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MS: Operation Telic

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Mr Speaker,

With leave, I should like to make a statement on Operation Telic: the United Kingdom’s combat operations in Iraq.

British operations in Iraq have been, over the past five years, vital for ensuring the stability of the country. In that time, Iraq formed a democratically elected government, took steps towards reinstating essential services, and established security forces that are currently being trained and deployed across the country.

However, we are certain that now is the right time for preparations for a full transfer of security responsibility to the Iraqi government in the southern region. Though we will continue to provide support, particularly as it relates to training and equipping Iraqi forces, the Iraqi government will transition to being the primary security force in the southern region. We are committed to continuing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support to Iraqi forces in the region to better enable them to conduct security operations.

Mr Speaker, I can report to the House that the Government has issued orders, agreed with the Chief of the Defence Staff and commanding officer of Operation Telic, to reduce the British Army presence in Iraq to 4,000 troops by December 2008.

It is our intention to move forward with further force reductions in the spring. The House will be updated on those matters in due course.

Though Britain is in the process of leaving Iraq, we will not forget those who served alongside British forces in Iraq. To that end, additional civilian personnel from the HM Diplomatic Service and the Home Office will be deployed to Iraq, operating from secured British outposts and diplomatic posts, to process visas and aid in the resettlement of Iraqi interpreters and other key Iraqi personnel who supported our forces during the five years that Operation Telic has been carried out.

Of course, Mr Speaker, we are critically concerned about the threat faced by our forces in Iraq during this drawdown period. To that end, the government is deploying additional unmanned aerial vehicles to Iraq in order to provide intelligence and reconnaissance assistance to British forces in Iraq, as well as additional helicopters to aid in the secure transport of our forces.

Finally, Mr Speaker, in an effort to both protect our forces and create a more stable environment in southern Iraq, I am announcing Project Interceptor: a naval task force assigned to Operation Telic. Led by the HMS York and minesweeping vessels in the Persian Gulf, Project Interceptor will be an interdiction mission designed to stop the transfer of foreign weapons into Iraq via sea routes. To aid in Project Interceptor, the government has approved the deployment of multiple unmanned aerial vehicles to the region, to operate specifically to fill the needs of the Interceptor commanding officer.

Project Interceptor will not be a solely British endeavour. Our American and Polish allies have agreed to commit several units that will be used to carry out inspections on quarantined ships in the port of Umm Qasr.

Mr Speaker, the government remains committed to a more stable, more secure, more prosperous Iraq. We are setting forward measures to achieve that in a targeted manner. The increase in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support will see Iraqi security forces more capable of conducting operations. The deployment of additional transport and surveillance resources will ensure the security of remaining forces. The launch of Project Interceptor will be critical in slowing the flow of weapons into the southern region of Iraq.

These are concrete steps that will ensure that Operation Telic is brought to a close with a credible security force in southern Iraq in place, Mr Speaker. We owe that effort to the brave men and women who have fought under the flag in Iraq. We owe that effort to the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives as part of British combat operations in Iraq.

I ask that the House join me in thanking them for their service and commemorating their sacrifice. We will see it honoured.

I commend this statement to the House.

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