of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon:
Three and a half weeks into the military operation in
Iraq, on Day 25, coalition forces have made extraordinary
progress. But I do want to note that it is important
that you realise that the situation varies greatly from
one place to another in Iraq. UK and US forces are demonstrating
impressive adaptability and flexibility in confronting
a range of challenges right across the country. We do
need to recognise that there are a number of different
and distinct lines of military activity. The conflict
is not yet over. US forces are still involved in war
fighting for example in and around Tikrit, they are
now making real progress and have advance into the city.
But in addition the coalition has to deal with significant
pockets of resistance remaining in parts of Baghdad,
and indeed in other towns and cities, where in particular
in Baghdad we believe that the resistance has been led
by foreign suicide bombers. We are having to deal with
criminal elements. The first joint UK/Iraqi police patrols
took place in Basrah over the weekend. It is not surprising
that in cities such as Baghdad and Basrah there are
criminal elements who will seek to take advantage of
the current situation. We have all seen the pictures
of looting. But coalition forces are working with local
people to tackle this.
forces are also distributing humanitarian assistance.
In the longer term the coalition will secure conditions
in which UN agencies and NGOs can operate efficiently.
Some have already begun to set up offices in Umm Qasr
and the first NGO has asked to operate out of Basrah.
our forces are starting reconstruction work, for example
restoring water and power supplies to the Iraqi people
in our area of operations. Now I would like Admiral
Boyce to tell you what he has seen on his very recent
visit to Iraq.
of Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce:
I have just got back from visiting the area in which
the British forces are deployed at the moment, which
is really roughly speaking from the Al Faw Peninsula,
Umm Qasr, up to Al-Amarah and about 50 miles to the
west, so the strip down the eastern part of Iraq. First
of all you wont be surprised to hear that they
are in good heart. They know that they have done a good
job and are quietly pleased about that. And as the Secretary
of State has said, they have been engaged on every part
of the spectrum of conflict, from high intensity warfare
down to looking after the people of Iraq, and I think
a good illustration of that was one particular group
from 7th Armoured Brigade in taking a bridge up in the
north of Basra a couple of weeks or so ago, in their
column, which was about three kilometres long, at the
front end of the column there was a furious tank battle
going on with some really heavy engagement, in the middle
of the column they were setting out vehicle control
points to start bringing order, at the back end of the
column they were handing out humanitarian aid packages,
and so just in that very short space of time and distance
we saw the full attributes of British Armed Forces being
put to the fore.
high intensity I think in our area is unlikely now,
in fact extremely unlikely, although we are going to
continue to find pockets of resistance and we will have
to deal with them as they arise. But actually in the
last couple of days or so we havent had any drive-by
shooting incidents and so forth, so it is looking promising
there, we are able to get on with our aftermath, our
post-conflict operations and get properly engaged in
humanitarian aid and reconstruction and so forth.
main focus really at the moment is to try to get alongside
the Iraqi people because this is a country which has
a sophisticated culture, these are bright people and
they want to get back to running their own lives after
some 25 years or so of the regime that has actually
depressed them and oppressed them. And so there is a
huge willingness amongst the people we are meeting in
Umm Qasr, in Ramalia town, in Amarah, in Basrah and
so forth now to start coming forward, now that they
are less frightened about being taken out by the regime
if they are seen to be volunteering to come along and
be friendly or helpful, they are actually coming forward
and whether they are policemen, whether they are magistrates,
whether they are judges, whether they are oil workers
or whatever, they are coming forward in increasing numbers
every day. So in Umm Qasr for example, we are now getting
that port rapidly up and running, the ro-ro ferry terminal
is now workable, we have taken a couple of ships alongside
there for humanitarian aid from other countries, there
is a UAE ship alongside, more are expected shortly,
we hope to get the grain silo up and running. In the
town itself we have had judges and magistrates come
forward saying they want to start taking order in the
town, and we have the police working there with us.
the Ramalia oilfield I was able to meet some of the
Iraqi engineers, we are issuing them ID cards so they
can actually get back into their facilities and start
restoring the engineering works there so they can get
oil production going. Up in Amarah town we are working
with the Mullahs to try and get an understanding there,
it is actually quite quiet in Amarah, but to make sure
we can actually see where we can help them. And in Basrah
itself, our people are on foot in the town working with
people in all sorts of areas, from restoring power supplies
and water supplies, policing, as the Secretary of State
has mentioned, and really there is a good feel. The
places I was driving through had a comfortable feel
about them. Many of them are now already better off
than they were before we arrived, certainly in terms
of the fear under which they were operating before,
but in many cases also in terms of the utilities. And
the great thing, as I say, is that people on the whole,
in fact more than on the whole, I didnt meet anybody
who was looking angry or cross, everyone was giving
a cheery wave, people come along and talk very easily,
it is a very good feel and I think our people are doing
a good job to restore things, not back to where they
were, but to considerably better than the way they were
when we arrived out there just over three weeks ago.
Could I kick off by asking about the weapons of mass
destruction. How is the search for that going and what
implications would you draw from any failure to find
The search is proceeding obviously as more areas are
liberated, we are getting an increasing amount of information
from local people as to where they think those weapons
might be hidden. Clearly those are being followed up.
But actually the most effective way of securing the
weapons of mass destruction is by speaking to those
from within the regime who have knowledge of their location,
and that obviously is now under way as significant leadership
elements are surrendering or coming over and are talking
to us. Obviously it will take some time to fully analyse
what they have to say, but that work is under way now.
You are sure they are there?
We are absolutely convinced they are there, and not
least because not only did we have the information originally
about the efforts that the regime were making, we also
had a wealth of information about the efforts they were
making in the course of UN inspections to dismantle,
to hide and to deceive the inspectors. So we are absolutely
confident that they are there, but obviously in a very
large country it will take some time to locate them.
The most effective ways of locating them are through
the evidence of those who are actually engaged in these
Admiral, I wonder if I could ask you about the deployment
of British troops, how long you think it is likely to
go on, bearing in mind as I understand it at some point
Britain will hand over the area it controls to the American
ORHA operation. And secondly, is there any chance of
British forces being redeployed against Syria or Iran?
On the first question, we are working in parallel with
the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid
ORHA and I dont see that ORHA will take
over our area as such. When ORHA is set up, it will
be working as part of the ORHA organisation, and very
complementary to it, so I think that we will be in the
area that we are in at the moment for as long as it
takes to make sure that we are satisfied the Iraqi people
have got their country back on its feet. Hopefully that
will be quite a short time, because as I say the people
are very willing, they want to get going, they are sophisticated
and I hope it will not be years and years for example.
We will, however, if things continue as they are at
the moment, we will be able to start reducing our military
effort overall in the region, and indeed as the Secretary
of State made clear to Parliament the other day, we
have already started reducing for example some of our
Naval and air elements, and it is my firm intention
to get people back and reconstitute them just as soon
as I possibly can and as soon as it is sensible to do
so. So we will see a steady trickle of people returning
over the next few months until we have reached some
sort of steady state, the size of force we will require
for if you like a restructuring organisation to help
Iraqi people, and then that may be sustained for some
months after that. But over the next two, or three,
or four months, as I say provided things continue the
way they are at the moment in terms of the whole country
going peaceful, then I would expect to see a declining
number of our people actually out in Iraq.
There are no military plans for operations against Syria
In light of what you have just said, how constructive
are the comments coming from the US administration regarding
We have all had concerns about Syria for quite some
time, that should not come as any great surprise to
anyone here. The Foreign Office and the Ministry of
Defence submitted a Memorandum to Parliament in February
2002 setting out our concerns about Iraq, about North
Korea, about Iran, Libya and Syria, so that will not
be a surprise to you that those concerns are around.
But I think our immediate concern is the risk that some
of those involved in Iraqs weapons of mass destruction
programmes might escape across the border into Syria,
obviously boosting Syrias own efforts in those
directions. That is a concern and that is why it is
right to raise that at this stage, and we are looking
for cooperation from Syria that they will not allow
access across their border, something that I know Mike
OBrien has been discussing with them in the course
of his visit. So we want to maintain a dialogue with
Syria but we do want to set out our continuing concerns.
Given that the regime did not use weapons of mass destruction,
even though it was obviously fighting for its life,
and we have been told endlessly how it has no care for
human life, what conclusions do you draw from that?
It does suggest there wasnt an immediate risk.
And following on from your last remark, do you think
Syria is working towards or has chemical weapons?
As far as their failure to use weapons of mass destruction,
bear in mind that central to the military plan was to
disrupt their command and control communications right
from the outset, and that does appear to have been successful,
denying them the opportunity, particularly in a totalitarian
regime, of the leadership taking that decision and that
appears to have been very successful. As far as Syria
is concerned, I dont think I can really add much
to what I have said already. It has been a concern of
ours for some time, it is a matter of emphasising to
Syria that those are real concerns, as we have done
in the past, but equally to maintain a dialogue with
them so that they can understand just how anxious we
You said boost their efforts
We are certainly concerned that they are trying to develop
a range of weapons that we would have some concerns
about, and I would refer you to the memorandum that
we submitted more than a year ago to parliament.
The Syrian government says they are not developing such
weapons, so is it the position of the British government
that we say the Syrian government is lying about this?
No, I indicated to you that we had submitted a memorandum
about a range of weapons that we were concerned about,
that is not simply based upon weapons of mass destruction,
it is also for example about their means of delivery.
That was something that we have raised with Syria and
we will continue to do so, but we do believe that it
is important to maintain that dialogue with them at
Do we think they are lying then when they say they are
I think it is important not to get into this kind of
game. What we are saying is that we have concerns about
Syria, we are anxious about the efforts that they have
made, certainly in the past, we certainly are anxious
that they should not take advantage of any scientist
or military figure fleeing across the border from Iraq
and that is why it is important to continue to emphasise
this issue at this stage, but we are doing so through
the kinds of conversations that Mike OBrien is
having with elements of the Syrian leadership.
The MOD has been criticised in some quarters for the
way it has treated the families of some of the Servicemen
killed in the Gulf, in particular we have spoken to
the widow of a man who was killed in an accident in
the Gulf, she has been told that she needs to leave
her home in six months time, she has even been asked
to pay back part of his salary, that portion paid to
him after he died. Is that really a way to treat the
widows of people that have laid their lives down for
If that is true that is very disappointing. When issues
have been raised with me, and bear in mind that I have
met a number of families who have lost husbands, or
fathers, or sons in the conflict, I have asked the Ministry
of Defence to treat all of those cases with extreme
sensitivity. So if you want to let me have the specific
details I will certainly ensure that that is looked
at very carefully.
Why did you fail to predict the degree of looting that
we have seen in Basrah and Baghdad. Was this a political
or a military failure, and did you, given the British
experience in Basrah, give the Americans any warnings
before we saw the kind of scenes we did in Baghdad?
I think what is important is to emphasise, what I sought
to do this morning, that there are a range of military
activities taking place simultaneously and in places
like Baghdad sometimes within, as Admiral Boyce indicated,
a few hundred yards of each other where you have people
engaged in, as happened in recent times, high intensity
warfare, but not too far away also trying to deliver
humanitarian aid, and with certainly the risk of suicide
bombers, the risk of snipers, we lost a number of people
to sniping in the very early period of our operations
in Basrah, it is understandable why perhaps the focus
has not been at least at the outset on controlling looting.
But that focus is there now, in Basrah and indeed in
Baghdad a determined effort is being made to restore
law and order, but ultimately, as I sought to emphasise,
the best way of doing that is with cooperation with
local people. I dont know whether, Admiral, you
want to add a bit on your visit to Basrah?
Certainly, to take your first point first, is that it
is neither military incompetence or military oversight
to say that we didnt think there would be looting.
There is going to be looting going on until you can
get people on the street. I am not going to put people
on the street until it is safe to do so, and certainly
in the early days of us taking over Basrah it was certainly
not safe to have people outside their armour, and you
cant take on looters that attack, or if you did
I am sure you would complain even more. But as soon
as we were able to get on the street and get into pose,
we did so. Also by getting alongside the townspeople,
we found a lot of them, the more senior responsible
townspeople, going back to people and we have had loot
returned, being returned, once we have actually got
alongside the elders if you like or the responsible
people. So it doesnt come as a surprise to me
and it will always be the case where you will have bad
behaviour, with the police removed, and you are not
in a position to intervene until it is safe to do so.
Minister, on the removal of the 33 Field Hospital, which
I believe has been sanctioned now, I can understand
there are sound military reasons for doing so, but how
wise is it when there is such an obvious and large humanitarian
crisis in looted hospitals not to offer the services
of that hospital and the people in it to either local
Iraqi people in our area or to the Americans. And for
the Admiral, the FBU may again call strikes this week,
how much are you worried that there may not be enough
I think you have got the questions the wrong way round,
if you will forgive me for doing so.
Let me answer the field hospital question. We are satisfied
that our field hospital capacity in theatre, firstly
is certainly good enough for looking after our own people,
but also with the arrival of some of our coalition friends
in the theatre, we are finding that the hospital facilities
are burgeoning. For example the Spanish arrived in Umm
Qasr, the port we have made safe, a couple of days ago
with a hospital facility both on board their ship, and
also one they can put ashore; the Czechs are offering
something; the Kuwaitis are offering, there is a lot
of hospital capacity being brought in by coalition,
so we felt it was a responsible thing to do to bring
33 back and reconstitute it.
more the bigger picture in the north.
I think about the southern region, but the Americans
are in the process of restoring hospital facilities
in Baghdad, the US Marine Corps are now guarding them
all and now they are able to actually get in there and
do so properly, as I say once again they can get their
feet on the ground, and they will start to reprovision
them very quickly. I would expect to see the hospitals
in Baghdad being regenerated really quite fast, certainly
quicker than it takes to get people down from Baghdad
to 33 Field Hospital.
And certainly I received in my overnight report an indication
there were five hospitals up and running in Basrah and
that there was, that being a superb set of facilities
available, but certainly sufficient for the moment in
and around the city of Basrah.
on the FBU, we obviously would urge them not to take
I think that is a judgment we have to make when and
if they take that decision, but certainly we would hope
they did not take that decision.
Is there any evidence to show what has been suggested,
that the looting was actually ordered by Saddam before
I have not seen any evidence of that at all.
And taking away bathroom sinks and light fittings, this
is pilfering rather than looting in a sense, and I am
sure Saddam wasnt down to saying take away door
knobs, or light switches, or light bulbs, which was
the extent it went.
Is there anything which you have noticed in the last
three weeks to suggest that we may have any weaknesses
or gaps in our military capabilities?
It has been a very good experience in terms of our military
capability because we have been very pleased with the
performance of our equipment. It has proved where we
need to go in the future, so our longer term programmes,
if you like, I suspect we will find when we do our lessons
learnt are vindicated, but the reliability of some of
our equipment, which was much castigated after the exercise
in Saif Sareea, which by the way was an exercise to
find out the very things we need to find out in order
to fight a war properly, such as Challenger tank, the
AS90 artillery, the SA-80 rifle and so forth have all
performed brilliantly, in fact far higher than specifications.
So I am pretty pleased about the way our equipment has
And I am certainly looking forward to seeing all those
of you who wrote articles speculating about how poor
the equipment was, writing similar articles with similar
prominence in your newspapers, saying just how well
it has performed.
Could I ask you both what you think happened to the
thousands of Fedayin and Special Republican Guard and
SSO, the thousands who are said to have melted away.
Did they go with their guns, their weapons, are they
any longer a threat?
Let me start off first of all, and it is the Regular
Army and the Republican Guard as well, as far as their
kit is concerned, I would like it to help our defence
budget, the amount of kit we have actually found in
the field, there are Divisions worth of kit, which is
giving quite a headache to General Brims, our General
Officer Commanding out there, to know what to do with
it all, tank parts and artillery parts and so forth.
So the kit was left. And I think what has happened certainly
to the Republican Army and Republican Guard is they
have just melted away, gone back to their homes, their
farms, whatever, and have just disappeared out of sight.
So far as the more unpleasant species out there, the
Special Republican Guard, the Ba'athist militias, and
the SSO, the Special Security Organisation, they have
either been killed, and we have killed quite a lot of
them, or they have actually left the country in the
spread of all four whims, because they cant stay
in the country because they will be killed by their
own people if they do, so I suspect they are not in
town any more, literally.
Have they gone to Syria?
They could have gone to any country, any way they can
get out, because if they stay around the Iraqi people
themselves will kill them.
What is the decision on the foreign fighters who actually
went to Iraq if they are arrested, will they go to Guantanamo
Bay, will they be tried locally or under British laws?
And this morning the spokeswoman in the Syrian Foreign
Ministry said on Radio 4 that we have no love for Saddam
Hussein and Syria will be a minority country opposing
Saddam during the Iran/Iraq war, while Britain and America
were supplying him with arms. What do you say to that?
As far as anybody who is in plain clothes or civilian
clothes we find fighting, they are taken into our detention
camps and we will sift them there to see whether they
are regular army or uniform type people who have just
taken off their uniform, or whether they are foreign
fighters or whatever, and they will then be investigated
by a special court, a tribunal out there, and then they
are returned to their countries or will be kept under
our jurisdiction until we decide what we are going to
do with them.
As far as the supply of arms are concerned, I saw some
statistics the other day that demonstrated the overwhelming
supplier of arms to Iraq historically had been Russia,
some weapons had been supplied by European countries,
but not including the United Kingdom, and a tiny amount,
I am quoting you the figures, I will make sure that
they are sent to you, but an insignificant amount supplied
by the United States and the United Kingdom, and these
are the amounts of weapons actually supplied and they
are infinitesimal as far as the United Kingdom is concerned.
The major supplier was undoubtedly Russia and the sight
of Russian tanks littering the battlefield, that should
not come as a surprise to you.
What information do you have on Saddam Hussein or his
top officials, and do you have any evidence that they
have actually fled to Syria or other countries are welcoming
them in and helping them?
Well there is a wealth of speculation and a lot of material
is coming out of Iraq as to where he and other leadership
elements might be, and I do not think it is sensible
at this stage to confirm any one or other of those stories.
What is increasingly the case is the area in which they
can operate is very limited and we are now beginning
to see significant figures on the list either surrender,
or in one case given up by the local population, pointing
out where they were located. I think that is a process
that we can anticipate accelerating over the next few
Unless and until we know that they have crossed a border,
then our assumption is that they remain within Iraq.
We have no evidence that they are crossing a border
and indeed as I emphasised earlier, we want to see cooperation
from neighbouring countries to prevent that from happening.
How important is it for the general success of the campaign
that you either kill or capture Saddam Hussein?
It is important. It will not, however, mean that the
military campaign is any less successful if we happen
to fail to do so, because the military campaign, as
I said at the outset, has been extraordinarily successful
in a very short space of time to essentially be able
to control virtually all of Iraq, subject to some pockets
of continuing resistance. But obviously it is important
that we deal with the leadership, that we are able to
bring them to account, and that process is continuing.
I think if I may, Secretary of State, you say that you
cant point to the success, we have had a successful
campaign. There is no regime of the like of Saddam Hussein
in charge of Iraq now, and the best people to go and
find out that from are the Iraqi people themselves,
and you should see the relief in their eyes at having
got rid of this dictator, and then you will know that
this has been a successful campaign.
Are you going to be looking for the Kuwaiti missing
and detainees alongside the WMD? And what is your contribution
going to be in the Amarah meeting tomorrow?
As far as the Kuwaiti missing are concerned, on the
many visits that I have made to Kuwait I have been very
moved by what I have seen from family members in particular,
and it is an important part of the UNs process
to identify the Kuwaiti missing, to search out potential
prisons where they may be held, and also to try and
reassure those family members that every effort is being
made to identify what has happened. As far as the meeting
tomorrow is concerned, as I have indicated previously
and I indicated to parliament, we want to see a number
of such meetings at the local level, regional level,
in order to see emerging local leaders, local figures
who can take responsibility for Iraq and that is our
ultimate ambition for Iraq to be restored to the Iraqi
people. But no one meeting is going to be at this stage
at any rate the decisive one, we have to organise these
meetings in a number of different places and obviously
it depends on the security conditions for us to be able
to do so, but that is a continuing process.
I think you said that the meeting was at Amarah, it
is actually at Talil, near Nasiriyah..
Can you shed any light on weekend reports which were
quite confident and quite detailed that Russian intelligence
had been assisting the Iraqis, possibly the make-up
for those T55s you mentioned, including reporting on
a conversation between the Prime Minister and Prime
Minister Berlusconi. And Admiral, some of your senior
military colleagues have suggested that the British
media has been negative to the point of losing the plot.
You are on the bridge this morning, how does it look
from where you are?
Yes I think they have been, I think they have been very
half empty, quite depressing at times and certainly
lost the plot on a number of occasions.
As far as those intelligence reports are concerned,
one of the things we have said to you before the military
conflict began is that we were increasingly concerned
about high level documents being moved out of Ministry
buildings and placed in the homes of the officials,
and the kinds of reports that I too saw over the weekend
from journalists who had seen the results of people
going into these various private buildings.
Were they the negative journalists?
They were just reporting, and I accept that these kinds
of documents may well turn up in private homes, something
that we did warn you about before the conflict began.
Given the continuing threat posed by suicide bombers
both to coalition forces in Iraq, and also to progress
in the Middle East peace process, is any consideration
being given to dealing with the Hezbollah training camps
in south Lebanon?
We are obviously very disturbed about the number of
so-called foreign fighters that we are locating in Iraq,
and I would appeal to you to bear in mind what impact
that has on the ability of soldiers to go out on patrol.
And whilst we want to see patrolling by soldiers, without
necessarily wearing helmets, without having armoured
vehicles close by them, the impact of the suicide attacks
has been very worrying. We certainly will continue our
efforts with all those countries that are able to do
so, but I think most notably Syria, to put pressure
on those camps and those areas to prevent this flow
from continuing either into Iraq, and we believe that
that flow has now been ended, or indeed into other sovereign
We are not at that stage and we are, as I say, discussing
with Syria the role we believe they can have positively
for reducing this kind of threat.
We have allied troops now in control of almost every
major city in Iraq, Saddams regime has crumbled,
he has disappeared, you have got very little pockets
of resistance still, surely this war is already won
It will not be won until those final pockets of resistance
are resolved, and these are amongst the most fanatical
elements, we have had illustrations sometimes of foreign
fighters simply running at machine gun positions knowing
full well that they will be killed. That kind of fanaticism
is extraordinarily difficult to deal with militarily
and until those final pockets of resistance are dealt
with, I would be reluctant to agree with you.
of Defence is not responsible for the content or availability
of external websites.