Monday, May 02, 2005

Defence Report Revisited

On Thursday 24th March, the news was dominated by the publication of the letter of resignation of Elizabeth Wilmshurst. Channel 4 News had released a leaked and unedited version of the letter the previous day. It was another difficult moment for the government as they struggled to explain the reasons for their continued refusal to publish the full legal advice of the Attorney General. That advice has now been made public.

On the same day, the House of Commons Defence Committee released a report which can be viewed here. I mentioned in this post that it hadn’t received a great deal of coverage in the press. Given all that has happened since, I thought it might be a good time to revisit the report. It seems particularly appropriate given that the current stated justification for invading Iraq is the protection of its people. The report’s aim was as follows:

8. In light of the continuing UK military contribution in Iraq, we decided to continue our inquiry into Operation Telic and the wider effort of which it is a part. Operations since May 2003 saw the Coalition confronted by a range of post-conflict challenges many of which it seemed not to have foreseen. In this report we examine the main strands of the UK military's work in Iraq and, at the same time, seek to identify the weaknesses in the UK's capabilities for managing post-conflict situations.
From Introduction

It is worth noting that 7 of the 12 MP’s on the committee were Labour.
From Members

Given that regime change is now the justification for the invasion, and given that we know from the memo mentioned in this post that at least some planning was underway in July 2002, we might expect that post-conflict planning would have been a high priority.

In my previous post, I listed the 5 key misjudgements identified by the committee. I won’t reproduce them here but you can read them on this page if you wish.
There are other aspects of the report which I find troubling. This from the same page:

16. Our original assessment was echoed by the National Audit Office, which concluded in their report on Operation Telic: "Our experience from the field visit to Iraq was that the Government had not fully anticipated the consequences of a total collapse of the Saddam regime and what the United Kingdom's obligations would be once hostilities had ceased". Government, in its response to Lessons of Iraq, conceded that the post-conflict planning was not sufficiently comprehensive and agreed that a comprehensive effort could have jeopardized Coalition-building efforts in early 2003. It argued: "we felt that overt planning for the post-conflict would make it appear that military action was inevitable (which it was not) and could seriously prejudice ongoing attempts to reach a diplomatic solution"

We know that extensive secret planning for a possible invasion was carried out in advance of the decision to invade. Why could post-conflict planning not have been carried out in the same way?
Were the political considerations of greater importance than the welfare of those the Coalition had come to protect?

Turning to the conclusions of the report, there are two which raise serious doubts about the motives of the Coalition:

3. It is difficult to avoid concluding that the Coalition, including British forces, were insufficiently prepared for the challenge represented by the insurgency. A wide range of predictions for the post-conflict situation in Iraq were made in advance of the conflict. We are concerned that there is some evidence that the extensive planning, which we know took place in both the US and the UK, did not fully reflect the extent of that range. We also believe that the Coalition should have foreseen that its presence would be resented by some Iraqis, particularly Sunni Arabs and some Shia nationalist elements, and portrayed as cultural and economic imperialism.

6. We are concerned at the continued influx of foreign fighters into Iraq through neighbouring countries, particularly Syria and Iran, and note that this was probably facilitated by the inadequate attention paid to border security by the Coalition immediately following the invasion. More broadly, it appears to us that the Coalition failed to appreciate the potential for an insurgency in Iraq to attract foreign fighters, both from the Middle East and further afield (e.g. Chechnya).
From Conclusions and Recommendations

Why did the “extensive planning, which we know took place” fail to consider the types of problems which we now see in Iraq?
Why is it that “the Coalition failed to appreciate the potential for an insurgency in Iraq to attract foreign fighters”?

This might be easy to explain if these potential problems had never been raised. In fact, many people had warned that US and UK troops would cause resentment among some Iraqi’s group. Many people had also warned that extremists from other countries would attempt to gain access to Iraq in the event of an invasion.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that post-conflict planning, and therefore the welfare of the Iraqi people, was of secondary importance to the Coalition. The only other conclusion I can draw is that post-conflict planning was grossly incompetent. Either way, it is undoubtedly true that the death toll after major combat operations had ceased would have been lower had the Coalition planned properly for what was to follow.

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