Daily Mail – September 14, 2010
Britain’s Government and military leaders had ‘absolutely no idea’ what to do in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, a prominent veteran of the 2003 war said today.
Colonel Tim Collins, who became famous worldwide for his inspirational eve-of-battle address to his men in the Royal Irish Regiment, said the Chilcot Inquiry into the war should recommend action to end a culture of ‘obsequiousness’ among senior military officers which led to them telling politicians what they wanted to hear.
He was speaking as the inquiry team visited the Army base in Tidworth, Wiltshire, to hear evidence from troops who served on the frontline in Iraq about the conditions they found there.
Asked if he had a clear understanding of the reasons for war as he prepared his troops for the invasion, Col Collins told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Absolutely not. I don’t think anybody had any idea why it was we were going to do this.’
Former prime minister Tony Blair and U.S. president George Bush had given Saddam Hussein ‘an offer he couldn’t understand’ and even the Iraqi dictator probably did not know what he was required to do to avoid war, said Col Collins.
‘I rather thought that there would be some sort of plan and the Government had thought this through and I was clearly wrong,’ he said.
‘When I gave my now notorious talk to the Royal Irish, I was trying to rationalise for those young men what was going on from my standpoint. As it turned out, it had a wider appeal because nobody had any idea why this was happening.
‘It became very apparent to me shortly after crossing the border that the Government and many of my superiors had no idea what they were doing.’
Col Collins said it was left to units like his at a local level to make plans for restoring order to Iraq, which he tried to do by forging links with local people who advised him on how to keep schools, shops and markets open.
‘That was all done at a local level by the Irish brigade with no instruction whatsoever coming from above,’ he recalled.
‘There was no preparation. They had absolutely no idea what to do. We turned up, took away a country’s infrastructure and its law and order with absolutely nothing to put in its place.’
Looting on a ‘biblical’ scale which took place shortly after the invasion was ‘the fault of the coalition for not providing that help’, he said.
Asked what result he was hoping for from the Chilcot Inquiry, Col Collins said: ‘I think it has to look at the way in which Government controls its armed forces and takes these decisions.
‘And it has to look at the higher ranks of the Army and the armed services to weed out incompetence and obsequious behaviour, so people are giving sound advice to Government, not telling them what they want to hear, which is what they were doing.
‘Anyone who lost anyone dead in that conflict should feel angry about that.’
Col Collins said the US military appeared better able to learn from mistakes in Iraq than the British.
He was backed on this point by another veteran of the war, author Patrick Hennessey, who told Today: ‘Chilcot has no remit to brand Tony Blair a war criminal, which is clearly what some people want, but what it can do is say we need to be better institutionally – the military and everybody – in learning from mistakes.’