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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Minister of State for the Armed Forces and the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West:
Press Conference at the Ministry of Defence, London - 11 April 2003

Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Adam Ingram:
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. Since I spoke to you last week, events have moved on at a remarkable pace, in particular over the last few days. We have all seen the extraordinary pictures in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk of people tasting freedom, in many cases for the first time in their lives. Saddam Hussein has gone to ground, as have his murderous henchmen. The regime has collapsed. As Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld said on Wednesday, one can hardly watch the Iraqi people spontaneously celebrating their liberty on the streets of Baghdad and destroying icons associated with the regime without recalling the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the iron curtain.

While the signs in Baghdad are hugely encouraging, it would be premature to think it is over. That is not the case. Pockets of resistance remain. The priority is to eliminate armed opposition and to establish a secure environment. Once that is achieved we can concentrate more on the development of the next phase. It is important to remember that military action is not confined to Baghdad and Basrah. In other areas of the country there are still Iraqi forces which have not yet capitulated or been defeated. There is much work to be done before military action can end, and after that yet more work is required to stabilise and normalise the situation.

Admiral West will in a moment talk more about the humanitarian efforts under way on the ground, but I would like to make a few points about what our forces have done so far to help the Iraqi people. First, it is important to stress that UK forces have not encountered a humanitarian crisis in their area of operations. There is no widespread starvation or drought. What we are concentrating on is achieving the environment that will allow the right support at the right place. A number of ships have already delivered humanitarian supplies, with another 10 ships full of aid on their way. And we are putting in place a means of providing and distributing aid should the situation worsen. There are some areas of immediate concern, particularly the limited availability of medical supplies and clean water. We are doing everything we can to deal with this. Most of the water plants under coalition control are functioning, albeit at a reduced capacity. There have been strong indications that basic utilities were sabotaged in the final stages of resistance. The improvement of those utilities is a priority and it is engineers and technicians that count. Ours are excellent in dealing with the problem.

There are a few rather incredible reports in this morning’s media. Of course we are concerned by reports of looting, and be under no illusion that we take our obligations under international law very seriously, but I do not accept some of this morning’s reports. Look back at any past conflict. This isn’t the first regime that has suppressed and ruled by savagery and fear, and this isn’t the first time that the euphoria of liberation is mixed with anger and revenge. We are seeing looting, much of it directed against regime figures and establishments. But I cannot accept reports like one on the BBC this morning suggesting that the people of Baghdad are "passing their first days of freedom in more fear than they have ever known before".

There are positive signs already. The US have already made efforts to prevent looters from disrupting assistance and patient care in Baghdad by securing two ICRC buildings, including the headquarters. US Marines will continue to provide local security to the operations of the Red Cross and its staff. The reality is that we are working hard to restore law and order. We will regenerate the structures, but it is hard to say exactly how long it will take. We assess that the situation is manageable, but British forces are also helping the Iraqi people to look to the future, to return as quickly as possible to a sense of what we would call normality. There are positive signs already. The contacts that we have had with local community leaders in Basrah are an important first step towards returning the running of Iraq to the Iraqis themselves. We intend to build upon these initial contacts, making the most of the civilian structures that are already in place to assist with the administration of the area.

And let us remind ourselves of the task. The British area of responsibility is geographically bigger than Wales. While significant threats remain, the delivery of humanitarian aid is not an easy task. Our forces are doing what they can within the context of the on going operation and are doing a fantastic job. They will continue to deliver what they can on the humanitarian front, while at the same time as making the area safer. It is our expectation that the international organisations, and the NGOs, will be able to be more fully engaged shortly.

Let us remember that this campaign is only three weeks old. In that short period our forces have acquitted themselves magnificently, making rapid progress against our military campaign objectives. It is easy however to get caught up in the military campaign and lose sight of the end objective. The current military action is only a preliminary, the enable phase towards the achievement of our main objective – the disarmament of Iraq. We are setting the preconditions for the systematic search, discovery and removal of these weapons for the long term. It may take some time. Iraq is a large country with many dark corners, but we will find them and through their destruction we will bring greater security to the region and to the world.

The spectacular achievements of the British military so far has been made possible by meticulous planning over many months by the professionalism and courage of our Armed Forces, and we look forward to working with those who are willing to build a new Iraq, confident in its own future. We look forward to the time, hopefully not too far distant, when the focus will turn from the military to the political. And our commitment to the twin objectives of the political and economic security of Iraq is for the long term. This will be necessary if we are to pave the way for the free and open society that the Iraqis are crying out for.

Notwithstanding the work ahead, we have achieved a great deal. Although the vast bulk of our deployed assets remain, it makes sense, as the balance of the campaign changes, to remove those assets that have fulfilled their role. As Geoff Hoon announced this morning in Parliament, we have begun the process of adjusting the forces in theatre, and the First Sea Lord will expand on this in a moment.

Let me end on this. Our published military campaign objectives contain a commitment to the withdrawal of military forces as soon as it is practicable. This is by no means the beginning of a full scale reduction. Our commitment to Iraq’s future is undiminished, but we are in the very early stages of beginning to look to the post-conflict renewal phase. We constantly assess our operational requirements and will tailor our military contribution accordingly. Clearly it would not make sense to keep personnel in the region any longer than is necessary. Some have already returned, and some will return shortly. We are hugely grateful for the outstanding contribution that all these Servicemen and women have made. They can take great pride in what they have done and what they have achieved to date, and so should we.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West:
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. What I would like to do is spend just a few minutes looking briefly first of all at the overall maritime contribution, then a brief word about current operations in the UKAOR, then as the Minister said to go into humanitarian aid operations, and finally I will pick up on the Minister’s comments about future UK force levels.

You will notice this is the first time I have appeared at a press conference and that actually we have had the Chief of the Air Staff last week, and the Chief of the General Staff the week before, as well as the Chief of Defence Staff. The reason for this of course is that each Chief of Staff has a responsibility, through the Chief of Defence Staff, to the Prime Minister for the fighting effectiveness and morale of their own service and hence their contribution to joint operations, and in my case of course that fighting effectiveness and morale is the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and a few other bits and pieces like the SBS and things like that.

I do want to go on record straight away and say how amazingly proud I am, first of all of the UK Servicemen altogether but, you would expect me to say this as the First Sea Lord, of my own boys and girls. I have been amazingly impressed by what they have done.

Just before operations started some three weeks ago, I sent a signal to them all. In part of that signal I said "I do not under-estimate the difficulties and challenges of the task ahead, but I am also aware you are fully trained, well equipped and ready. The spotlight of world attention will be on you and I have no doubt of your courage and determination to see the job through. Equally let humanity and victory be our guiding principle." And I have to say I think that has been absolutely the case. All of those things have been met and I am very proud of my people.

It is because of this responsibility that I am saying a little bit about maritime affairs, and that is why you will notice a little maritime flavour at the beginning, but it is my chance just to talk about them and show how proud and pleased I am with them.

We have had a relatively large force out there. We have had about 33 units of mine deployed east of Suez, including two SSNs, and one of those SSNs is well on its way back. Yesterday I popped down to Gibraltar to visit HMS Turbulent. She has been away from the United Kingdom, or will be when she gets back, for 300 days, 10 months, in which time she has been fully involved in the global war on terror, doing all sorts of things that we wouldn’t even speak about because they are very sensitive, but are very helpful for the safety of the people in this country, and of course was involved in T-lam shoots against Iraq. And I have been through those T-lam shoots, looked at the firing, they were all very accurate, and the ship’s company were very keen to know and find out that these things were accurate because the aspect of humanity and victory is an important thing and they didn’t want to feel that they were fully involved in something that was being shot all over the place. Anyway they were in very good heart and they get back to the UK next week, the first really of our units that have been fighting to get back.

So what was the maritime contribution in those three weeks? Well we kicked the door open effectively. You saw the picture of a Royal Marine jeep knocking down a door, well we rather did that in terms of letting people into the country. We were using T-lam from sea and we fired a considerable number of those and they have all been very accurate and gone for the sorts of regime targets I would like to hit. The amphibious operations in the Al-Faw Peninsula, where I think our expertise was recognised by the Americans, and we actually took an American battalion effectively under command of my commandos so we could do that attack, and by doing that attack slightly early we actually got all of the oil infrastructure, various parts of it which were wired up to be exploded, before they could be blown up, and that was very successful I believe, and we had support for those forces, with Naval gunfire support from sea. I had three of my ships doing 17 fire support missions, which generally made the Iraqi positions surrender, so very successful, and they were operating, if you imagine these 5000 tonne-odd ships with less than six feet under their keel in those rather badly charted waters, again which I think shows the sort of professionalism in the sort of things we practise regularly. We have conducted operations really across the literal, we have supported our Marines from sea both in terms of logistic supply, both in terms of close air support with Lynx’s, with To’s, attacking enemy tanks and the like, and the Commando Helicopter Force has been there to provide mobility. We have enabled and delivered humanitarian aid, we have done mine clearance in the waterways, we have done a lot of explosive ordnance disposal and we really were the lead people leading all that, with the Americans helping us, with some Australian divers, and of course our world famous dolphins from America which seem to have caught everyone’s attention, and we provided medical support from sea with Argus. And all this was done in a joint environment, but as I say I am very proud of what our people did and that is why I am having a little bang on about it, so excuse me about that, because I think they have done extremely well.

In terms of the current situation, Minister Armed Forces said, and has talked about the dramatic events in Baghdad this week. I think as we look across the country there is very strong evidence of regime collapse and collapse in the capital and control in the capital. That doesn’t mean we must think there is going to be no fighting, because there will be, and there is still going to be fighting and there are still difficult areas. And it is very dangerous I think to compare some of the areas the Americans are operating in with the areas that the UK are operating in, these things are different, but there are still dangerous areas and the thing is not yet resolved and we expected and knew this sort of thing would happen. I have to say, having been the Chief of Defence Intelligence for three years, I was very interested to see how my successor was doing, and he did predict an awful lot of these things that we have seen, we had hoped some of them might not have happened in exactly the way they did, but he did predict them, so they are hardly a surprise to us.

Within the UKAOR, we have seen really quite a dramatic sense of return to normality. I think you can find certain areas, and this is always a danger, when you are involved in an incident it seems to you something huge and immense, but sometimes you have to stand back and look at the overview. I have always found that when someone is trying to kill me and is shooting at me, that seems like high intensity operations, I think when people look sensibly from further back they realise it just happens to be in that one area someone is trying to kill West and that is not quite so all pervasive, and sometimes we have to do that.

The looting in Basrah I believe is now on a lower scale, certainly that is the report from the General in charge of the UK Div there, and he is doing a lot of work in terms of involving the local community, he has identified some key players there to form a sort of Council of the local people to run this, and it is very important the quicker we get Iraqis running these things, the quicker we can actually get the good members of their police force being policemen again. All of that is so much better and he is putting a lot of work into that. But things on the ground are not maybe as bad as some people might be trying to make them from various snapshots. I don’t blame them, because if you are there and people are trying to hit you on the head, that is what you see, but looking at it overall that is certainly the perspective we have.

In terms of movement of forces around there, 3 Commando Brigade is now moving in and taking over all of the southern oilfields in the Basrah area, really all of the Basrah Province outside of Basrah itself, and 7 Armoured Brigade is actually responsible in the town of Basrah, and 16 Air Assault is rather north of there at the moment.

The UK air component is maintaining on call close air support for land forces, and is also doing an awful lot in terms of mission support for coalition Air Forces. And on the maritime side we are doing still a lot of work in the approaches to Umm Qasr and the move up to Az Zubayr and those areas as well where we are making sure they are fully clear so that we can actually get merchant ships happy to go in and out of there, and the insurance rate is down, so we can start getting the full flow.

Going on to humanitarian aid. First of all, to enable a large amount of shipping to get in there was a requirement for a huge amount of enabling operations, and as I have mentioned, the first priority was to get the Al Faw Peninsula, that allowed us then to get our minesweepers in to all the channels there, to start hunting for mines. We got the oil installation secured. 539 Assault Squadron was able to operate up all the various waterways. If you look at a map of the area it is very much like marshland a lot of it, huge waterways in all directions and we knew we were going to have to do that, and 539 have been doing that. A lot of mine clearance operations, which I already talked about. We in fact had sent an MCM force out into theatre last September, because I was Commander in Chief in fact just before that and decided that it seemed like a good idea because things were looking a bit tense out there and it is always best to be ready in case something does happen. So they have been out there really quite a long time so they know the area and are used to working there. And our survey people have been operating out there and doing very, very good survey work, again for the safety of mariners altogether.

The MCM operations started on 22 March, we had US helicopter minesweeping, we had other mine hunters available. We destroyed 11 mines that were laid, but we were very lucky in that we had gone a day early we caught them before they laid another 76 mines which we found in storage and in ships ready to be deployed, so we caught them before they could deploy all of them. And a week after the 22nd we had a channel safe all the way up to Az Zubayr, quite a small one, and we broadened that and widened it, and it is now about 1,000 metres wide and we are doing operations, not just removing mines that might have been laid now, but ones that were laid in past wars and getting rid of explosive ordnance in that region.

Sir Galahad berthed in Um Qasr on the 28th with about 500 cubic metres of aid from the UK and Kuwait. That has been reported in the press. And since then Sir Percivale has been up and delivered even more aid. International aid is now starting to flow into Umm Qasr and up into the northern end of the Gulf. Because we haven’t yet managed to dredge the depth to a suitable depth for very large ships, two Australian grain ships which have come up are offloading their grain in other ports, but we have worked hard on the grain storage things in Umm Qasr and we are hiring dredgers and we will get the depth of water down to the required depth. We have a Spanish ship arriving on Wednesday, we have US ships that are loading in the Gulf area. There are 4,000 containers with oil for food cargo in Jeblali which will be going up to Kuwait as I understand it, and there are 10 other ships, as the Minister mentioned, that are approaching the area and we should have it clear and ready for them to go in there. And we are pushing up the waterway beyond Umm Qasr up to Az Zubayr where there is another large port which is much closer to Basrah.

As regards Umm Qasr itself, our Commando Regiment has handed that over to 102 Logistic Brigade, and 17 Port and Maritime Regiment is doing a lot of the work in the port there, but we have been recruiting a lot of Iraqis who used to work in there and we want to get them fully involved in running that port and get it up and running and going again, but we are using people, for example I have a Royal Naval Reserve Commander who actually is the Port Manager of Southampton who now has found himself there and is giving advice and this sort of thing, and I think that is all extremely useful.

I think our overall assessment in south east Iraq is that there is not a humanitarian crisis, as the Minister has said. The infrastructure is largely intact, and indeed our plan, which we went through in immense detail in terms of kinetic targeting, was to leave it intact, and that has by and large been amazingly successful, we have not taken out these things. But of course an awful lot of it was in a very, very poor state because the regime didn’t look after it and wasn’t focusing its resources in the right way. However, importation of food will be required by the end of this month, there is no doubt about that.

The key issue, as the Minister says, is water. Now most of the water plant under coalition control are working, a couple of them have reduced capacity. Where water is unavailable, we think most of it is because Iraqi forces, pro-Saddam forces, disabled power supplies before withdrawing, and that is actually where we have got the problems. The water pipeline from Kuwait to Umm Qasr, as you know is operational, Albert’s Pipe as it is called, which is extremely valuable and very useful for the people there. And UNICEF are planning to restore 75 kilometres of pipeline from Umm Qasr to Al Basrah and that will make a great difference to the people of Al Basrah.

So far, humanitarian aid delivered by UK forces, that is just UK forces, in March it was over half a million litres of water and about 70,000 rations, but of course we were still pretty involved in fighting at that stage; so far in April, that is up to the 9th, it is 1.7 million litres of water and over 100,000 kilograms of rations, so it is ramping up dramatically as we shift from war fighting to going down to this sort of stabilisation and humanitarian role.

In terms of future priorities, to get Umm Qasr fully operational, and also Az Zubayr north of there, and to get the port under Iraqi management, to get that working properly and to maintain a safe and secure environment in which all the NGOs can operate, and that is an important thing and that is what we are trying to achieve and part of the work that the General commanding the 1 Armoured did in terms of talking to locals is to actually help achieve that.

We have got some slides and we have looked at various facilities in the towns indicated here going from Baghdad in the north down to Umm Qasr in the south, and those are the towns that I will be referring to. What you are seeing here is the towns that I indicated, some of which are under American control and some under UK control, and the colour coding relates to how these were before the war started, and effectively if it is green it is better than it was before the war started, in other words before any operations had started at all, and if it is yellow it is exactly the same as it was, and if it is red it is worse. And I think you can see, I mentioned on the power, that is where power has actually been cut, as I believe by Saddam’s forces. And I think you can see from that that actually we have got a very good tale to tell, and I have no doubt whatsoever that with our engineers repairing power and things like that, they will actually have a way, way better infrastructure very rapidly than they had before, and that is a good thing and it is the sort of thing one wants to see, but it is not the gloomy picture that I think maybe sometimes is given, because people who weren’t aware of what it was like before arrive there and think gosh, this isn’t what it’s like back home in Copenhagen, or whatever it is, it is all slightly different.

I said I would mention a little bit on draw-down, and I think what I would say there is that we always said that when forces were not required, not essential for the operation, we would pull them back, not least to give the people a break. I mentioned Turbulent which has been away from the UK for 10 months, you know that is quite a long time and we need to recharge these people’s batteries and get them available, and we are in a very dangerous world, as we know, there is a global war on terror and we need forces available should they be required to look after the people of the United Kingdom and we want them refreshed ready to do whatever they might need to do. And so we are looking sensibly all the time at our force levels and seeing whether it makes sense to bring any back or not, and I have mentioned Turbulent already.

On the maritime side where almost inevitably, because we arrived there, kicked the door open and enabled things to happen, they are the ones generally who will be coming back quicker and regenerating and getting themselves ready to go again. And Marlborough, Liverpool and Grey Rover, which were part of the Naval Task Group Zero 3, are no longer essential for operations. We are going to send those out to the Far East for the Five Power defence arrangement exercise out there, we do that about every three years. It is very important, it is the only organisation like that in the region. There are dangers of instability, as we know from the Bali bombing within Indonesia and things like that. The UK has more investments in that region than any other country in Europe, and indeed a number of the countries more than actually America, and so a lot of money in that region, stability is important, not just for us actually but for the rest of the world as well. And there is no doubt by having these forces and these things happening in those regions, that does add to stability and hopefully one doesn’t end up in the position we have been in in Iraq by keeping it at that sort of level and showing our forces there. So we think it is important and they will be going on out there.

Ark Royal and elements of her group, the destroyer who is with her and a couple of her support ships, she also will be leaving theatre. She in fact, we will be bringing her back to the United Kingdom, we want to regenerate her air wing, we want to help with her also to generate Invincible as well so we have got her capability, and the exact dates will become clearer later, but I wouldn’t imagine her getting back to the United Kingdom until towards the end of May time, something like that probably, but we have got refinement to do of that. The hospital ship Argus has ceased taking any patients and she will be returning and her doctors and medics will be coming back to the UK. 202 and 34 Field Hospitals will be staying in theatre, and there is a Spanish field hospital in theatre, and so we are quite happy and content that there are enough medical facilities there for our people. And we will also have 3 Field Hospital coming back, that is the People, to the UK, but her equipment will stay in Kuwait and the People will be at 24 hours notice to go back out again.

And on the air side, we will be drawing down the number of F3s actually based in Saudi Arabia, and certainly over the next few days and weeks we will be looking again and we will keep reassessing this and deciding what forces come. But it in no way means we are reducing our commitment there, and we always balance risk against these things and look at what we have got to achieve, and it is a sensible balance bearing that in mind.

Question:
You said you are working hard to restore law and order and the reports that maybe there are a couple of military police going out there, what are you actually doing, are you sending more military police, more civil police, getting Europeans to send more police? Could you expand a bit on what you are actually doing on the law and order front? And secondly, you said you are setting up machinery on the disarmament front, could you expand a bit on that as well please?

Mr Ingram:
On the law and order side, what we are sending out are a number of specialists who will scope what the situation is on the ground, will examine it, analyse it and then make appropriate recommendations. But while that is going on, of course our troops on the ground at senior command level will be making contact with local community leaders, the purpose of which is to seek to do what Admiral West said, and that is to bring those reliable elements in Iraqi society who had the responsibility for that in the past back into play, and that seems to be the best solution to it rather than trying to find some collection of civilian police from across the world to play that particular role. Of course that has been done in the Balkans and elsewhere, but it seems to us that there is scope for developing it in country and that is what we are working towards. On the other point, in terms of the weapons of mass destruction, I have not announced anything new in what I said, what I said was that we are now finding ourselves progressively being able to examine those dark corners which we have not been able to touch before and that will begin to become an area of important activity once we are in a more secure environment and able to do so. So that has always been our objective, we always anticipated we would need to do this, and what we have to deploy to do that of course will be deployed at the right level, at the right level of expertise as well, and we will find those weapons.

Admiral West:
Can I just say on the weapons of mass destruction, which is not directly mine as First Sea Lord, but I was Chief of Defence Intelligence for three years. I am absolutely firmly convinced that they have got elements of weapons of mass destruction, absolutely convinced of that after threeyears of looking at it. And what was very interesting was that even when we had the old UNSCOM inspectors out there, it wasn’t until we actually had someone defect and tell us about it that we were able to find the detail of the biological warfare programme. These things are very easy to hide and we know they put immense effort into hiding them. They were playing with it as if it was a game with our latest lot of inspectors, and this is not a game, and I have no doubt that we will find these things, but the best way is to talk to the people, some of whom were forced to do this in terms of scientific work, to talk to those people because they are the ones who will be able to give us the detail and they will be able to explain to us what was happening and I think we will expose this for what it is and that is the best way of doing it. But we will find these things, and as I say I am certain from my time as CDI that they do exist. I think sometimes people talk on the scale on which things there are maybe wrongly, but as I say I am certain that they are there to an extent and we will find them. It has been very difficult while we have been fighting.

Question:
Is there a suggestion that the MOD police might be sent to places like Basrah, or is that not being considered? And secondly in terms of the Royal Scots and the Black Watch, what is their main role in Basrah at the moment, is that simply a policing role or are they still involved in a great amount of combat?

Mr Ingram:
In terms of policing, what I have said is we have got to scope the extent and nature of the problem and while that is being done part of that scoping exercise anyway, just to repeat the point, the contacts have been made within the various areas, and townships, and cities, to identify the local community leaders, to look at the policing structures that are there and that can then be reactivated. There must be a period of uncertainty in the minds of all of those people because many of them, probably all of them were Ba'ath Party, but what we do understand is there were those who had to be members of that organisation to get a job, and those who were willing to cooperate with Saddam Hussein in terms of his brutal regime. So separating that out has to be done to make sure that it is the right level of quality policing. There are some indications that on the ground the local community is beginning to get on top of some of those issues anyway and we may just find that pace of change surprising us all, and a pace of change for the better. As to the specific roles of the Black Watch and Dragoons, there is a point, and we have already seen this, where the hard hats come off and the berets go on, but that is a judgment call that the Commanders have to make as to what the risks are, what the threats are and then what we can deliver, and we are good at peace-making and peacekeeping, and all those skills will be brought into play as appropriate. There are still threats out there, we have to identify all of those threats, not let the guard drop because that is when we take casualties, casualties that we don’t necessarily need to take if the right judgment call is made.

Admiral West:
For example in Basrah, because the focus now is on actually normalisation and on the peacekeeping role rather than war fighting, the General is pulling the tanks out of Basrah for example because that is not what you have somewhere if you want to try and get somewhere back to normality. But it is still dangerous there and there was an incident with an exchange of fire with some people who were trying to rob a bank, where we stopped them doing it, and so it is dangerous there. But again one doesn’t want to over-egg these things, but our people are very good at just getting things back to normal and letting people get on with their lives and ease down to a much lower amount of cover and letting the people there start taking charge of their own destiny, and that is very much what our General is trying to do.

Question:
Could you tell us who these local Sheikhs are you are dealing with in Basrah, you have been very reluctant to give us any of their names. I wonder why? Many of these Sheikhs in southern Iraq were puppets of Saddam Hussein, is this because they are former Ba'athist members and they are tainted by the regime and that you perhaps fear that they will not actually be acceptable to the local people.

Mr Ingram:
You shouldn’t wonder why we don’t want to give out the names, because we have to discuss with those people, we have to examine the very things that you seem to want to do in a public way. We have had one tragic death of one community leader who returned, and without going into all the circumstances associated with that, clearly it is a fraught situation. And I made the point about those who were willing, cooperated with Saddam Hussein, and those who were part of the apparatus so they could carry on and try and provide as normal a society as they possibly could under that particular regime. So all of that has to be
examined in this way. There may well be questions within the community about those who take on the new leadership because they may appear to be tainted with the past because they have compromised with Saddam Hussein’s regime, but the reality is that many people will have had to have made compromises if they were trying to find those points of normality within their society that they were seeking to deliver. These are not easy issues and I don’t think they are solved by interrogative approaches by the media saying well now we have 6 names and we will tell you what these people are really like. Sensitive issues, the future of people are at stake here, and lurid headlines don’t help the people of Iraq.

Question:
One of the guys has been named actually and he is a former Brigadier General and he is a Sheikh and he was a member of the Ba'ath Party, Sheikh Jamimi, he seems to be the main guy selected and it has caused a bit of a kerfuffle apparently in Basrah. You may well give the same sort of answer I guess, but do you happen to know how it was that this particular bloke was chosen to be the main guy? And I wonder whether any British forces are currently involved at Qaim, which is close to the border of Syria, where there is a serious fire-fight going on.

Mr Ingram:
Well we never comment on those detailed military operations, we don’t confirm or deny that, to use that phrase, in that specific way. If there was any particular firefight going on it will be because our people on the ground have perceived a real threat which they then have to deal with it. But both of us indicated in our earlier comments about threats still being out there, we are still having to deal with that. On the first point, I don’t think I have anything more to add to what I said in terms of my earlier answer, that there is a lot of uncertainty out there and when people put themselves forward as community leaders we have to attest to that as best we can, we have to work with what is on the ground and to seek to make sure that those people that we are collectively trying to bring together, to bring normal administration to Iraq, actually have the support of the Iraqi people. There is not an instant solution to this or an off the shelf answer to it, and every area, every part of the world we have been involved in, we have met the same type of issues. But we will work through them and I think we will get proper constructive answers at the end of the day.

Admiral West:
I believe the place you are mentioning is up near the Syrian border. I wouldn’t want to get drawn into that but there are interests in those areas, and the Minister is absolutely right, I wouldn’t want to comment on it as it is ongoing at the moment.

Question:
A quick question about tax. The American military have a system in place whereby Servicemen and women in a defined war zone are exempt from income tax when they are there. The Daily Mail is urging the government to consider something similar for our forces. Ultimately it is a decision for the Treasury, but since you have both voiced your admiration for the performance of our forces this morning, could I ask you both whether you would welcome that, whether you think it is an issue we could explore or should look at.

Mr Ingram:
Whether we welcome it or not, I am sure that you will continue to explore it and run with the story. If we don’t, then it will become a story, if we do it will become a story. It is an old issue. We have tried to construct, and Admiral West could perhaps deal with this in more detail if he wishes, but we have tried to put in place a whole range of packages for our Armed Forces, many of them of recent vintage, and I think all of them have been well received, and I think we have to look at the total package of what we deliver for our Armed Forces and not just pick one, there may be less in what another Armed Force gets, but overall our people maybe getting more in its entirety. We have got to examine this across the breadth of it and we do campaign certainly in terms of those who advise Ministers, but Ministers as well to seek to get the best for the people that we have responsibility for.

Admiral West:
I was just thinking to myself when you asked the question how glad I was I wasn’t a Minister, you could say I have got a self-interest in something like that, so I will be careful what I say. I would agree however in terms of packages for looking after our people. I mentioned I was on board HMS Turbulence down in Gibraltar yesterday very quickly to see them. You may or may not be aware there have been difficulties in manning up our submarines because they do have huge periods of separation, they work six on, six off, six on, six off days, very often one in two, and a certain amount of money had gone into packages really recognising this with them, and my joy on going there compared with some three years ago when I took over in my last job as Commander in Chief was there was not a single word said about that aspect of life at all. But on the aspect of income tax and things, as I say, I think that is up to the Minister to talk about and I am glad I am not a Minister.

Mr Ingram:
Do you think he deserves an income tax cut, is that what you are campaigning for?

Admiral West:
You can see how poor I look.

Question:
Minister, you seem very much more sanguine about the conditions in Baghdad than your colleague Clare Short did on the radio this morning, and in the Commons yesterday, she was talking about rapes, she was talking about hospitals being looted. Can you explain why your view seems rather different to this? And was she correct when she said on the radio this morning that the Chief of Defence Staff intervened with General Franks to get those two ICRC buildings secured?

Mr Ingram:
I am not sanguine, we do recognise the way in which people use language of course is important, but we recognise, as we did in Basrah, that there was a particular problem that had to be addressed, and that is what the Armed Forces on the ground, what the forces on the ground set out to do, and it was done in Basrah and our best guess is that it will be done in Baghdad as well, but remembering Baghdad is a much bigger entity than Basrah, Basrah was big enough to deal with, Baghdad is bigger, more complex, and there are still very, very real threats on the ground there. So that makes the delivery of all of that, an attempt to bring normalcy to the city is that much more difficult, and I did indicate in my opening statement about the hospitals and about the way the Red Cross perform. The Red Cross are very brave people, they go in before there is any real semblance of a benign environment, they put themselves at risk and tragically one of them has already lost his life because of that, and we pay tribute to all that they do and we try to make sure that where we can that we create the conditions first for them to operate as safely as that can be achieved, and then to allow, as both of us said, the movement of the NGOs and other organisations into those areas. I don’t think we have a very different perception of the enormity of the problem between Clare Short and myself, or between MOD and DFID, and indeed DFID have people embedded with our people at command level on the ground giving best advice as to how we can move all of this forward. So there is a close harmony between the departments in all of this.

Question:
Did she actually contact General Franks?

Mr Ingram:
I have no immediate knowledge of that, but there is daily contact all the time and if Clare has said that then I would stand by what she has said.

Question:
You were very critical of some of the coverage of the situation in Baghdad earlier on, I wonder whether to what extent you think we are getting a false picture of what is happening in Baghdad and wondered if you had made any representations, you mentioned the BBC in particular, about the messages we were getting out of that city?

Mr Ingram:
It is not for me to deal with that, but again I am sure that our people, people from Alastair Campbell downwards, will be making clear their views on all of this. But let me just give you the quote again of why we reacted so much, it was a BBC report but I think it was reflected in some of the newspapers, and it was that report that said that the people of Baghdad are passing their first days of freedom in more fear than they have ever known before. That cannot possibly be accurate given the extent and nature of that regime, a regime that brutalised, murdered tens of thousands of their own people, right up to the very last moment they were still doing it, and I am sure many of our troops will come back with stories that they may not even tell their families, we may be told of some of the things that they saw on the ground. Remember what ITN showed, I think it was on Tuesday night when they were shown into the torture chamber and people graphically telling them what was going on during Saddam Hussein’s regime, and for someone to comment that there is more fear now in Baghdad than there was during Saddam Hussein’s regime, I think that is trying to make the news rather than trying to report the news. But that is my view on this, you guys have got your own responsibilities on how best you report what you see on the ground, but I think Admiral West made the point about snapshots, do not take snapshots and then develop it into the bigger picture. And we fortunately in one sense have that better overview, we can assess it across the breadth and depth of what is going on, and it is why it gives us a better understanding that while it is not perfect, while there are a lot of difficulties on the ground, difficulties we are having to deal with, and our troops or US troops are on the ground and having to deal with it in a very dangerous environment, trying to create a normal environment while at the same time their lives might be taken from them. And suddenly to point the finger that somehow or other they have failed, that all the problems are theirs, is just I think a wholly wrong
message to put out, and we will do our own jobs in the way in which we see we have to do them. We will try and report as accurately and as truthfully as we can with the best information we have available at that point in time.

Question:
Can you explain in more detail the £3 billion the Chancellor mentioned in his budget speech. Is that the £3 billion that we had already on the defence budget, could you say what it would be applied for? And First Sea Lord, MCMs we understand were technologically ahead of the Americans, in the long term is this going to allow us in a matter of months to open up the waterway to Basrah itself, so commercial shipping can help the aid efforts there?

Mr Ingram:
The £3 billion is money that is going into the contingency fund to meet ongoing costs, and some of that has already been consumed, spent already, and it is in one sense a notional figure because it could be less or it could be more depending on what the outturn costs would be. So the Treasury are putting that money in place so we can draw upon it, so there is not a question of constantly going back and seeking additional financial support from the Treasury, but it is not additional if that is your question.

Question:
Is it communications, is it humanitarian, or welfare packages?

Mr Ingram:
Some of it, there was the £30 million allocated for humanitarian, which is obviously small by comparison to what has been allocated overall to DFID, which I think is in the region of £240 million, plus more, another £46 million he announced in the budget, if my memory serves me correctly. And as the scale of that problem increases then I have no doubt at all that the Treasury would be sympathetic to requests for more to be done, but that is a matter for them. In terms of how we allocate that money, that is a developing picture, it depends on how many T-lams are fired, it depends on how many storm shadows are fired, it depends on the many urgent operational requirement needs we have to put in place. We are accountable for all of this and at the end of this there will be a report on the broad detail of that particular expenditure. I don’t think I could give you a running accountant’s description of it at this point in time.

Admiral West:
In terms of access to Basrah, of course because of the conflict between Iraq and Iran and things, the Shatt al-Arab waterway was very well fought over and there are something like 74 wrecks there, a lot of unexploded ordnance. We don’t believe that many mines laid per se in the waterway of sea mine type of things, but clearly the clearance operations would be huge. We have sort of talked in very loose terms with the Iranians about it, but it would be a very major operation. We assess it would cost, to get those things lifted and all done, it would probably cost in the region of £500 million to do it. Now that might be something, looking long term, that Iraq would wish to do in concert with Iran to allow access vessels down there, the Iranians would be interested because of access to Abadan and Koronshah as well, but actually by clearing the route up through Umm Qasr and then up to Az Zubayr, which has very good connections through to Basrah, and there is a large deep canal that was constructed as well, by clearing all those quite a lot of the stuff can get up in other ways. But I think looking long term, I would not be surprised if Iraq wanted to do something like that, but they will have their own oil money, and a lot more of it, because actually the fields will become so much better I believe, looking to the future, and they may decide to invest their money in that way or not. I think it would be rather nice to have Sinbad’s town available to get to the sea again, wouldn’t it, but it would be up to them I think.

Question:
… in the kinds of things that we were doing?

Admiral West:
I think to say that we are ahead in technology in every way would be wrong. I think what we had was in terms of our operating procedures, our experience of doing MCM, the capability of some of our hunting ability and some of the shallow water stuff we got from other nations, we were able to tie that together as a comprehensive capability in really very difficult circumstances and deliver a cleared waterway for our shipping, and I think that is really what we did and that is what we were seen to be very good at and the Americans were grateful that we were doing that sort of niche. And I think while I am on that overall, there was a certain amount of talk I think before the war that the UK are an add-on, their forces aren’t really significant, across in a huge number of areas I can tell you we are very significant, and the Americans realise we are very significant and people should be in no doubt about that, and MCM is one of those areas, but in a lot of other areas as well, and that will be seen I think when people are writing the history of what happened here and exactly what went on.

Mr Ingram:
But I think John would agree that if we could have got more money out of the Treasury we would be even more ahead.

Admiral West:
I am all for that.

Question:
Can you clarify the search, if there is one, for weapons of mass destruction along the Iranian border, how far up this goes, and indeed what cooperation you are having with the Iranian Armed Forces, thinking that the Iran-Iraq war, there may well be substantial numbers of storage areas for WMD along that border.

Mr Ingram:
In terms of where we are looking, I don’t think you would expect me to say those are the particular sites, because that could only then alert those who may want to move them, destroy them or do what they want to do with them. So I am not going down that particular route to be more specific in all of this, and the cooperation that we get from neighbouring states and elsewhere I am not going to comment on either. But I think everyone has an interest in the removal of these weapons of mass destruction and that we will take any help and assistance we can in achieving that objective. What we discovered post-11 September of course was that the international intelligence community worked together like they have never worked before to try and achieve those common objectives against international terrorism, and that is part of the new climate which is out there in world opinion.

Admiral West:
There are a very, very large number of sites that already we know we would like to look at. As this fighting has been going on we have found other sites have cropped up, as we interview scientists I am sure more sites will appear and they will be ranging all over the country. And we have only really been able to absolutely look at a tiny, tiny, tiny number of those. And some of these sites, some of the sites that UNSCOM went to, are immense areas and UNSCOM went to a small spot there, and the UNSCR team went to a small spot there, and these are immense areas to actually look at. So there is a huge task in terms of that, but as I said earlier, I am in no doubt that they have got these, absolutely in no doubt they have got these things, but the best way is to talk to the people who are involved in these programmes because they can pinpoint it very quickly, and that is the only way we bowled out the BW programmes in the past with the Iraqis.

Question:
Admiral, you were saying that from your three years as Chief of Defence Intelligence you had no doubt that there are weapons of mass destruction, but you also said that you think sometimes the scale described by people is wrong. Do you mean that the amount of weapons of mass destruction he has got is less than people have been writing about, or more?

Admiral West:
I think so many figures have been thrown around that it would be difficult to say which ones are being written about, but I think there are some people maybe who have talked in terms of thousands of tonnes of chemical, and have talked in terms of hundreds and hundreds of missiles of an extended range, and I would say that is way beyond the top end would be my assessment. But things like BW, you don’t need very much of it and you can actually produce it very, very quickly and it can be produced in areas where actually they normally do other things, that is the problem. But I have absolutely no doubt that they have got them, and I have absolutely no doubt as well that we will find them and we will expose all of that and it will be a better world because we have done that.




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