“Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): There is no prouder body of men and women than the British Army. What is it supposed to do for their morale when they read the unfair and uncomplimentary remarks about allowing the Americans to do our dirty work for us in the recent operation in Basra in Iraq? Would it not be better for their morale either to let them get stuck in or to get them out of that country, rather than chain them up in the airport against all the traditions of the fighting British Army?
Mr. Ainsworth: From the discussions I have had with our armed forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, broadly speaking they ignore what they read in the media and they know what the facts are. The fact with regard to Basra is that our forces are involved in a very similar way to the American forces. The American forces came down to Basra with the additional Iraqi forces. Our own forces are in Basra assisting the Iraqi 14th Division, which they helped to give the capability that it is now showing in its success in Basra town. Although we should not overstate our own role, the Iraqis would not be capable of doing what they are now doing in Basra if it had not, in part, been for the contribution that the British forces have made and continue to make. We should not run them down just because the press do.”
As usual with this Government, the minister’s answer sidesteps my point. Of course our soldiers have helped train and support the Iraqi army, and have done the excellent job we would expect of them. But to claim that we are involved ‘in a very similar way’ to the Americans does not stand up. For several months our troops have been semi-prisoners in the fortified airport while the Shiite militias make mayhem on the streets. And I rather take exception to the minister’s implication that I was running our forces down. In fact I was standing up for them. It may be they ignore what they read in the press when it is often so depressing, but it could not do them any harm to have more encouraging headlines. But the press are not in the habit of ‘running them down’; they are simply reporting the effects of our Government’s defence policy.