Brit panel: Al Qaida exploited security vacuum in Iraq

Friday, July 30, 2004

LONDON A British parliamentary committee report said Al Qaida has flourished, leading foreign fighters in the insurgency against the U.S.-led coalition due to the failure to restore security in Iraq.

"Iraq has become a battleground for Al Qaida, with appalling consequences for the Iraqi people," the House Foreign Affairs Committee report said. "However, we also conclude that the coalition's failure to bring law and order to parts of Iraq created a vacuum into which criminal elements and militias have stepped."

The 181-page report dismissed the prospect of an effective Iraqi security force in the near term. The report said Iraq's army, police and security forces, plagued by poor pay and declining morale, have been incapable of maintaining order in the country, Middle East Newsline reported.

"We conclude that the Iraqi police and army remain a long way from being able to maintain security," the report said. "We recommend that in its response to this report the government set out what it regards as the minimum and optimum numbers of Iraqi armed forces, police, Civil Defence Corps and border police; what is the timetable envisaged for achieving these numbers; and what is being done to meet that timetable."

The House committee reviewed British efforts to establish Iraq's security force. The efforts included the deployment of 72 British police officers to train Iraqi police in Jordan as well as in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. The Basra facility, which includes 24 British officers, trains 300 Iraqi police officers every three weeks. There are more than 78,000 Iraqi police officers, the report said.

"The UK is also examining more widely what more it could do to support the policing programme in the south," the report said. "International involvement in policing in Iraq is expected to continue in Iraq after the hand-over for some time under the auspices of the multinational force."

Still, the report cited difficulties, particularly in training of the Iraqi military. The House committee quoted a senior British official as saying that the training of the Iraqi army "is going to take considerably longer and that is not a matter of months to achieve that."

The report said the violence in Iraq stemmed from a range of sources. They included members of the former Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Islamic insurgents, criminal gangs and Al Qaida.

"We judge that most attacks in Iraq continue to be carried out by former regime elements," the report said. "But we believe some of the suicide attacks which have caused greatest loss of life have been orchestrated by foreign terrorists. The degree of any association between such people and foreign fighters in Iraq remains unclear, although there may be some limited co-operation."

Entitled "Foreign Policy Aspects of the War Against Terrorism," the report said Al Qaida remains a serious threat to Britain and its interests.

The report raised the prospect that Al Qaida would isolate Britain and the United States and make them the only countries willing to contribute a significant number of troops to Iraq.

"We further recommend that the government encourage states that remain reluctant to commit troops to counter-insurgency operations in Iraq to send forces to assist with the elections," the report said.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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