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Saddam Hussein's time is running out says Hoon

Saddam Hussein's time is running
out says Hoon

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has said the most important task within the Iraq campaign objectives is to deny Iraq use of its Weapons of Mass Destruction. Coalition efforts have centred on disabling command and control facilities through which the Iraqi regime would order the use of such weapons.

Addressing journalists at a news briefing, Mr Hoon said that Iraqi armed forces are motivated by either fear of hatred. 'The contrast between the tactics of the coalition and those directed by the Iraqi regime could not be greater', he said.

Mr Hoon called the TV pictures released by the Iraqi regime of what is claimed to be UK dead 'a flagrant and sickening breach of the Geneva Convention'. He added that this was typical behaviour of Saddam Hussein and his regime.

He said he believes that the images are of two servicemen who up to now have been listed as being missing. He said:

"On behalf of the Government, I offer my condolences to the families and friends of these two servicemen, who died in the service of their country."

Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, also spoke at the event.

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Read a transcript of the news briefing in full below:

MR HOON:

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, could I apologise for keeping you waiting if I have done so. I want first of all to say something about the appalling television pictures which the Iraqi regime have released to the media of what is claimed to be dead from the United Kingdom. This is a flagrant and sickening breach of the Geneva Convention. Sadly this is typical behaviour of Saddam Hussein and his regime. We have yet to be able to undertake a formal identification, but I do regret to say that we do believe that the pictures are of two of our Servicemen who up to now have been listed as being missing. Next of kin have now been informed. On behalf of the government I offer my condolences to the families and friends of these two Servicemen who died in the service of their country.

With each new conflict, media reporting benefits from the latest technological developments. Over the past week I have been struck not only by the speed of communication from theatre to our television screens, but by the concentration on frontline activity and specific incidents. That is why at events like these I believe it is useful to set out the wider context. There is quite properly great interest in what is happening at the frontline, but this can mean that many of the specialist tasks in which our Servicemen and Servicewomen are engaged are ignored, in favour of the apparently most dramatic events. Admiral Boyce will speak in a moment about the work of these members of the Armed Forces who do not take part directly in combat operations, but who provide vital support.

But the focus on individual incidents also detracts from an understanding of the bigger picture. That is why in recent Parliamentary statements I have been speaking about the obvious progress which the coalition has made in the context of the military campaign objectives which we published as a government at the start of the conflict.

Coalition forces are making good progress in overcoming the resistance of the Iraqi security forces with great courage and great resilience. The contrast between the tactics of the coalition and those directed by the Iraqi regime could not be greater - the coalition, whose Armed Forces are made up of men and women who made a free choice to serve their country; the Iraqi regime, whose security forces are motivated either by fear or by hatred. Whereas the coalition makes strenuous efforts to employ the minimum use of force, the Iraqi regime places no such limits on its security forces. Contrast the coalition's careful targeting and the use of precision guided missiles designed to minimise the risk of civilian casualties with the indiscriminate military action which is the hallmark of the Iraqi regime. There have been reports for example of some of the regime's irregular forces deliberately targeting civilians in their own towns and cities.

Likewise whilst the coalition acts in accordance with the Geneva Convention, the Iraqi regime parades coalition prisoners of war on Iraqi state television, in direct violation of Iraq's obligations under the Convention.

Our most important task within the campaign objectives is to deny Iraq use of its weapons of mass destruction. Coalition efforts have centred on disabling command and control facilities, through which the Iraqi regime would order the use of such weapons. In contrast, we do have evidence that the Iraqi regime is prepared to use weapons of mass destruction. We already know from Iraqi prisoners of war that protective equipment was issued to southern Iraqi divisions. British forces have made significant discoveries in recent days which show categorically that Iraqi troops are prepared for the use of such horrific weapons.

Admiral Boyce will expand on these finds in a few moments, but I want to make it clear that any Iraqi Commander who sanctions the use of weapons of mass destruction, which is a war crime, will be held personally responsible for his action.

Ultimately it will be the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime that will guarantee disarmament, and so this is a key objective of the military campaign. To achieve this we have been seeking to isolate the regime at all levels in every part of Iraq, primarily by the use of precision attacks.

I do want to deal with allegations about the explosions at the Baghdad market place. We have all seen reports of 15 fatalities. The coalition has made clear that we did not target the market place, and subsequently the United States has said that there was no conclusive evidence that the coalition was responsible. Although investigations continue into this tragic incident, it could clearly have been caused by fall-out from the regime's anti-aircraft fire, or indeed from the failure of one of Iraq's own missiles.

In stark contrast, Saddam Hussein has regularly claimed we have killed civilians, or destroyed civilian infrastructure in the past, only for those claims to be shown to be entirely false. For example a few weeks ago Saddam Hussein claimed 6 civilians were killed and 15 were injured on an alleged coalition raid on Basra. There were in fact no civilian casualties resulting from our actions in the No Fly Zones at that time.

The coalition recognises its responsibilities to the Iraqi people. During and immediately after conflict, our responsibilities will include the provision of humanitarian assistance, organising basic services and establishing a secure and safe environment inside Iraq. Compare that to the regime, which has allowed a grave humanitarian crisis to develop over many years. Saddam Hussein's rule has been disastrous for the people of Iraq, with 60% of the population dependent on the United Nations' oil for food programme, and more than half the population in rural areas without access to safe drinking water. We have always known that we would face humanitarian difficulties when conducting operations in Iraq, and we have certainly planned and prepared for this. Saddam Hussein's disregard for the Iraqi people's economic wellbeing was shown in his intention to undertake a scorched earth policy, setting light to the oilwells which embody the economic future of Iraq and its people. This has been prevented through the prompt action of coalition forces.

This campaign is only in its eighth day. We all wish to see a speedy end to conflict. The campaign is going to plan. We are, with our coalition partners, involved in a deliberate and cautious endeavour. We will not stop until Saddam Hussein and his appalling regime has fallen from power and weapons of mass destruction dismantled. But we have time to see this through. Saddam Hussein's time is running out.

ADMIRAL BOYCE:

Ladies and Gentlemen, before I give you some detail of some of the elements of our ongoing campaign, I would first of all like to echo the words of the Secretary of State and send my personal condolences on behalf of the Armed Forces to the families of personnel who have lost their lives in recent engagements.

You will have heard earlier on this morning, if you have been watching it, some of the details of the unfolding campaign by Air Marshal Brian Burridge who is our National Contingent Component Commander out in Qatar, and I don't intend to cover all the ground that he did then. But I would say at the moment that the military plan and the coalition campaign is being conducted well within expected parameters.

The poor weather that they have been experiencing out there in Iraq over the last couple of days, the reduced visibility, now has been clearing. But the slowdown that it caused has allowed our combat power close to Baghdad and Basra, that is to say the armour, the infantry and the vital sustained logistics, it has allowed them some sphere of consolidation and recuperation.

The air campaign is continuing apace with the Royal Air Force flying around 100 sorties a day, and they have successfully attacked and destroyed targets, ranging from regime headquarters to Iraqi forces in the field, and they have knocked out numerous tanks. And in addition, our helicopters have also been supporting our forces throughout the United Kingdom area of operations.

I thought what I would like to do now is just to give you a little more detail on one or two of the operations we have been involved in, to give you an example of how extremely well our people are performing right across the board. Let me start with one example. A couple of days ago in the early hours of the morning, Iraqi forces, including tanks and personnel, moved south-east from Basra towards 3 Commando Brigade on the al-Faw Peninsular. Now 3 Commando Brigade is not fitted with tanks of its own, but the brigade co-ordinated and deployed a combination of Milan anti-tank missiles and hand-held anti-tank weapons to engage the enemy forces, and they managed to stop a number of the tanks. But it soon became apparent that the threat was more significant than at first thought, and so they requested assistance from coalition aircraft which provided close air support to our forces on the ground. And with the fire power from this support, combined with that of armed helicopters and artillery, the enemy tanks were halted, and in fact the 3 Commando Brigade have now confirmed that a total of 19 enemy T55 tanks were destroyed.

Another small example of some action going on, because at about the same time as this was happening, to the north of 3 Commando Brigade in al-Zubayr, there had been a number of attacks going on against our forces, and 7th Armoured Brigade identified a compound in the south of the town, and this contained a number of buildings, including a Baath Party headquarters which they were able to destroy in concert with Air Forces. They have now sealed the town and are keeping up the pressure on it.

And most recently I can tell you that earlier on this morning a squadron of 14 Challenger 2 Tanks of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards were heading south towards the al-Faw Peninsular to go and reinforce 3 Commando Brigade, and they came across 14 Iraqi T55 tanks. The Scots Dragoon Guard squadron engaged the Iraqi tanks whilst on the move and destroyed all 14, and none of our Challengers was damaged, and our Guards then pressed on and overran two associated Iraqi infantry positions.

More generally we are consolidating our position around Basra, and also in the Ramalia oil ields, and we now have got civilian contractors at work under our protection to restore the oilfields to normal working, and 3 of the 9 oil fires have now been extinguished, somewhat quicker than certainly I expected. That is really good news.

On another aspect of how we are doing our business, we are working hard to gain the confidence of the local people. Of course we have got lots of experience in this sort of field of winning the trust of local populations and giving them back confidence to return to some sort of sense of normality, and our efforts here at the moment are focused on Umm Qasr and Ramallah town.

Meanwhile, as we work the area, we are finding out about some other things as well. The use of chemical and biological weapons against our forces has always been one of our chief concerns, we certainly know that Saddam Hussein possesses such a capability and that his army is not shy of using them. We certainly remember the terrible results of their use in the past, and making sure that the regime does not get the opportunity to deploy these weapons has been a high priority in our planning and target selection over the last few days. What has not been clear to us is just how ready to use the WMD the regime has been. However, as the Secretary of State has indicated, our forces have made some significant discoveries in the past few days.

A short bit of film that I would like to show you now shows soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment, currently in the Ramalia oilfields, searching a recently deserted Iraqi command position. The soldiers who fled this post left in a hurry, and they left not only their equipment but also paperwork and other equipment which is now being examined by our intelligence staffs. There were numerous chemical weapons protection suits and respirators left behind, and this kit was effective, well cared for and in good working order. Now we have to ask ourselves why Iraqi commanders felt that infantry in this part of Iraq should be issued with weapons of mass destruction equipment and protection. For various reasons of security, I can't tell you exactly where this find was made, other than that it was within the oilfields. But I can tell you that we estimate that there were upwards of some 100 suits across the site, along with other related equipment, and as I say we will be analysing all this very carefully over the coming days.

But it is not just the use of weapons of mass destruction which marks out this regime. On the battlefield, our forces have already been engaged in trying to clean up and make safe parts of the country we control, not just for our forces but more importantly for the innocent Iraqis who actually live there. A particular hazard we are coming across are anti-personnel mines which we are finding scattered across the whole battle space. We have teams of our explosive ordnance disposal experts setting about the long task of clearing these things, and we are also finding larger anti-tank mines laid in patterns alongside the civilian road, and I have an example here. Obviously a painstaking task and quite a dangerous one as well, and when they are found by poking your device into the ground with a long stick, the mine is then counter-detonated and you can imagine what that explosion would do to any vehicle.

We are also coming across booby traps as we clear the area, and of course these take a huge amount of time and effort to make safe. And here you can see British Army sappers clearing a pile of abandoned weapons. What we can't show you are the methods used for checking for wires under the sand which are attached to the grenades we are finding, but you can see here how every single weapon in the pile that has been looked at by these soldiers, has been painstakingly x-rayed to check for internal booby traps. And of course the sort of things we are looking for are designed to explode in the hands of the man making the weapons safe by operating the moving parts.

Another immediate task facing us, as I mentioned before, is to get humanitarian aid into the country fast, and here we are concentrating largely on the port of Umm Qasr. The Royal Navy has been working non-stop to clear the waterways into the port, and indeed they have now cleared an area some 40 miles long, 2 miles wide, and they have blown up 100 items, and indeed just last night we found 2 more mines which we are in the process of disposing of.

We go about our business here using underwater vehicles, launched from a Royal Navy minehunter, and we have done that off the al-Faw Peninsular, and this particular vehicle has been used extensively. In difficult working conditions near the seabed, it is used to identify suspicious objects, often with the use of divers both day and night, in zero visibility, and this is dangerous work indeed for the divers. When the officer in charge is satisfied that the possible mine target has been identified, the submersible drops a demolition charge which destroys the object.

All this work that we are doing here revolves around our desire to start the aid operation as soon as we can. We had hoped to bring the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Sir Galahad into Umm Qasr and unload a significant quantity of humanitarian aid in about an hour from now, but obviously this most recent find of mines has delayed us, we have missed the tide and we probably now can't get Galahad in until tomorrow. And Galahad will be followed by 2 Australian vessels who are loaded with grain, and water and fuel tankers have also been hired in Kuwait and they are all just simply the vanguard of a massive humanitarian operation.

Meanwhile also, again as I mentioned before, we are building a 3 kilometre water pipeline from Kuwait into southern Iraq which will give us about 1 million litres of water a day, and our engineers have been restoring the water treatment plant in Umm Qasr which is going to give us 3 million litres of water a day when that is finished very shortly in about a day and a half's time. And our engineers are also making preparations for restoring electrical power and sanitation.

So you can see that we are busy. And of course I must not, in talking about these activities right up in the frontline, I must not overlook the vital role which so many of our other support personnel have been playing in the operation, from the suppliers in the depots, to the movers at the sea ports and the airports, from the clerks on our supply tracking systems, to the truck drivers who deliver the kit to the front, to those who are caring for the welfare needs of our people, such as mail delivery for example moved so quickly by our postal and courier staff, to the phone and e-mail links installed in ... areas, everyone is going flat out, and everyone is contributing equally importantly to our overall plan.

QUESTION:

How conclusive did you think the finding of the suits was that Saddam planned to use biological or chemical weapons, were there any delivery systems found alongside them? And perhaps a linked question, there are reports this morning that the Americans may plan to use in urban warfare non-lethal chemical weapons, what would you say about that?

MR HOON:

It is obviously not conclusive but it is clearly indicative of an intention, otherwise why equip his own forces to deal with a threat which he knows we do not have. So it must only be to protect his forces from his own use of those weapons which we know he has.

ADMIRAL BOYCE:

As I said, we found some documentation and that may well prove what the Secretary of State has just said.

MR HOON:

On your second question, as you are aware non-lethal chemical weapons are permitted for dealing with riot control, the United Kingdom is fully signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention and they would not be used by the United Kingdom in any military operations or on any battlefield.

QUESTION:

Can I ask two questions, one about Basra? Air Marshall Burridge talked this morning about the motivation and what might be going on behind some of the Iraqis that came out, he suggested that some of these vehicle crews were being forced out at gunpoint, whether they themselves were having guns brandished at them or their families were. Do we have any evidence of that. What on earth were those tanks doing sitting out in the open against superior forces? And finally, you talked about the operational pause which had been afforded us by the sand storm, how are you managing to give down time to tank and forward units that are obviously working at a very high battle tempo?

MR HOON:

The situation in Basra, as Air Marshal Burridge indicated, remains very confused. We had some indications that evening of some firing by Saddam Hussein's security forces using mortars against Iraqi people. We are not sure what was going on. We certainly know that there was an attack by those security forces against Iraqis in the city, and that is why we responded, as we will continue to do to assist them by bombing the Baath Party headquarters, and that certainly seems to have led to some reduction in the level of activity by regime security forces. I can only speculate about the tanks, and I have to tell you that when I saw teletext after my briefing yesterday evening to discover that there was a column of 120 tanks, it was suggested, advancing out of Basra, I was somewhat concerned. This hadn't been mentioned in my briefing. It turned out to be 3 tanks advancing out of Basra, and clearly those tanks were dealt with. It may be that they were testing out our determination to deal with them, but I assure you they were destroyed.

ADMIRAL BOYCE:

And we are very happy, if they continue to come out into the open like that, we will deal with them when they do, unless they want to come out and surrender. As to your question about rest and recuperation, absolutely right, any battle commander must be concerned about making sure his people are properly rested, and after the extremely high speed really effectively that the Fifth Corps made their way up to where they are at the moment, Karbala, that must have been very, very demanding on the people concerned because they were encountering resistance on the way. And as I say, the weather which closed us out for a couple of days to a large extent must have come with the view of a sigh of relief by the commanders who took the opportunity to rest their people up a bit before the next engagement.

QUESTION:

There is a lot of talk this morning that the Americans are reinforcing themselves, but they want reinforcements from us as well. Could you clarify that?

MR HOON:

We are absolutely confident that we have sufficient forces in theatre to deliver the military objectives that we set out. Clearly there will be from time to time routine replacements, particularly of individuals or small units who have been engaged in very intense activity, certainly those for example who have been responsible for getting our forces into theatre. Equally the Americans have a substantial force available that will begin to arrive in theatre in due course, those forces are part of the original package which the United States designated as being available for operations in and around Iraq

ADMIRAL BOYCE:

I do think it is also important to remember that we are part of a coalition, it is not the US and the UK, this is a mixed force. We have something of a third of the combat armoured power of that coalition force at the moment and the commander must make best use of his forces to whatever particular immediate operational and tactical needs he has. So we don't feel that we are particularly confined to a particular area on our own, we will be mixing in with the American forces in the same way that we do for example with our Air Force and indeed with our Naval forces.

QUESTION:

You mentioned the three tanks that left Basra yesterday. Original reports from military sources did speak of an armoured column of between 70 - 120 vehicles, there have been other examples, I think a column that was reported leaving Baghdad which turned out to be much smaller, also from military sources. Are you worried about the apparent confusion on the battlefield, or are you not worried because you are receiving superior and different information?

ADMIRAL BOYCE:

I have been reminded when looking at that question myself this morning, having been woken up a number of times a night about this column coming out, by General John Reith, who is our Chief of Joint Operations, saying that back in 1991 when he was out in Desert Storm the same sort of thing happened then, and of course that night, when you do have the passage of traffic coming out of cities, a wise commander will assume the worst to start off with, get ready to deal with it, while he evaluates, analyses and classifies what he is actually seeing. And of course with our good friends from the media embedded with us, they will hear those deliberations going on, could this be such and such - a proper question to ask - well they usually jump on that and turn it into this is what is actually happening and suddenly we have the sort of news we had last night. So these are questions which rightly must be asked by the Commander when large volumes of traffic are detected, it does take time to classify it properly at night time to see whether it is a threat or not.

QUESTION:

You mentioned this is day 8. What turning point in the war so far, or in the next week perhaps, would give you the sort of confidence that the coalition can take Baghdad in due course, and do you have any sort of feeling, as some Americans seem to be saying today, that this war could go on for several months rather than weeks?

MR HOON:

I have never suggested that you should believe some of the commentators who talked about a short campaign. I said in my very first statement to the House of Commons that this would not be a short campaign, that we would be engaged in military operations to prevent Saddam Hussein using weapons of mass destruction, and obviously to deal with the regime that harbours them, and that continues. I think the successes that have been achieved so far I have already set out, securing the southern area of Iraq very largely, ensuring that those command and communication decisions cannot reach other parts of Iraq, and clearly the most remarkable advance northwards by the coalition forces, all of which gives me every confidence in being able to say that we will be able to achieve those other campaign aims in due course.

QUESTION:

You began your briefing today by condemning the Iraqi regime for breaching the Geneva Convention. Haven't you just decided bombing of television stations in Baghdad and Basra which also breaches the Geneva Convention?

MR HOON:

What we have been consistently doing is disrupting the military command and control facilities in Iraq, I set that out as part of our basic campaign aims and that continues to be the case. If military command and control is not disrupted, clearly the regime has a military advantage, and that is the purpose of the targeting and that will continue to be how we deal with those particular targets.

QUESTION:

Inaudible.

MR HOON:

The difficulty in dealing with Saddam Hussein's regime, that we have known over very many years that he is utterly callous in his disregard for the welfare of his own people, the point I have been making to you this morning, and we know full well of many occasions on which he co-locates civilian and military activity. If we are to deal with the military aspect then we have to target very carefully, I assure you that that is done.

QUESTION:

Does the parachuting into the Kurdish controlled part of Iraq of US airborne troops, does that represent the opening up of a northern front. What other equipment might joint them, could it for example include tanks, and what would you hope that any such northern front would achieve?

MR HOON:

It is obviously important, and we have always designed the campaign to achieve this, that the regime has to deal with a number of different threats to its existence from a number of different directions, and a northern front will assist in demonstrating to Saddam Hussein, as I said at the outset, that his days are numbered, and Mike may wish to comment more fully on that.

ADMIRAL BOYCE:

The force out there will be building, they will be important to fix the Iraqis eyes to the north, as well as they will be fixed to the east, and the south, and the west. So as the Secretary of State says, it shows an envelopment of the country which will hopefully persuade Saddam Hussein that he is not going to win.

QUESTION:

Can I return to the discovery of the respirators and the chemicals weapons kit. Is there any evidence at all that there was any offensive desire here at all, or could this as easily be the routine issue of material to an army for defensive purposes, much as we do to our Armed Forces, particularly to an army that has in the past of course faced chemical weapons attacks from Iran?

ADMIRAL BOYCE:

There is no evidence so far in what we found there, they ought to be defensive for protection suits and respirators and so forth, but as I said, we found other bits of equipment and documentation which we are still analysing and that may point us in other directions. But so far we didn't find anything there which was offensive, no.

QUESTION:

According to your information, how successful has Saddam Hussein been in remaining in touch with his forces to direct them, and if so, what communication is he using?

MR HOON:

Inevitably modern technology allows a range of different forms of communication, and although we have been very successful in removing that communication from time to time, clearly there are other means whereby contact can be maintained, simple means of telephone communication is still available and a great deal of effort is being made to address the ways in which the regime communicates, particularly to its outlying areas.

QUESTION:

There were reports a couple of days ago that CS gas may have been used, I think it might have been in connection with the taking of the Baath Party headquarters outside Basra. Could you confirm whether or not CS gas has been used, and secondly does this come under the Chemical Weapons Treaty?

MR HOON:

Can I make clear that the attack on the Baath Party headquarters in Basra was done from the air and was not done in that way that would require forces to be on the ground and in close proximity. I made clear that the United Kingdom is fully signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention and that would seem to me to preclude the use of chemicals in those circumstances.

QUESTION:

CS gas is precluded?

MR HOON:

That would be my understanding, yes.

QUESTION:

The launching of missiles today at Kuwait, would this mean that his capability in the southern part of Iraq was still intact, or he is launching it from further afield?

MR HOON:

I don't believe that his capability is intact, we very seriously degraded that capability and his ability to launch missiles. But we have always been aware that this regime hid away its missiles, not least in civilian areas, and from time to time they will emerge. We have dealt with them by and large when that has happened, but obviously on occasions they will get lucky and we will have to go on in our determined effort to deal with those threats as and when we see them.

QUESTION:

... was this weapons of mass destruction?

MR HOON:

This doesn't confirm it, but it heightens our concern, certainly.

QUESTION:

Could you give us some assessment of what is happening in western Iraq, which is something of a media black hole, I don't think anybody is embedded out there. Since the taking of the airfields over the weekend, can you tell us anything more about progress there?

ADMIRAL BOYCE:

There are some forces, but it is a black hole, it is a very empty part of Iraq, it is mostly sand and obviously we will be keeping an eye on what is actually going on there, but clearly there is no major effort there.

QUESTION:

Could you just clarify what is going on around Basra and al-Faw, because you were talking about how there were reports of 70 - 120 tanks and armoured personnel carriers coming out of Basra, and it turned out to be 3, and then you were telling us about how the Royal Tank Regiment attacked and destroyed 14. Just how many do you believe are roaming around there?

MR HOON:

That was a previous incident, remember.

ADMIRAL BOYCE:

What was being reported last night, the 70 - 120, was what was going on last night, the incident I described about what went on this morning is completely separate from what was actually happening last night.

ENDS

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