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The Today Programme Radio 4

Date & time

Saturday, 10th April 2004 0834

Subject / interviewee

Situation in Iraq Ė Geoff Hoon

Prepared by:

Eileen Eldridge

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John Humphrys:  The Coalition has two fights on its hands in Iraq Ė military and now it seems political.  This is not how it was supposed to be a year after the war came to an end.  Even the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw admitted yesterday that things were worse than heíd expected them to be at this stage.  And now the American Secretary of State Colin Powell has said much the same.  He is surprised by the ferocity of the fighting as he put it.  And more foreigners have been kidnapped, another worrying development. 

And another worry for the Coalition is a growing revolt by the political leaders, now beginning to turn on the very people who put them in to power.  These are the people supposed to be running the country at the end of June.  A second Minister has resigned and four members of the Governing Council are threatening to do the same. 

What should this country be doing?  The Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is on the line.  Good morning Mr Hoon.

Geoff Hoon:  Good morning.

JH:  Do you agree with Jack Straw that this is a deeply worrying situation Ė the most serious that youíve faced?

GH:  Well Jack made clear and I heard his interview that he anticipated that there would be good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks and certainly the last few days have been extremely difficult for all those involved.

JH:  So thatís it is it?  A bit up and a bit down.  You donít see it being even remotely more serious than that?

GH:  Overall there is actually steady progress on rebuilding Iraq.  I recognise that part of that must be to sort out the security situation.  Thatís obviously what Coalition forces have been seeking to do in places like Fallujah with the consequences that sadly we have seen.  But bear in mind that over the last twelve months more than eighty per cent of all of the attacks on Coalition forces have come from places like Fallujah.  Not surprising therefore that the Americans need to sort out the security situation, not simply for the benefit of Coalition forces, but for the benefit of Iraqis.  Itís Iraqis who need to take over a peaceful, calm country.

JH:  So youíre entirely behind the Americans in what they did in Fallujah?

GH:  Itís necessary to deal with those who use extreme violence to threaten reconstruction.  Bear in mind again that the majority of those whoíve been killed in recent times have been Iraqis.  Weíve seen these extremists from places like Fallujah threatening Iraqis, killing Iraqis, threatening the ability of the Iraqi people to take over their own country.

JH:  And do you think itíll win the hearts and minds of Iraqi people and indeed Muslims in other parts of the world to bomb mosques and to use helicopter gun ships in urban areas and to kill entirely innocent civilians.  You think thatís going to help?

GH:  Well I think thatís putting it at its most prejudicial (indistinct) ...

JH:  In what sense?

GH:  Well in the sense that the Mayor of Fallujah for example and leading figures from Fallujah have strongly supported what the American forces have been doing.  They have sought to find ways in which not only as weíve most recently seen there could be a ceasefire, but on the condition that those who attack and commit atrocities against not only Coalition forces, but against Iraqis themselves, should lay down their arms and should participate in the reconstruction of their own country

JH:  So you donít believe that those people, and we donít know of course how many people have been killed because the Americans donít keep count, of Iraqis that is, of course they keep count of, of their own casualties, but it could be up to twenty thousand now we believe donít we, civilian casualties in Iraq.  You donít believe that for every one of those killed and the many more who are injured there will be a deep and bitter resentment that will grow as time goes by.  You donít think thatís a possibility.

GH:  I accept that there are consequences when innocent people are killed and thatís something which all military forces do whatever they can to avoid.  But at the same time the overall progress towards the reconstruction of Iraq can not be argued against.

JH:  Well it can actually canít it because only fifty per cent of the population have fresh water now compared with sixty per cent before the occupation began.

GH:  Well there, I mean if weíre going to bandy figures, there are two and a half thousand schools that have been refurbished, eighteen thousand reconstruction projects have provided thousands of jobs.  Weíve had three million Iraqi children under five immunised against preventable diseases.  There are two hundred and forty hospitals around that number fully functioning and something like six hundred primary health care clinics.  So there is real progress ...

JH:  Unemployment, corruption, all the rest of it?

GH:  ... Iíve seen for myself, I, I donít think anyone, even the most critical commentator of the activity of Coalition forces could argue against the fact that in large parts of Iraq the situation is measurably better than it was twelve months ago and it was under Saddam Hussein.

JH:  But you see people will hear you say that and then they look at the television pictures they see and the pictures they see in the newspapers and the reports they get from correspondents, the many, many correspondents in Iraq and they will see a different picture wonít they, theyíll see people celebrating when Americans are killed.  They will see the sort of resentment that is visible.  Theyíll see massive demonstrations by Shias and Sunnis against the Coalition forces and they will wonder quite what picture weíre, theyíre, theyíre getting.

GH:  But again Iíve also seen correspondents pointing their cameras at bustling market places and shops ...

JH:  Well people have to buy food of course.  Yeah.

GH:  ... well no, but, but bustling shops stacked with electrical goods ...

JH:  Oh quite so, people will always make money wonít they?

GH:  Well people, but, but itís not just that, it is a sense of real, tangible progress in the country.

JH:  Is it?  But this is, this is what a lot of people question.  I mean I havenít been there, Iíve spent no time there at all.  I can only go by what I read in the newspapers and hear from other correspondents and there is at best a very mixed picture.  And donít you think itís, there is at least the possibility that if you are as Pollyanna-ish as you seem to be this morning then people will wonder when things go badly wrong why.

GH:  What Iím saying is and I conceded this right at the outset, that we need to get the security situation sorted out.  But that there is real progress in other respects and ...

JH:  But without security you have nothing in a civilised country do you?

GH:  Well I accept that that is key to unlocking economic and other progress I, I accept that entirely which is why I mentioned it first at the start of our conversation.  But what equally is important is that it is necessary to recognise significant political progress, economic progress, the rebuilding and reconstruction of large parts of Iraqís infrastructure.  Now that is going on.  I accept that weíve got to do more to sort out the security situation, but weíre not going to do that by sitting back and allowing extremist terrorists to attack and kill not only Coalition forces, but also Iraqis themselves trying to rebuild their own country.

JH:  Right, so you have no problems with any of the tactics adopted by the American forces, none at all?

GH:  I think itís important as Jack Straw said yesterday that the decisions on the ground by professional soldiers are left to them, that it is not appropriate for me to sit here in the safety and security of the United Kingdom to be commenting on very difficult decisions ...

JH:  No I was asking you a very straight forward question ...

GH:  ... taken by military commanders.

JH:  ... do you have any problems with the tactics and the strategy that has been employed by the American forces.  It isnít at least, correct me if Iím wrong, I didnít realise that the man on the ground decided every action.  I thought politicians ordered them to do certain things.  Arenít politicians meant to be in charge?

GH:  The way in which those decisions are taken is inevitably and necessarily a matter for soldiers on the ground ...

JH:  Really.

GH:  ... whose job it is to carry out the instructions of their political leaders.

JH:  Precisely and are you happy with the instructions their political leaders have been giving them?

GH:  Iím certainly happy that there should be a determined effort to reduce the number of attacks on both Coalition forces and on Iraqis and that is what ...

JH:  That didnít answer my question though did it.

GH:  ... well that is what is at the heart of the situation in Fallujah and elsewhere to the North and West of Baghdad where weíve seen so many vicious, appalling attacks on ordinary Iraqis as well as on Coalition forces.

JH:  Right.  Well let, let me if I may ask you that same question again then.  Are, are you entirely happy with the political direction, letís forget about the soldiers and the Marines on the ground, letís think about the political direction they are being given.  Are you entirely happy with the political direction that they are being given by their political masters in Washington?

GH:  The political direction is clearly designed to lead towards the 30th of June handover where there will be an Iraqi Interim Government.  Weíve seen great progress towards that handover, not least in the co-operation and consensus that was achieved in agreeing the Transitional Administrative Law, a huge achievement, lots of commentators say.

JH:  Indeed I, I, I take that point, you, you make that point.  But youíve still, with respect, not answered that question.  Are  you entirely happy with the political orders being given by Washington the way the insurgency is being dealt with.

GH:  Well I, I was answering the question because ...

JH:  Well Iíd have thought yes or no would have done really.

GH:  ... the direction, well the direction that has been given is to create the conditions that will allow for a peaceful, proper handover to the Interim Government of Iraqis for the people of Iraq on the 30th of June.  We still remain on track to that.

JH:  So the answerís yes is it?  So the answer is yes?  The, the British Government is entirely happy with the way things are being conducted in Iraq as we speak. 

GH:  Well ...

JH:  No problems at all.

GH:  Well I, I have indicated that first of all I donít have to deal on the ground day to day ...

JH:  No I, I, no weíve already agreed that weíre not ...

GH:  ... with the security situation in Iraq.

JH:  ... talking about what this particular Marine does or that particular helicopter pilot does when he fires his missiles, or whatever he does.  Weíre not talking about those because as you say they take their orders from their political masters.  My question to you on behalf of the British Government is whether the British Government is entirely happy with the orders they are being given by their political masters and the strategy that they are adopting in Iraq.  Surely thatís a yes or no isnít it?

GH:  Well I am entirely happy with the progress that is being made towards improving the day to day situation for ordinary Iraqis on the ground so that on the 30th of June there can be a handover to the Iraqi Interim Government and we can continue the kind of overall, political, economic progress that we need to see.

JH:  Well youíve still not given me a yes or no have you?

GH:  Well I think sometimes John questions are, are more complex than a ...

JH:  Ah.

GH:  ... than can be answered by ...

JH:  Right.

GH:  ... a simple yes or no, particularly in the way that you ...

JH:  Well in that case can I, can I make ...

GH:  ... frame your questions.

JH:  Right, well can I make, well phrase it for yourself if you like, but it, it seemed to me to be a very, very simple question.  Is the British Government happy with the way the Americans are handling things in Iraq ...

GH:  Yes ...

JH:  ... it couldnít be more, thatís not a loaded question, thatís a very, very straight forward question.

GH:  No, no, well, well I am perfectly happy to say yes to that question.

JH:  So you have no misgivings about the military approach that is being taken.

GH:  It is necessary to allow military commanders on the ground to take the decisions that they judge to be necessary to deal with in this case security situation in Fallujah, in other parts of Iraq the appropriate challenges to not only the authority of Coalition forces, but to the authority of the Iraqi people.  Weíre not dealing here with a representative movement.  Weíre dealing with a, a relatively small minority of determined extremists who are using extreme violence to kill, to maim, to wound Iraqis.  Not only targeting Coalition forces.  And no one, least of all the Iraqi people wants to see that situation continue.

JH:  Geoff Hoon many thanks.

GH:  Thank you.



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