§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ How many Armed Forces personnel are planned to remain in post-conflict Iraq and over what period.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence has today published in another place a Written Statement which sets out in some detail our progress in tailoring the UK presence in Iraq to suit the emerging strategic environment. I have today answered a Written Question in this House to the same effect.
We shall continue to review our force levels to ensure that we maintain an appropriate presence for as long as necessary. The noble Lord will appreciate that at this early stage there is no way of telling accurately how long that might be.
§ Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Inevitably, the detail is contained in places other than this Chamber. Therefore, it is a little difficult to ask an immediate supplementary question, but can the noble Lord add 198 anything on the probabilities and the time dimension? Can he further indicate what role is envisaged for the Iraqi Army in post-conflict Iraq?
§ Lord Bach
My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord that we have so far brought home more than 25,000 UK servicemen and women, following the end of decisive combat operations in Iraq. They have been taking some well-earned leave, following which they will be available for further taskings. So we currently retain about 17,000 UK servicemen and women deployed in the Gulf region, in a continuing effort to fulfil our responsibilities towards the Iraqi people. We shall continue to withdraw assets and personnel from the region where possible; but, equally, we shall maintain an appropriate military presence for as long as possible.
As for training the Iraqi army, or a new army, Paul Bremmer, the United States civil administrator, last month set out his plans for the establishment of a new, non-political, Iraqi corps. The United Kingdom is supporting that process.
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, has there been any difficulty in calling up further members of the Territorial Army? From talking to members of the Territorial Army, it appears that there is a fear that large numbers of them will be called to serve in the Gulf for an extended period. Are the Government undertaking any research into whether that will cause difficulties as regards obtaining those reserve forces? I know that he is not in his place at present, but perhaps I may welcome back to the House the noble Earl. Lord Attlee, whom, I believe, is at present on leave from the Gulf.
§ Lord Bach
My Lords, as for the noble Lord's question, two Written Statements have been made setting out the requirement for the call-out of about 2,700 additional reservists to support on-going operations in Iraq. We have demobilised more than 1,700 reservists who have returned from operations in Iraq. As for the new call out, 850 reservists have already been accepted into service. We know of no difficulty at this stage.
§ Lord Vivian
My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many multinational brigades will be deployed with 19 Mechanised Brigade as part of 3rd Division when it takes over from 1st Division in July? Which countries will provide the most forces to man those multinational brigades? Perhaps, before I sit down, the House would also accept my welcome for the return of my noble friend Lord Attlee.
§ Lord Bach
My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, 19 Mechanised Brigade is to take over from forces 199 previously involved in combat operations, starting its task in July but commencing preparations immediately. So far, we have received commitments from seven countries, representing a total multinational contribution to our area of operations of about 5,500 military personnel. It is too early to say what relationship they will have with 19 Mechanised Brigade. The countries involved are Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Romania. A Danish battalion, including a light mechanised platoon, has already arrived in Iraq and is making a valuable contribution.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the most urgent task is to train an effective Iraqi police force? Surely that should have priority over training any possible future Iraqi army.
§ Lord Bach
My Lords, we agree that training an Iraqi police force is critical. Indeed, what we have managed to do up to now in Basra represents a very good start. The noble Lord may have recently seen on television, as I did, a superintendent from the UK police, who is there to train and assist, being interviewed about that. In our area of operations, 5,500 police are already back at work.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
My Lords, can we expect some contribution towards the maintenance and upkeep of a peace-keeping force from those countries that are likely to benefit commercially from the newfound peace in Iraq?