness fell on Tuesday, UK forces saw the first signs of overt resistance to the regimes grip in Basrah. Sporadic small arms fire was reported in one area of the city and regime paramilitaries started firing mortars and artillery on their own people. UK artillery responded by destroying these regime artillery and mortar position. The Ba'ath party command element was also effectively targeted in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Basra was calmer throughout the majority of Wednesday but again a column of Iraqi Tanks and armoured vehicles left Basra heading South West towards UK forces. Having established that these forces were not trying to surrender, UK forces took swift and decisive action against this threat destroying a number through a mixture of artillery and coalition air power. The people of Basra are starting to recognise that UK forces will deal decisively, and on our terms, with the remnants of the regime.

Elements of 7 Armoured Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade have secured the Rumaylah oilfields and our Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams are continuing the difficult and dangerous task of clearing the munitions and booby traps that the regime left behind. Coalition and Kuwaiti fire-fighters are dealing with the well head fires in a systematic and effective way. Three well head fires have been extinguished and they are working on the remaining six well heads that were set ablaze as the regime retreated. These oilfields are critical to the future reconstruction and prosperity of Iraq. It is estimated that it will cost around $1billion to upgrade the oil infrastructure to allow the field to yield its capacity of around 1.8M barrels per day. We expect that Iraq will be exporting oil within three months as part of the oil for food programme.

Apart from providing close air support to ground operations, the Royal Air Force has been flying around 100 sorties per day. In addition to our offensive sorties our tankers and AWACS play a key supporting role in the coalition's air effort. Our Tornado GR4s and Harrier GR7s have attacked targets ranging from regime headquarters, ammunition dumps, airfields, Integrated Air Defence System installations and Iraqi fielded forces. Meanwhile, the RAF's Tornado F3s have been providing fighter patrols to protect airfields, land forces and high value air assets. The Joint Helicopter Force including RAF Chinooks and Pumas, Royal Navy Sea Kings and Army Lynx's have been supporting ground and maritime forces throughout the UK area of operations. The RAF Regiment have been providing airfield security to Allied airfields, Short Range Air defence and have also deployed into Iraq to protect a forward operating base for helicopter operations.

UK forces will continue to make a significant contribution to all aspects of coalition operations across the whole theatre until we achieve our objectives. We will not rest until this regime and the threat it poses to the world through weapons of mass destruction are both eradicated.

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