More troops could be sent to Iraq, says Straw

Click to follow
The Independent Online

British forces in Iraq could be reinforced to improve security in the country, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw indicated today.

British forces in Iraq could be reinforced to improve security in the country, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw indicated today.

Mr Straw acknowledged that British forces are likely to be in Iraq for "at least for a couple of years", adding "it could be longer".

And Mr Straw said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "In terms of the troop numbers, the troop numbers are kept under review, the Prime Minister made this clear yesterday in the House of Commons.

"And if there is a need for more troops to be sent, then I'm quite sure that my colleague Geoff Hoon (Defence Secretary) will arrange for that to happen.

"I don't think there are political objections to sending more troops if that is what is needed on the ground."

Mr Straw told the programme: "The situation is difficult. What happened yesterday in Basra was very serious.

"What we are doing in this period of nine weeks leading up to the transfer of power on June 30 is everything we can to make better the security situation, and get the political processes going.

"And we are aiming for a (UN) Security Council resolution, on which I think there will be an emerging consensus, probably sometime next month."

Mr Straw argued that June 30 would be a "seminal" moment, when legal authority would move from the occupying forces to the transitional government, representing the Iraqi people.

Mr Straw said he was confident that the new government would not ask for the removal of coalition forces, as they know that those forces "are critical to maintaining security".

The Foreign Secretary acknowledged that insurgents and terrorists were unlikely to cease their attacks after June 30.

"If you are saying to me there are still likely to be some insurgents and terrorists who are determined to disrupt whoever is in charge in Iraq, yes, you will be right about that.

"But my own judgment is that these people are desperate to prevent a handover of power because they don't wish Iraq to be in the hands of the Iraqi people.

"They do not wish, also, there to be the beginnings of a democratic and representative government in Iraq which could be a beacon not only for the Iraqi people but also people in the wider Arab world."

The Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said he hoped the handover of power in Iraq would go ahead on time.

He told Sky News: "Let's hope so. It's most important that we try to stick to that timetable because if we give off signs now, for all the obvious, tragic reasons we have witnessed in the past few days, that this might slip, an awful lot moderate native Iraqi opinion will begin to say 'these people are here to stay and that's not what we want'."

He said most Iraqi people wanted to lead normal lives but "they don't want an occupying force outside their front door".

Mr Straw's comments come after the commander of British troops in Basra said he did not need reinforcements.

Brigadier Nick Carter told Channel 4 News last night that extra troops would only "get in the way" as the aim now was for Iraqis to take the lead.