TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE
GIVEN BY THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENCE,
MR GEOFF HOON
AND THE IRAQI MINISTER OF DEFENSE, MR ALI ALAWI
ON TUESDAY, 25 MAY 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my very great pleasure to welcome Dr Ali
Alawi to the United Kingdom. Dr Alawi is currently Iraq's Minister of
Defence, he is also Acting Minister of Trade. We have just come from a
meeting with the Prime Minister. He has demonstrated that he has
considerable command already, despite only a few weeks in office, of the
many problems facing defence in Iraq at the present time. I am
particularly pleased that he has been able to join us today.
Dr Alawi has a broad range of experience, he has worked for several
international banks and finance groups in Washington, Cyprus, and indeed
in the United Kingdom. He has been a consultant for the Arab Fund for
Economic Development, published numerous articles and a book on Islamic
Economic Theory, and is a senior member of St Anthony's College,
Oxford. He was appointed Iraq's Minister of Defence in April and has
since brought his experience and intellect to bear on the complex topic
of security in Iraq. I know that his colleagues within the Iraqi
Governing Council, the Coalition Provisional Authority, have already
been very greatly impressed with his ability to raise and explore new
ideas for meeting the challenges that we all face in the months ahead.
Dr Alawi's visit comes at a particularly crucial time for Iraq. We are
fast approaching the resumption of authority by an Iraqi government on
30 June. Lakhdar Brahimi is pressing forward with his consultations on
an interim body of the United Nations electoral team under Karini
Pirelli. He is forging ahead with plans for an electoral process that
will deliver full elections some time around the turn of the year.
Numerous Iraqi Ministries have been passed to Iraqi control and we are
making strong progress to develop Iraq's indigenous security
capabilities. There are some 130,000 Iraqis now providing security for
their fellow countrymen and women, including the Iraqi police, the Iraqi
Facilities Protection Service, the Civil Defence Corps and the new Iraqi
Army. More are being trained and equipped every day. In less than six
weeks these forces will have the primary responsibility, under the
direction of the Interim Iraqi Government, for providing security to the
Iraqi people. Clearly this is a major task and everyone recognises that
they will need support in doing it. Initially this will need to be on a
large scale, and as Iraqi capability the need for support from the
international community will reduce until Iraqi forces can provide
security for the whole of Iraq. In the meantime the multinational force
will work in partnership with Iraqi forces.
We have always recognised that as we make progress those who are trying
to prevent Iraqis from taking responsibility will grow more vicious and
more desperate. The recent spate of suicide attacks has been
particularly savage and we were all shocked by the murder of the Iraqi
Governing Council President Isadene Salim, who was so widely admired
both in Iraq and abroad. I know that Dr Alawi and his colleagues are
determined that such acts will not prevent the Iraqi people from
achieving the rights they deserve, and I applaud the courage and
determination that he and his colleagues have shown in the face of such
malicious and such appalling violence. A great deal of the
responsibility for combating this violence now lies with Dr Alawi and
his colleagues and I am pleased to be able to offer him our support.
The United Kingdom Ministry of Defence has had the opportunity to work
particularly closely with him for a team that we have seconded to the
Iraqi Ministry of Defence. These Ministry of Defence civil servants are
showing their own expertise to support his efforts in creating a modern
capable department, answerable to an elected government which protects
rather than persecutes its people. Although this does not attract
headlines, it is quiet fruitful partnerships of this kind which will in
the long term be among our most lasting contributions to a stable and
secure Iraq. I am delighted now to hand over to Dr Alawi himself.
Thank you very much Secretary of State. I would just like to add that
the job of the Minister of Defence in Iraq right now is to ensure that
the Ministry itself and the Armed Forces come under civilian control,
and this is an experiment, probably the first of its kind in the Middle
East. It is our intention in the Ministry of Defence to bring all
elements of the organisation of both the Armed Forces and the Ministry
itself under the firm control of civilian administration which would
fall under the aegis of a constitutional order and a constitutionally
elected government. We hope that this experiment will turn into a fact
and we hope that this will be a milestone in the development of the
civilian and democratic institutions of a modern Iraq.
QUESTION (Sky News)
Could I ask you when will you be able to tell us whether or not more
troops are going to be deployed to Iraq, and would you go ahead with
such a deployment given that according to polls like the ICM poll in the
Guardian this morning, it looks as if that would be a deeply unpopular
move. And I wonder if I could ask Dr Alawi your reaction to the damage
to the Amman Ali Shrine in Najaf and how likely that is to inflame
passions in Iraq, and also do you believe that after 30 June things will
suddenly somehow get better almost miraculously overnight?
I think what you are referring to are the shell marks on the dome of the
shrine. Fortunately they are not very extensive, but obviously in a case
where you have a battle going on, stray shells are going to hit. I
don't think that, if seen in the proper context, they would be viewed as
being targeted in particular. I think they were stray shells that went
awry in the middle of a battle. As for the second half of your
question, the June 30 deadline, yes there will be an important shift of
power and sovereignty and this in itself is a very, very powerful
indicator that Iraq is moving along the path of restoring sovereignty to
itself and of ensuring the development of a new constitutional order.
So I welcome it. I think it is a milestone.
Well I am sorry to disappoint you, but the situation remains exactly as
it is and as I have set out on a number of occasions recently. We keep
the requirement for troop levels under constant review, we are in
constant contact with our officer commanding on the ground in southern
Iraq and obviously in the light of his request, his judgment of the
security situation there, we will make appropriate decisions. But we
have not taken any decisions at this stage to send extra troops to Iraq.
Does that mean he hasn't asked for any yet?
It means that we are in regular contact with him, looking and debating
with him about the size of the number of troops that are necessary, and
we simply have not taken any decisions about increasing the numbers at
the present time.
QUESTION (Richard Norton Taylor, Guardian)
Could I ask Dr Alawi if he asked today the Prime Minister or Mr Hoon for
extra British troops to go into new areas into Iraq, and when he would
like them to get there?
No, we haven't discussed this issue at all and we haven't asked for any
additional troops. What we discussed is the training of the Iraqi Army
and the support that the UK can give in that.
QUESTION (Nick Robinson, ITV News)
Dr Alawi, under the new scenario after June 30, we understand that the
Iraqi government will have a veto over the actions of American and
British troops. Could you explain how that would operate in practice?
Do you understand that if there were another Fallujah, or more trouble
in a place like Najaf, that Iraqis would be able to say to American and
British Commanders stop? Could I ask the Secretary of State this,
aren't you being slightly economical with what you are telling us? It
is well known now that there are active discussions about sending more
troops. Why can't you tell the public a little more than you are doing,
even if the final decision hasn't been taken?
I think regarding the detail, you are referring to the draft UN
resolution, and it still is in draft form. But how it will work in
practice is basically an acknowledgement that Iraq is an active and
leading partner and is going to play a part in ensuring that security is
maintained according to its own objectives and its own needs, and this
veto, the particular veto power, I would rather see it as one that
involves consultations and negotiations and reaching joint decisions,
rather than a blocking power.
I think we have been entirely open with you and with the public about
the decisions in the past. Last September for example we sent extra
troops in response to a specific security situation that required an
increase in the number of soldiers on the ground. Should the officer on
the ground in charge say that that situation has arisen, or for example
should he judge, as might be the case in the light of events leading up
to 30 June and indeed beyond as we move towards elections in Iraq that
there is a requirement for extra multinational forces, then obviously we
would respond to that request. Again we have been entirely open about
the longer term implications of that, something that we obviously have
been discussing today as well. We want to see a situation as soon as we
can where Iraqi military forces assume ever greater responsibility for
security on the ground. We want to see police forces effectively able
to deal with the kinds of threats they have to cope with. We recognise
that when those threats involve rocket propelled grenades, mortars,
rockets and the like, that obviously those police forces, security
forces, Iraqi police forces and security forces will require military
support. We have offered to provide that, but at the same time we want
that support to be limited in the sense that we want a situation to
develop as quickly as possible when the Iraqis assume that military
responsibility for containing those severe threats to security.
QUESTION (Jonathan Beale, BBC)
I just wondered if either of you discussed the issue of how long you see
an international force being in place in Iraq. And Dr Alawi, we
understand that the UN resolution would mandate an international force
to be present for a year. Can you envisage a situation where you would
ask for that force to leave?
In terms of the time line for the presence of multinational forces to
help us in establishing security and stability, I think it will be a
question of months rather than years. It will be very unusual I believe
that we would not be able to instil security in the country within the
next year. Beyond that period I think the level of adequate security is
going to be dependent on the rate at which we develop our own
capabilities inside Iraq and this is what we are working on. So the
multinational force, inasmuch as its presence is needed to maintain
security now, will need to be over time replaced by indigenous forces,
by Iraqi forces, and we expect that to happen in the course of the
year. Post that period I think it is a question of what a sovereign
Iraqi government would want to see in terms of the security arrangements
and support and help it may require from the coalition and from its
Dr Alawi, on your own current assessment, how long do you think it will
take you to have an Iraqi security force capable of maintaining order
and security in Iraq independently? And Mr Hoon, is there anything you
wish you would have done differently about Iraq, ie for example the
dissolution of the Iraqi Army?
I think we are talking, as I said before, in terms of months. We are
not really starting from scratch, we are starting with a large number of
officers and soldiers available
from the previous Iraqi army, so we have quite a large recruitment pool.
The question now is training them and ensuring that they are properly
equipped and they are properly commanded, a matter of months I think, so
hopefully before the end of the year, certainly before the elections
that will lead to a new constitutional Assembly we should have the Iraqi
security forces by and large in a position to assume greater
responsibility inside their own country.
Your question implies that there was something called an Iraqi Army the
day that the fighting ended, and frankly so much of that army either had
gone home, because those were people who simply did not want to fight
for Saddam Hussein, or those that did had disappeared and abandoned
their positions, and really what we are working on is a way of
rebuilding that capacity without those who were politically committed to
Saddam Hussein, but recognising that there are professional soldiers
still in Iraq who we would want to recruit and involve in the rebuilding
of the new Iraqi Army, and that is a process that I think we can work on
together and the United Kingdom will offer what help and support we can
give in order to bring that about.
QUESTION (Jonathan Miller, Channel 4 News)
Dr Alawi, what do you make of allegations in Washington that the Iraqi
National Congress has been working for Iranian intelligence? And to add
to that, whose interests, if I may ask, do you think Ahmed Chalabi is
serving in his efforts to not only get rid of Saddam Hussein and lead
the United States to war, has he been working for his own interests, for
American interests, or for Iranian interests?
I think these are allegations and I would just leave them at that.
There is no substantive evidence that has been produced, so I think
these are nothing but just allegations. There has to be a considerable
amount of information and data produced before we can bring this up to
another level. Ahmed Chalabi has been a well known leader of the Iraqi
opposition before the liberation of the country, he was in the forefront
of the fight and struggle against Saddam through the '80s and '90s and I
think it would be incorrect to classify him as a person who worked
against the interests of the country or worked solely for his own
benefit. He has committed a great deal of good in terms of what he has
worked towards and his efforts and the efforts of all others in the
previous Iraqi opposition played a fundamental part in the political
process that led to the overthrowing of this regime. So I would not have
any of these allegations that have been made against him be taken as
fact until substantial evidence is produced.
QUESTION (Muslim News)
There are several United States bases in Iraq and they want to have them
as permanent bases in Iraq. Are you aware of them and do you support
these bases? Would they be there after June 30 or are they going to be
These bases are there to support the existing coalition forces, or the
multinational forces, and Iraq until June 30 operates under Resolution
1483 which gives the occupying powers certain rights and privileges. Any
bases in the country subsequent to that period will have to be
negotiated with a sovereign Iraqi government and they will I am sure
reach a certain conclusion and position depending on how they see Iraq's
national interest to be. Whether that includes or does not include
bases is another issue.
Minister Alawi, did you protest the basic search and investigation in Mr
Chalabi's affairs. As you described him, he is a leader. On whose
orders did these searches and investigations start and did you protest
at this action by the American administration?
The answer to that is yes I did register my strong complaints to the way
it was done, and I registered this complaint at the highest levels of
the civilian administration in Iraq, to Mr Bremer and to the Minister of
the Interior. The way that it was done was unacceptable for a person
who is in the Leadership Council of the Iraqi Governing Council.
(END OF TRANSCRIPT)