Colonel Tim Collins, the British commander whose stirring speech to his troops on the eve of the Iraq invasion was reportedly hung on a wall in the Oval Office by George Bush, has criticised the British and US governments over the war.
The officer, who has now left the Army, condemned the lack of planning for the aftermath of the conflict and questioned the motives for attacking Iraq. He said abuses against Iraqi civilians were partly the result of "leaders of a country, leaders of an alliance" constantly referring to them as the "enemy ... rather than treating them as people". This attitude was inevitably adopted by some soldiers on the ground, he said.
"Either it was a war to liberate the people of Iraq, in which case there was gross incompetence, or it was simply a cynical war that was going to happen anyway to vent some form of anger on Saddam Hussein's regime with no regard to the consequences on the Iraqi people. In that case it is a form of common assault - and the evidence would point towards the latter," he said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
The speech of the commander of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment was seized on by advocates of the war. Col Collins faced allegations of misconduct during the campaign, but was cleared by an inquiry, and subsequently was appointedOBE.
Yesterday Col Collins said that "the whole international community is dismayed by the result of the Iraq war" but he felt that liberating Iraq was still "the right thing to do. There is no doubt that the country needed to be liberated. Whether it could have been done in a different way must be judged by history."
He added: "The evidence would show, in hindsight, that the preparations for a free and fair Iraq were not made and therefore one must question the motivation of the powers that went to attack it. There was very little preparation or thought given to what would follow on from the invasion.
"It is fair to say that the United States and its ally the UK are living the consequence having removed the Baathist regime without any thought about what would replace it. There's no doubt that there was a great deal of incompetence involved but ultimately I think one has to look at the reasons for going to war."
Asked about the claims of abuse of Iraqi prisoners, Col Collins said: "The abuse of any individual is to be condemned without qualification. However, I would observe that if the leaders of a country, or the leaders of an alliance, talk in terms of 'them', 'the enemy' rather than treating them as people, how can they expect the lowest common denominator, the basic soldiery, to interpret it in any other way?
"Leadership comes from the top and soldiers at the lowest level will interpret their need to act from the guidance given by leaders. They are either well led or badly led. Ultimately the responsibility for the actions of soldiers must come back to the leaders."
Col Collins was himself accused of striking an Iraqi prisoner with his pistol, although he was later exonerated. But he said: "Inevitably my decision to leave the Army was influenced by my disillusionment with the extent to which the Army supported me after I was doing my best to carry out orders as given. I don't think I was let down as much as I don't feel I was particularly well supported."Reuse content