Britain's most senior military officer appointed to oversee post-war planning in Iraq has said the Government has serious questions to answer about the lack of funds made available for the operation.
As Sir John Chilcot's inquiry into the Iraq war prepares to resume tomorrow, Maj-Gen Tim Cross told The Independent that "woefully thin" resources meant troops were unable to deal with worsening security after the March 2003 invasion. His comments raise awkward questions for Gordon Brown, who was Chancellor during the invasion.
Maj-Gen Cross, who was embedded in the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance set up by the Bush administration to oversee the reconstruction effort, said he was told by the Government not to commit more resources to the operation. "A lot of senior generals were frustrated that they didn't have sufficient resources," he said. "The message I kept receiving was, do not commit us to spending any resources. I found that quite frustrating.
"Asking what resources had we put aside as part of the rebuilding process for Iraq is a fair question to ask. I think when you see that, you realise they are not large amounts of money we are talking about."
He criticised both the Prime Minister and Clare Short, then the International Development Secretary, for a British strategy that lacked coherence. "You have a department of state [the Department for International Development] saying, 'We don't think we should be involved in this' [and] a Chancellor saying to the Prime Minister 'you can do what you like but you're not having any money'," he said.
"You do not get a sense that around that Cabinet table, there was a coherent discussion about what we thought we were doing in Iraq and what we thought should have come out of it. That was my frustration."
Maj-Gen Cross added that the failure to provide adequate resources for the reconstruction effort in Iraq formed part of growing tension between the Labour Government and the military. "There is an underlying problem here about a Government that is very keen to engage on the international scene and engage its military capability," he said. "If you're not prepared to put the resources in you can come unstuck. We just didn't have the resources to really hold down the security situation."
He said that the problems of post-war planning could not simply be blamed on the low priority given to it by the Bush administration. "There was a serious problem in Whitehall, not a US problem," he said. "My sense was, no one was really taking these discussions very seriously. I do not say that in a sweepingly judgemental way – I'm not saying I was the only person who understood what should have been done. But in Whitehall, it seems to me that there was no single minister of Cabinet rank who was driving this day to day." He added that his questions about the Government's plans on post-war strategy often went unanswered and criticised witnesses at the Iraq inquiry who suggested that officials had other priorities during that period. "My answer to that is, hang on a minute, we are about to invade a country and go to war. What can be a higher priority?"
During his appearance at the Iraq inquiry, Maj-Gen Cross revealed that he had warned Tony Blair two days before the invasion that post-war planning had not been carried out sufficiently and that military action should be delayed. "I was not expecting them to put off the invasion, but I was expecting someone to say that we really need to get a grip on the post-war stuff," he said.