400 troops to Iraq - Confirmed


Around 400 extra UK troops will be sent to Iraq amid fears of violence ahead of the country's elections, UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said.
Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Royal Highland Fusiliers will head to south east Iraq, he told MPs.

They will be based there for a "limited period" ahead of the 30 January poll.

Security is being stepped up after a week of insurgency attacks which saw three British citizens and the Baghdad governor killed.

Opposition MPs expressed anger that Mr Hoon had not made his announcement in a full Commons statement instead of at defence questions.

For the Conservatives Keith Simpson said it was "not sufficient" for the defence secretary just to "slip out" news of the deployment.

And Lib Dem defence spokesman Paul Keetch said the way the announcement had been made was "outrageous".

Casualty fears

The troops are likely to be based in southern Iraq but there could be requests to deploy the force in Baghdad or in Sunni strongholds.

The move follows intelligence warnings about the threat of violence at polling stations, according to a senior Army officer quoted at the weekend.

"Their job will be to protect them and the voters from the threat of attack and intimidation," the officer told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

"It will be very dangerous and, unfortunately, casualties are expected."

The Fusiliers have previously completed a tour in Basra, when 19-year-old Private Gordon Gentle was killed by a roadside bomb.

The MoD confirmed that around 9,000 soldiers, airmen and sailors are currently serving in Iraq.

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