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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 December 2005, 11:43 GMT
Jon Sopel interview
Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

On Politics Show, Sunday 04 December 2005, Jon Sopel interviewed:

  • John Reid MP, Defence Secretary

John Reid
John Reid MP, Defence Secretary

Interview with John Reid

JON SOPEL: I'm joined now by John Reid the Defence Secretary who's in Bahrain on his way back from visiting British troops in Iraq.

John Reid, Ronnie Flanagan says policing is a year behind; we've heard from a serving British officer it's a lot worse than that.

DR REID: Yes, I think the problem with anonymous sources Jon is that, you get great exaggerations. Let me deal with this accusation first of all, that we have been overlooking things. It just isn't true.

For instance we have imprisoned, arrested, at least a dozen of the police down there, starting with a Mr Fortusi and others connected with the police, because of the threat to our troops.

Secondly, under pressure from ourselves, the interior minister has just completely dissolved the local overseeing authority in the area because we believe that it is biased. So action is being taken, however, if we get rid of the exaggerated elements of it, it is true that we're trying to help the Iraqis build a democracy and the security forces necessary to do that.

We've having considerable success with the army, it is slower with the police, and there's a greater problem with the police in terms of split loyalties, running from sympathy for the local people, right through to infiltration with the militia, and that is why we are now re-doubling our efforts to make sure that these, these people are rooted out.

That isn't to say that all the police are like that: many of them are courageous, many of them have given their life in Iraq, but some of them are rogues, some of them are corrupt, and some of them have obviously entered with the wrong reasons and they've got to be taken out.

JON SOPEL: You say 'exaggeration'. Why would a serving British officer risk his career to go public with something he is obviously deeply concerned about?

DR REID: Well I don't know because I don't know who the officer is, I don't know what position he's had, and this is the nature with anonymous sources, as I've said to you, that it is difficult to challenge the evidence when it's anonymous, unspecific. All I can tell you is that to accuse, anyone there of bottling out, which I think was the phrase used, is something I don't think the British people recognise about our soldiers there or the attitude they've been taking.

And certainly the evidence of arrests that have been made and the dissolution as I said of the local department of internal affairs, the action that has been taken, and even to the extent of the recovery of our men in very difficult circumstances with scenes that were showing our soldiers down there being attacked and set on fire, I don't think those are the pictures that denote or depict anyone bottling out. That is not to say there's not a problem. There is a problem and if we tackle that problem head on, it is the fact that in the police, more so than in the army, there appears to be infiltration from some militia groups.

It isn't widespread, it isn't the majority, but it is debilitating, it is wrong, and there's no place for it in the new Iraq, and that's what I made plain to the Minister for the Interior when I met them here in Iraq two days ago.

JON SOPEL: Well, let me put another assessment to you of the scale of the problem. This from the Head of Police in Basra - General Hassan al-Sade. He said in an interview: "I trust 25% of my force, no more, the militias are the real power in Basra and they are made up of criminals and bad people"

DR REID: No, it is not my estimate and Ronnie Flanagan has been sent there to try and find out first of all what the situation on the ground truly is, as objectively as we can. And secondly, what we should do to increase the effectiveness and neutrality of the police. Let me make absolutely plain here that the vast majority of Iraqi security forces, are courageous and they are doing a very good job.

Only yesterday, eleven of the Iraqi security forces, the army, were actually killed fighting terrorists, some were killed last week as well, that is something that wouldn't have happened last year so there is a determination and a resolve among them. However, it would be amazing if were to come out the position of the decades of conflict in Iraq, which we've seen under Saddam Hussein, and not have these sort of problems.

I would merely remind you that entirely different circumstances, but it shows how difficult these things are - we are almost ten years on from the beginnings of the Good Friday Agreement, and we don't even have acceptance in Northern Ireland from the whole community about policing there. So, in a much different situation with much more difficult problems in Iraq, it would be surprising if we were able to accomplish this overnight, but we are steadily making things better.

JON SOPEL: Well, let me put another quote to you - and see if you think this is exaggerated. "We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated.

A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations. These were the precise reasons we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things." That's from Iyad Allawui the former Prime Minister.

DR REID: Indeed, and two days ago I met with the interior minister and made absolutely plain that it is completely intolerable that any incidents of this nature happen.

Some incidents are still happening, when they do, they're just as bad as when they happened at any other time in Iraqi's past. However, let me point out what is different: when they happened under Saddam, these incidents were covered up, now they're exposed. When they happened under Saddam, the people who did it were promoted, now they will be prosecuted.

When they happened under Saddam it was systemic, people were honoured when they did things like this, now they are disgraced. So I'm not suggesting that we have changed everything in Iraq over night, but when it comes to human rights and the treatment of prisoners, when these things happen now, they will be exposed, they will be disgraced, the people involved and they will be sacked.

JON SOPEL: Ronnie Flanagan says you're not going to get a British style police force - what does he mean by that?

DR REID: Well what it means is that you have people in Iraq who have been murdered, gassed, mutilated in the hundreds of thousands over the last twenty, thirty years under Saddam Hussein.

You don't go from that to a society where the bobby on the beat just can walk about the way he would do in central London. We have terrorists, trying to do the opposite of what the Iraqis themselves are trying to do. They're trying to build a democracy, build up the security forces to defend it and start their economic and civil development.

The terrorists are trying to destroy all three. In that context of the legacy and the present fight against terrorism, it isn't possible just to have bobbies, the way you would do in the rural countryside in Scotland and England. Indeed, we had similar situation ten, twenty years ago, in Northern Ireland, where terrorists are there, the policing is different.

JON SOPEL: So, in other words, policing with rougher edges?

DR REID: Well absolutely, if, if you're fighting terrorists as well as trying to carry out the normal policing roles, the nature of the policing that you need is different.

What should be, however, the same as in normal policing is that the neutrality of the police, their observance of human rights, the way in which they treat all peoples in a country, should be exactly the same where ever you're fighting, whether it's against terrorists or against crime, and that is what we're trying to inculcate, that's what we're trying to help the Iraqis to do.

But given the legacy they've had, given the current fight against terrorism, it isn't going to happen over night, but we are now training, there are over hundred people there helping the Iraqis to train, not just in the normal skills of policing but also in what has been absent for decades in Iraq, and that is the idea that the police force should be neutral and serve the whole community and that is precisely why we've asked Ronnie Flanigan to go there. So, on all three areas, in democracy, the Iraqis are learning and learning fast. They had a bigger turn out in the referendum than we had in the General Election.

On building up the security forces, we now have two hundred and ten thousand of them, well trained, capable of taking part now in 75% of our operations. In the policing, it is slower: the majority of police are now acting on behalf of the whole community, but there is a corrupt minority, including some of the militia, who have to be rooted out. So there is a good way to go yet, but progress has been made.

JON SOPEL: Let's have a best case scenario, if Sir Ronnie gives a favourable, upbeat report, does that mean British troops come home more quickly?

DR REID: Well the truth of the matter is that the more capable the Iraqis become, in the army, in the democracy, on the policing, in defending that democracy, then the quicker the hand-over comes. We are not there indefinitely; we're not there for our own selfish reasons.

We are there because the Iraqis and indeed the United Nations, want us there to defend Iraqi democracy as it develops, but as soon as their own security forces and the quicker their police and army can be trained, capable and neutral, the sooner the Iraqis will say to us, thus far, no further, we no longer have a need for you, and we will not stay any longer than we wanted and needed.

JON SOPEL: By next Christmas?

DR REID: I'm not giving a timetable because that would be you know a big signal to give to the terrorists. But what I have said is that I think that in the course of next year, we should be able to begin the process of handing over the control of security to the local Iraqi authorities, and to the local army and to the security forces in general. It won't be a one-off event.

It won't all be finished by the end of next year, but I think that the progress that I've seen here in the last couple of days when I was in Iraq, is sufficient to lead me to believe that we can begin that handover in some parts of Iraq, where we are at present in charge, in the course of next year.

End of interview

NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

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