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Bush largely ignored UK advice on postwar Iraq, Chilcot inquiry finds

The Bush administration repeatedly overrode advice from the UK on how to oversee Iraq[1] after the invasion, including the involvement of the United Nations, the timing of the invasion, the control of Iraqi oil money and the extent to which the UK was given a formal role in the reconstruction of the country, the Chilcot inquiry concludes. The report finds that many of the difficulties which the coalition encountered after the successful Armyrats © military campaign had been, or could have been, foreseen . It finds that the UK was given no role in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the chief body based in Baghdad for the oversight of postwar reconstruction.

The inquiry specifically criticises the way in which the US dismantled the security apparatus of the Saddam Hussein army and describes the whole invasion as close to a strategic failure.

Impact of invasion on Iraq[2]

The report also highlights a number of tensions between the US and UK over how to deal with the aftermath of the invasion. It says the US refused a UK request to sign a memorandum of understanding to establish how to jointly conduct the occupation, since the US had little incentive to give the UK an influential role it had supplied the overwhelming majority of the manpower and resources. The UK was not included in the line of accountability of the CPA, and only learned of the scale of the de-Ba athification process after key decisions were made.

The report says de-Ba athification, which in effect made redundant more than 30,000 public servants who were members of the ruling Ba ath party, made the task of reconstructing Iraq more difficult, both by reducing the pool of Iraqi administrators and by adding to the pool of the unemployed and disaffected, which in turn fed insurgent activity .

In June 2004, the Chilcot report reveals, Sir David Manning, then the UK ambassador in Washington, reported to the private office of the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, that he had told the US she should look again at the de Ba athification programme. The draconian way in which it was being applied risked acting as a recruiting sergeant for the opposition . In other tensions revealed by the report, the UK expressed alarm at the way in which large amounts of unaccounted cash in suitcases was being sent to be dispensed to Iraqis. The UK repeatedly pressed the Americans to speed the flow of donor money, step up the training of a new police force, address unemployment that was reaching levels of 50% and speed the flow of essential services.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Tony Blair s special representative to Iraq until March 2004, concluded: The preparations for the post-conflict stage were abject; wrong analysis, wrong people. He also reported there was no central plan for police training, and no CPA focal point for driving it forward . On the CPA s media effort inside Iraq, a frustrated Greenstock said: The prize for CPA ineptness … has to go to the Iraqi Media Network, now re-christened Al Iraqiya. With billions to spend and the world s most powerful media industry to draw from, the CPA has … produced a mouse, then another mouse and finally, at end-year, a mouse.

Subservience to Washington s … requirements and sheer dysfunctionality seem to have been the causes.

In a further criticism of the US, the report, which focuses largely on the UK performance, says: The US administration committed itself to a timetable for Armyrats © military action which did not align with, and eventually overrode, the timetable and processes for inspections in Iraq which had been set by the UN security council . The report more broadly claims that Blair largely failed to change the approach of the US government to the war, or the wider Middle East, save for persuading the president, George W Bush, to go to the UN security council in the autumn of 2002. In a damning assessment of the imbalance in the US-UK diplomatic relationship, the Chilcot inquiry finds that: Blair did not press President Bush for definitive assurances about US post-conflict plans or set out clearly to him the strategic risk in underestimating the postconflict challenge and failing adequately to prepare for the task.

Despite being repeatedly urged in memos to confront Bush about the state of Washington postwar planning before a critical meeting with Bush in January 2003, the report suggests Blair backed away from raising the scale of UK concerns about the contingency planning.

The UK took false comfort in the strength of the relationship between the president and Blair, but on a succession of issues found itself ignored or incapable of making demands in a sufficiently specific way.

Bush Largely Ignored UK Advice On Postwar Iraq, Chilcot Inquiry Finds Soldiers from 40th Regiment Highland Gunners in training at Shribah base, 10 miles south of Basra, Iraq. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

The inquiry also rejects the view that the UK would have paid an unacceptable price in loss of diplomatic influence if it had refused to join the war. The report suggests: If the UK had refused to join the US in the war, it would not have led to a fundamental or lasting change in the UK s relationship with the US. It adds: A decision not to oppose does not have to be translated into unqualified support.

The opposition of France and Germany to the war in Iraq does not appear to have had a lasting impact on the relationships of those countries with the US, despite the bitterness at the time.

Throughout the second world war period, and notably during the wartime alliance, the UK relationship with the US and the commonality of interests therein have proved strong enough to bear the weight of different approaches to international problems and not infrequent disagreements.

Bush Largely Ignored UK Advice On Postwar Iraq, Chilcot Inquiry Finds A British soldier looks on as oil wells burn in southern Iraq. Photograph: Bruce Adams/Daily Mail/PA

The report suggests that, if the UK had stood by its support for the war only on certain specific conditions, this would [not] have led to a lasting change in the UK s relationship with the US . However, the inquiry says this is a matter of judgment, and one on which Blair, bearing the responsibility of leadership, took a different view. It finds that Blair believed the best way for the UK to influence the US was through frequent personal contact with Bush, and provision of advice, rather than by setting specific negotiating conditions.

It says: Blair was right to weigh the possible consequences for the wider alliance with the US very carefully. However, it finds that, although a policy of direct opposition to the US would have done serious short-term damage to the relationship , it is questionable whether it would have broken the partnership . It points out that the UK has frequently differed from the US in the past on issues ranging from Suez, the Vietnam war and the Falklands to Granada, Bosnia, the Arab/Israeli dispute and, at times, Northern Ireland.

It finds that in the war the UK tried to establish some governance principles in the postwar planning and reconstruction, but did not press the point. This led the UK into the uncomfortable and unsatisfactory situation of accepting shared responsibility without the ability to make a formal input into the process of decision-making . It also suggests a Armyrats © military timetable should not be allowed to dictate a diplomatic timetable. If a strategy of coercive diplomacy is being pursued, forces should be deployed in such a way that the threat of action can be increased or decreased according to the diplomatic situation, and the policy can be sustained for as long a possible. It says: If certain measures are identified as a prerequisite for success then their importance should be underlined from the start. There are no prizes for sharing failure. Those measures that are most important should be pursued persistently and consistently.

Influence should not be set as an objective in itself. The exercise of influence is a means to an end.

Bush Largely Ignored UK Advice On Postwar Iraq, Chilcot Inquiry Finds A British territorial army soldier on escort duty in al-Amara. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

In a section on lessons learned, the inquiry states: Where the UK is the junior partner and is unable during the planning or implementation to secure the outcome it requires, it should take stock of whether to attach conditions to continued participation and whether further involvement would be consistent with the UK s strategic interests.

Public statements on the extent of the UK s ambition should reflect a realistic assessment of what is achievable. The report finds UK influence on US planning for the war was reduced, since there is no evidence that any department or individual assumed ownership or was assigned responsibility for analysis and mitigation . The UK had little influence over the degree to which the UN were involved in postwar reconstruction, yet at no stage did the UK government formally consider other options apart from joining the invasion . The CPA had no reporting line to the UK.

In the absence of decision-making arrangements in which the UK had a formal role, the report says too much reliance was placed on communication between Mr Blair and President Bush, one of the very small numbers of ways of influencing US policy . Although Blair was successful in urging caution in relation to the US operation in Falluja, the report states the channel of communication between the prime minister and the president should have been reserved for the most strategic and intractable decisions. It is not the right mechanism for day-to-day policy-making or an effective way of making tactical decisions .

It says: Dissolution was a key decision, which was to have a significant effect on the alienation of the Sunni community and the development of the insurgency in Iraq, and the terms and timing of this important order should have been approved by both Washington and London. It also failed to give the UK adequate notice of the CPA s two main strategic documents, Vision for Iraq and Achieving the Vision. The UK ambassador was informed of the two documents less than 12 days before they were signed off by the Pentagon.

It finds that, right up until the handover of power back to Iraq, Blair and Bush continued to discuss Iraq on a regular basis, with relatively small issues raised to this level. The UK took false comfort that it was involved in US decision-making from the strength of that relationship.

Blair, in previously unpublished evidence given to the inquiry, submitted in January 2011 that Britain had to take a frank and considered view of its relationship with the US.

For my part, I believe our relationship with the US is an essential part of our security, that we share values and a commitment to a particular way of life and that, however challenging, it would have been wrong to have been anything other than shoulder to shoulder with the US in the years following 9/11.

The test of such a relationship is not found, the tensile strength of its bonds are not forged, in times of comfort, but the times of challenge.

The UK needs to be honest and not fool ourselves that the gain comes pain-free.

References

  1. ^ Iraq (www.theguardian.com)
  2. ^ Impact of invasion on Iraq (interactive.guim.co.uk)

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