The full text of Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon's statement to the Commons on Thursday over the redeployment of 850 British troops from southern Iraq to the centre of the country:
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon announced the troop movement to the Commons
"Mr Speaker, with permission I would like to make a further statement about the deployment of UK forces in Iraq.
On Monday I explained to the House that the UK military had received, and was evaluating, a request from the US military command in Iraq for assistance that would involve UK land forces operating outside the MND (South East) area, in support of a combined Iraqi/US force.
A reconnaissance team from MND (South East) deployed to the area in question earlier this week and have now reported back to the Chiefs of Staff.
The team provided information on a number of issues including logistics, the length of the potential operation, the likely tasks, activity levels in the area, the force levels required, and the command and control arrangements.
After careful evaluation, the Chiefs of Staff have advised me that UK forces are able to undertake the proposed operation, that there is a compelling military operational justification for doing so and that it entails a militarily acceptable level of risk for UK forces.
Based on this military advice, the Government has decided that we should accept the US request for assistance.
I emphasize again that this was a military request, and has been considered and accepted on operational grounds after a thorough military evaluation by the Chiefs of Staff.
As I said on Monday, and as the Prime Minister said yesterday to the House, this deployment is a vital part of the process of creating the right conditions for the Iraqi elections to take place in January.
The Black Watch is on its second tour in Iraq
We share with the Iraqi Interim Government and with our coalition partners a common goal of creating a secure and stable Iraq, where men, women and children in towns like Falluja can feel safe from foreign terrorists, from the kidnappers who murdered Ken Bigley and from other criminals.
Crucially, Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi and the Interim Iraqi Government want to establish sufficient security for elections to take place in January.
Recent successful operations by Iraqi Security Forces and coalition forces in Tal Afar, Samarra and the outskirts of Falluja have been undertaken, to restore areas under the control of militants and terrorists to the authority of the Iraqi Interim Government.
As a direct result the political process is now moving ahead.
We cannot consider the current UK area of responsibility in isolation. What goes on in the rest of Iraq affects southern Iraq and affects UK troops wherever they are based. We must therefore consider our contribution in the context of the overall security situation right across Iraq.
This means that a UK armoured battlegroup consisting of the 1st Battalion The Black Watch and supporting units will deploy to an area within MNF(West) to relieve a US unit for other tasks.
They will be deploying with the necessary combat support services such as medics, signallers and engineers resulting in a total deployment of around 850 personnel. This deployment will be for a limited and specified period of time, lasting weeks rather than months.
I cannot give the House further details about the location, duration or specifics of the mission. Honourable members on all sides will understand that to do so would risk the operational security of the mission and potentially the safety of our forces.
The speculation from many quarters so far has not been helpful. Can I also emphasise that there are no plans to send a further 1,300 troops to Iraq as suggested this morning.
There have been concerns about UK forces coming under US Command and about their rules of engagement. The arrangements for this deployment are that the force will remain under the operational command of General Rollo, the UK General Officer Commanding MND(SE).
On a day to day basis the Black Watch will of course have to coordinate their activity with the US chain of command in the locality, but any changes in the mission or the tasking would have to be referred back to General Rollo.
As with all UK operations, our forces will operate at all times under UK rules of engagement. These will provide proper protection for our forces, as they have throughout our operations in MND(SE).
Most British soldiers are currently based in southern Iraq
It is not unusual for UK and US forces to work alongside each other - they have successfully done so not only in Iraq with US forces often providing logistical support for our own forces and therefore reducing the number of troops and assets we need in theatre, but in operations all over the world.
Indeed, in Bosnia, about 22,000 US troops operated under UK command. As I said in my statement on Monday, UK forces in Iraq work alongside forces from Italy, Denmark, Poland, the Netherlands, Japan and others on a daily basis.
This is an effective and practical way of ensuring coherence both in our own area and with those that surround it.
There has also been speculation as to why there is a need for this UK force to backfill for a US unit, when there are around 130,000 US troops in Iraq.
The armoured battlegroup that will deploy brings important qualities of extensive training, experience, and hard-edge combat capability.
It is not the case, as is often implied, that there are 130,000 US troops that could take on this task.
In fact, fewer than a third of US forces in Iraq have the requisite combat capability, and of those even fewer have the armoured capability that is needed.
These specialised armoured forces are already highly committed across Iraq - a country similar in size to France.
The Chiefs of Staff have further concluded therefore that the provision of a UK battlegroup to this new mission would be a significant contribution to and would materially increase the effect of the continuing operations to maintain pressure on the terrorists before the January elections.
Honourable members on Monday raised the question of whether this deployment would leave sufficient forces to deal with contingencies in our own area of responsibility in the south.
The roulement of British Forces currently underway includes an armoured infantry battlegroup of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards with their own Warrior armoured vehicles who will fulfil the divisional reserve role currently undertaken by the Black Watch.
This will result in General Rollo temporarily having an extra armoured battlegroup under his command which will provide a very robust force capable of dealing with contingencies.
It is also worth remembering that the other UK forces in MND(South East) will continue to carry out their tasks in the professional and effective manner which has become so apparent to the people of Basra and the surrounding area.
Restoring power, water and basic facilities and supporting the Iraqi authorities in ensuring a robust level of security.
This deployment is limited in scope, time, and space. It does not represent a significant permanent additional commitment of forces.
The overall trend in the numbers of our deployment in Iraq remains down, from the peak of 46,000 during the warfighting phase to around 8,500 today.
This overall downward trend is expected to continue as we continue to train Iraqi Security Forces to take over from UK forces - as has happened for example in Al -Amarah in Maysan Province.
The Government remains totally committed in its support of the interim Iraqi government and the need to hold free elections in January.
We also remain committed to protecting innocent Iraqis, to dealing with terrorists, kidnappers and criminals, to training and equipping Iraqi forces so that they can take our place providing security and to seeing a democratic government in Iraq that takes its rightful place in the international community.
A government that delivers prosperity and a secure future for the Iraqi people. This is something that should unite all sides of the House.
It is right that the United Kingdom should contribute to these objectives. And the deployment of the Black Watch will emphasise to the Iraqi people that the UK will continue to contribute to the coalition to see the task through."