Iraq Inquiry: my opinions so far…

Ive been closely following the progress of the Chilcott Inquiry into the events leading up to and during the Iraq War, until British troops left Iraq last year.

The composition of the Inquiry is interesting. Sir John Chilcott is a former senior Civil Servant. Perhaps not a heavyweight by any means, but in my opinion he has chaired it competently so far. There are two military Historians on the panel: Sir Lawrence Freedman, the official Historian of the Falklands War, and Sir Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill’s official biographer. I am glad that there are historians on the panel, but I wish they were not what you might call ‘establishment’ historians. Somebody like Richard Holmes, David Starkey or Simon Schama might have been a lot more probing. An experienced Barrister would have been wise too, to advise on legal issues.

So far I think the evidence given by the military figures has been very insightful. On the whole, it appears that given the UK’s subservient role in the invasion the military side of things was handled very well. Things were certainly not helped by the US Department of Defences’ lack of planning for the post-war phase – the British Army has huge experience of counter-insurgency, why was this not heeded?

In terms of the politics, however, nothing has changed my mind that there was some serious dishonesty going on. Even IF – and it is a big if – the intelligence led Tony Blair to believe the 45 minute caveat, there was still a lot of creative industry being applied in the so-called ‘dodgy dossier’. Alistair Campbell’s appearance today says much: even in front of an inquiry, seeking the truth, his stance is to put on an act, and to lie, spin and slither away. Maybe expecting the truth from Campbell is too much: the man is, after all, a professional liar. The ironic thing is that his demeanour at the inquiry showed exactly what was wrong with British politics at the time: an unelected official, expert at manipulating the truth, was pulling the strings.

The evidence given by commanders about the ineffectiveness of the Department for International Development has been telling. I have long thought that the UK’s approach to overseas aid is a mess: we are happy to hand over millions to countries who do not need it, without strings attached, yet when it comes to a country like Iraq, which desparately needed our help and quickly, DFID stood back idley. Quick and efficient aid would have helped prevent the slide towards insurrection and disorder.

On the whole, I get the impression that the Politics side of things was a monumental cock-up. The military side of things, once we disregard the politics, was handled rather well from a UK point of view. The panel have been more probing and incisive than we might have expected, and from their line of questioning on Campbell, Tony Blair can expect an uncomfortable time.

But it is one thing holding an inquiry, it is quite another to actually take notice of it and absorb its lessons. Will the mistakes and succeses be taken into account with future Government policy? Will the US have a similar inquiry, or take notice of the findings of the Chilcott inquiry?

If you make mistakes and ignore them, then they’re just gonna keep happening again. And in this case, mistakes mean lives lost.



Filed under debate, Iraq, politics

4 responses to “Iraq Inquiry: my opinions so far…

  1. It is good that there is one historian on the panel though like you I am dubious as to his objectivity. However, Freedman is not a historian, everyone seems to call him this. Yes his has written ‘history’ book but he actual a defence analyst and foreign policy specialist. He was one of Blair’s key advisor in the late 90’s. Most of his work have been on contemporary defence policy and the use of nuclear weapons.

    Apart from Blair being led by Bush I think from a military point of view what we will learn is that as a junior partner in the coalition we had very little influence and that our military spent a lot of time banging its head against the wall. I think the Americans ‘ignored’ British advice because they believed it was not applicable to this scenario. In some respect they were right but that was only proven after the insurgency began and they implemented the surge. America’s initial action were poor and they could have followed Britain’s lead but did not. This led to poor relations and once the insurgency started and spread the British response was no longer applicable to the situation. Though whether this would have been different had the Americans heeded British advice remains a matter of conjecture.

  2. James Daly

    Ross – thanks for the clarification re Freedman, you’re quite right I should have made that clear. His work is very much about the present rather than the past.

    I still think its interesting that Martin Gilbert was chosen – he’s only really written about Churchill and the Holocaust. There are plenty of more suitable historians that would have been ideal for the Inquiry.

    What worries me most of all is the belief that if you are the major partner in a coalition then you have the monopoly on policy, to the point of ignoring junior partners who have valuable experience to share. It seems like ‘might makes right’ to me.

    Some of the things that have arisen about the US Defence Department’s post-war planning have been almost unbelievable – that ‘we dont do nation building’. Surely if you do ‘nation-demolition’, then nation building is a duty afterwards? If you destroy a states systems of authority and security then the lowest common denominator will win out – anarchy.

    I think thats where the real lessons of the Iraq conflict will be: the politics of coalition warfare, and post-conflict issues.

  3. It is now clear that Campbell and Blair fabricated the “dossiers” as a cover for their real intentions. This leads to another question: why did they persecute Dr David Kelly, the British UN Weapons Inspector, when they probably knew he was right? Why did Kelly have to die? See The strange case of the death of Dr David Kelly, UN Weapons Inpector. Gilligan and others were censured and dismissed for their role in “hounding” Dr David Kelly. It is time to censure Blair and Campbell for hounding this good man to death, or worse.

  4. James Daly

    John, I have long thought that there are two schools of thought regarding the death of Dr Kelly 1) he was ‘eliminated’ by security services, which certainly isnt impossible, or 2) he was hounded so disgracefully that he was driven to do what he did. Either way, a good and honest man died thanks to the dishonest ways of those in power.

    I’m beginning to think that the findings of the Chilcott inquiry are gradually undermining the integrity of the Hutton Report into Dr Kelly’s death.

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