Hoon sends 370 new troops to Iraq

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The Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon today announced a further 370 British troops are to be sent to Iraq.

The Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon today announced a further 370 British troops are to be sent to Iraq.

He said the 1st Battalion the Black Watch, trained in operating out of Warrior personnel carriers, would replace the 1 Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who were due to return to the UK.

That would mean a net increase of 200 troops, responding to the "continuing threat from violent groups in the area around Al Amarah", Mr Hoon told MPs in a Commons statement.

In addition, after mortar and rocket attacks targeted at British forces around Al Amarah, 69 Squadron from 36 Regiment Royal Engineers - 170 troops - will be sent to Iraq.

Mr Hoon said they would "carry out force protection work, including the construction of additional physical defences in British bases to reduce the threat posed by the kind of attacks we have seen in recent weeks".

The Defence Secretary said the changes were being made at the request of the General Officer Commanding British forces in the region around Basra, Major General Andrew Stewart.

The Defence Secretary said the issue of whether to send a significant number of extra troops to Iraq remained open.

Mr Hoon told MPs: "It remains the case that we, with our coalition partners, are considering the levels and disposition of forces required in Iraq in the months ahead, to support the sovereign interim government of Iraq through the process leading to the election of a transitional assembly and government early in 2005.

"If we judge that further changes to the UK military contribution in Iraq would be appropriate to support this process, we will of course inform the House at the earliest opportunity.

"At present, however, no such decision has been made."

The Defence Secretary said two existing "surge" battalions, the 1st Battalion The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the 1st Battalion The Royal Highland Fusiliers, had made "excellent progress" in working with local Iraqis to build up their capability.

He said it was "unlikely" that two battalions would be needed to perform that role beyond the summer.

But he added 40 Commando Royal Marines had been put on short notice to move to Iraq if needed to replace the existing forces "as a sensible precaution".