The main story on page one of this morning’s Times alleges a "Secret deal kept Army out of battle for Basra".

"Outrageous" is the word Liam Fox uses within a letter that he has just sent to his opposite number, Defence Secretary Des Browne.

The letter seeks clarification of whether British intelligence did strike such a deal.  The full text is pasted below.

If true, it is another humiliation for the British military.  Our troops have fought bravely throughout the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan but their political direction has been consistently poor.  Basra was dominated by criminal groups when Britain retreated and it took the Iraqi armed forces – backed up by US troops – to start to turn that situation around (and here) in what was called Operation Charge of the Knights.  The humiliation is doubly depressing if  our absence from that Operation wasn’t for strategic reasons but because of a shoddy deal with Iranian backed terrorists.  When will civilised nations learn that dealing with terrorists only invites more terrorism for the future?


"Rt Hon Des Browne MP
Secretary of State for Defence
Ministry of Defence
Floor 5, Zone B, Main Building
Whitehall, London

5 August 2008

"Dear Des,

I am writing to seek information regarding the claim in today’s Times (5 August 2008, “Secret deal kept British Army out of battle for Basra”, p. 1) that British Forces operating in Basra made an agreement with an Iranian backed Shia militia which delayed and limited the involvement of British Forces participating in Operation Charge of the Knights. If there was no agreement made could you please explain why it took several days before British Forces were allowed to enter the city?

We learned last spring that British Forces were only given less than 48 hours notice to prepare and coordinate for the Iraqi offensive. You told the House in your Oral Statement on Iraq that British Forces “deployed elements of one of our three battlegroups, using tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery to provide in extremis support to Iraqi units in combat on the ground” (1 April 2008, Official Document, Column 630w).  Yet, 48 hours seems to be hardly enough time for British Forces to coordinate a supporting mission of this scale for the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).

According to a MoD spokesman in today’s Times, we learn that in the first few days of the operation the only military support provided by British Forces to the ISF was Tornado ground -attack aircraft. Is this true, and if so, what were the reasons?

Finally, I was wondering if you could clarify one more point. The article in the Times suggested that British Forces were not allowed to enter Basra without first receiving your approval. Is this claim true? If it is true could you please explain to me what the advantages are to having such a restrictive hold over tactical decisions on the ground that would generally be reserved for—at least— general officers in theatre?  Did this decision have an impact on Britain’s ability to respond in a timely manner?

It would be outrageous if the Government made a deal with an Iranian supported militia which prevented British Forces from carrying out their responsibilities to the Iraqi people.  It would be equally unacceptable if we were unwilling to risk British casualties for purely political purposes.  I hope you agree.

I look forward to your response."


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