Coalition forces make 'remarkable progress' says Hoon

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has told MPs that the Coalition "continues to make remarkable progress", amid reports that the US spearhead has fought itself to within six miles of Baghdad.

In a statement to the House of Commons today, Mr Hoon said British forces are currently "consolidating their position" in the area in and around Basrah.

However, despite the many positives on the battlefield, Mr Hoon warned: "I want to repeat the warning I made in my first statement to this House two weeks ago. Do not underestimate the task that still faces our forces, or the length of time that it may take to complete. We are still very much in the second phase of steady progress."

He also revealed that 39 UK battle casualties are currently being treated close to the conflict area, and 35 have been evacuated.

Like David Blunkett earlier today, Mr Hoon directly answered critics in the media over the handling of the war so far.

"In this conflict we have been accused by commentators of underestimating the resistance of the Iraqi regime. We always knew that the regime would fight - but what has shocked us, as democratic states observing the rule of law, is the extent of the Iraqi regime's capacity for brutality and the killing of their own people. Every aspect of what we do is rightly - and understandably - held up for public scrutiny. In contrast, Saddam Hussein's murderous thugs go about their brutal work out of sight of the media."

In the south, British forces continue to operate in the Al Faw Peninsula, the Southern oilfields, and the Basrah area. British forces have also conducted successful attacks from the air on the Ba'ath Party headquarters in Basrah, and by 7th Armoured Brigade on the intelligence and militia headquarters in Basrah and the local State Security Organisation headquarters in Az Zubayr, to the south of Basrah.

Mr Hoon said that there had been over 9,000 Iraqi prisoners of war taken by coalition forces since the start of the war two weeks ago.

He concluded: "Every day we are further weakening Saddam Hussein's control over Iraq and moving another day closer to the end of his appalling regime and the liberation of the Iraqi people. We are engaged in an important and determined effort to convince the Iraqi people of our commitment to them - to their political security and their economic welfare. Above all, our commitment to see through what we have begun - to remove the regime that has terrified the Iraqi people and impoverished their nation for two decades. It will take time."


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