With all the headlines, you’d think that the Chilcot inquiry was actually living up to its mandate and identifying lessons to be learned from the Iraq conflict. But the controversy surrounding equipment shortages is, sadly, nothing new. Anyone who has served in the British military can tell you that its chiefs have a long history of sending troops into battle without the proper kit. During the first Gulf War, my mates and I were forced to improvise claymore defensive mines out of ice cream containers and dockyard confetti. We went on the ground with stripped down short wheelbase Land Rovers with gun mounts crudely welded on the back. We had to buy blankets and coats from locals to keep warm in what was arguably the coldest Iraqi winter in living memory.
That’s not to say that past mistakes in anyway excuse the equipment shortages and budget tightening that compromised the safety of British troops serving in Iraq from 2003 and continue to jeopardize the lives of our brave soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. I find it outrageous for example, that Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup who was the deputy chief in charge of equipment for Iraq, had the nerve to go before the Chilcot Inquiry and complain that he didn’t have enough time to resource everything needed for the invasion. In my view, if Sir Jock really wanted to support the troops, he could have made a stand back then and resigned in protest to draw attention to the issue. The same goes for retired MoD boss Sir Kevin Tebbit who told the inquiry that Gordon Brown “guillotined” the defence budget back in 2003. Why didn’t Tebbit resign at the time?
Of course, all the after-the-fact naming and shaming begs the question; is the inquiry really worth resuming once the election is over? If it was about holding political and military leaders accountable for their decisions regarding Iraq, I would definitely see the merit in continuing hearings. But that’s not what the Chilcot Inquiry is about. In fact, it’s so limited, witnesses aren’t even testifying under oath.
Personally, I’d like to see an Iraq inquiry with teeth – a judicial inquiry with the power to punish those who misled the public and failed in their duty of care to the troops. An inquiry that delved into the role oil played in the decision to go to war would also be welcome. Barring that, I really don’t see the point in funding another round of hearings that won’t tell us anything we don’t already know and will fail to hold anyone to account. The money could be put to better use – such as reactively funding a military hospital for wounded troops or proactively buying equipment for the troops.