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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iraq (Military Operations)

The United Kingdom Parliament

7 April 2003

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a further statement about military action in Iraq and the efforts that we are making to help the Iraqi people to rebuild their country.

Since my last statement on 3 April, coalition forces have continued to make excellent progress. Following a series of raids and patrols into the centre of the city, British forces have now deployed in force into Basra. United States Army and Marine Corps units have with remarkable speed advanced on Baghdad, seized the international airport and conducted patrols into the city centre.

Those military successes have not been without cost. On behalf of the Government, I extend our condolences to the families and friends of those three British servicemen who have lost their lives during the last few days and in the coalition campaign to date. I speak for this House, and for the people of this country, in paying tribute to the bravery and dedication of all British and American service personnel deployed in Iraq. It is through their efforts that we will end the threat posed by the Iraq regime's weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi people will soon be rid of Saddam Hussein, his barbaric regime and the suffering that he has visited on them.

Throughout this campaign, the coalition has sought to use minimum force to achieve our military objectives. We have never sought to inflict unnecessary suffering on Iraqi civilians, or, indeed, on members of the Iraqi armed forces. We have consistently encouraged members of the Iraqi armed forces to end their increasingly futile resistance and return to their homes and families. We are now beginning to see indications that these messages are having an impact, at least on some Iraqi soldiers. That does not mean, however, that the regime's resistance is necessarily at an end. In Basra, Baghdad and other urban areas, coalition forces will face a difficult and dangerous period dealing with the remnants of Iraq's forces. We owe it to our own forces and to the Iraqi people to proceed with care.

We took great care in the planning of recent operations in Basra: the aim was to remove remnants of the regime while minimising the risk to civilians and to our armed forces. For the last two weeks, 1 Division has consolidated its presence in and around Basra, carrying out patrols and raids deep into the city, undermining the grip of the regime and gathering the intelligence vital to developing the unfolding operation. Raids and patrols into Basra during Saturday night met with much less resistance from Iraqi forces than on previous days. The opportunity was therefore taken yesterday morning to launch a major operation to secure strategic positions deep within the city. That involved personnel from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the 1st Battalion Irish Guards attached, the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the 1st Battalion Black Watch, the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment and 3 Commando Brigade.

Significant progress has been made. We assess that coalition forces can now go to all parts of the city, albeit under the cover of armour. UK forces were warmly received by crowds of local people, demonstrating that

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the coalition is winning the confidence and support of the Iraqi population. Power, water and food are now assessed to be available to the majority of the population. Key facilities are being secured by British forces in Basra, bringing much-needed security, safety and support.

In a very similar manner, the past few days have seen US forces make considerable progress in and around Baghdad, supported by coalition air and missile strikes which have degraded the regime's command and control capability and the Republican Guard's combat effectiveness. That strategy has worked remarkably well. The final 50 miles or so of the advance on Baghdad were completed at great speed. The US army's Fifth Corps defeated the republican guard's Medina division and seized Baghdad international airport on Friday. The first coalition aircraft landed at the airport yesterday. The First Marine Expeditionary Force overcame the Baghdad and Al Nida divisions of the republican guard in a matter of days, and is now on the south-east outskirts of Baghdad. US forces now control the major routes into and out of Baghdad.

Elsewhere, the men and women of the Royal Air Force continue to contribute significantly to the overall military campaign, providing close air support to US forces around Baghdad. Some 1,500 sorties have now been flown.

Our maritime forces, building on their early success on the Al Faw peninsula, and having created a safe channel for shipping into Umm Qasr, are now working hard to clear the whole Khawr Abd' Allah waterway of mines and obstructions. They are dealing not only with recent Iraqi mine-laying but with the legacy of the 1991 conflict. That is yet another example of coalition forces not only rebuilding Iraq for the future but improving on what was there before. Following the delivery by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel Sir Galahad of 300 tonnes of food, water and other humanitarian assistance, RFA Sir Percival arrived this morning at Umm Qasr with a similar cargo.

The water pipeline constructed by the Royal Engineers is now delivering around 1.5 million litres of clean water a day and UK troops have delivered 170,000 sets of rations to people in south-eastern Iraq. While we should not underestimate the humanitarian problems that we face, we have not yet seen any indications that there are widespread shortages of food or water.

The United Nations security co-ordination department has declared Umm Qasr to be a "permissive" environment, an important step allowing UN agencies to begin operating there. In addition, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has announced that the 24 grain silos at Umm Qasr port are safe and ready for use.

At a local level, significant steps are being taken to help the Iraqi people to begin to take control of their own affairs and to deal with decades of deprivation. UK forces have purchased shoes, stationery and books for children in Imman Anas. An Arabic computer has been purchased to enable the production of a news sheet for the civilian population of Az Zubayr. British officers have met with local people at Rumaylah to discuss future reconstruction projects—the renovation of the local primary school has already begun. Those

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developments, together with the fact that we are seeing the reopening of shops and markets, represent at least the beginning of a return to normal life in southern Iraq.

The pace of events over the past few days has been remarkable, but it will take time for the Iraqi people to adjust to the rapidly changing circumstances. We should not underestimate the traumatic effect of living under such a brutal and venal regime for so many years, its terror and corruption devastating the lives of Iraqi citizens at every level. Just as it is taking time for the people of Iraq to come to terms with the fact that Saddam Hussein's regime is coming to its inevitable end, it will take time, after so many years of relentless propaganda, for them to begin to trust the good faith of the coalition. We must all be patient as there are many difficult and dangerous challenges lying ahead.

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