Britain’s Iraq Inquiry: What’s the Point?

 

Hearings in Britain’s latest Iraq war inquiry were suspended this week and won’t resume until after the general election expected this May.  Despite efforts to remain separate from party politics, the Chilcot Inquiry has generated much for the political gristmill.   Among the most notable are claims by defence chiefs and ministers that Prime Minister Gordon Brown starved the armed forces of funds while he was Chancellor and blocked vital equipment orders– charges the Prime Minister has refuted.

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.

4 thoughts on “Britain’s Iraq Inquiry: What’s the Point?

  1. I think David Axe of the “War is Boring” blog put it perfectly when he appeared on the Today Program on BBC Radio 4. When asked about the Iraq Inquiry, David replied dryly “I thought we established long ago that we all went to war on false evidence.”

    But you’re right. A lot of these guys like Boyce, Jackson, Tebbit and Guthrie all say *now* that things were unacceptable, that government were doing x, y and z bad things to the defence budget, etc from the safety of their retirement to the benches of the House of Lords or in the boardroom of the companies they now sit on. Not once did we hear any of these guys complain when they were in the job and that stinks.

    I think thats why Richard Dannatt was such a breath of fresh air because he wasn’t afraid to play the politicians at their own game and not only brief the press about the horrible conditions our lads have to work under but also go on the record and say it bluntly. That really did rile the politicians and I think Dannatt earnt every bit of his knighthood and every penny of his job while he was Chief of the General Staff.

  2. The British army has had a long history of being sent to war unprepared or underequipped for the task ahead of it. There has always appeared to be an inability to heed lessons learnt the hard way during previous conflicts (The 1920s and 30s spring to mind).

    In the past the British army has been able to adapt and overcome deficiencies during the conflict. However all we appear to be able to do now is squabble over who is to blame for these failures etc.

    The average member of HM forces is generally trained a motivated to a high standard but let down by lack of in depth specialist training and appropriate equipment.

    Unfortunately I cannot see this changing anytime soon.
    One commitment I would like to see across all political parties is to provide an excellent standard of care to the wounded and traumatised veterans of the current conflicts.

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