UK troops must stay in Iraq because of 'misjudgements'

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British troops will be forced to stay in Iraq for a "substantial period of time" because of the failure of Washington and London to foresee the post-war insurgency.

British troops will be forced to stay in Iraq for a "substantial period of time" because of the failure of Washington and London to foresee the post-war insurgency.

A critical report by the Commons Defence Committee says the earliest feasible time that British troops can start to pull out would be next year. The committee also urged the head of the Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, to review the issue of abuse by British troops in southern Iraq and examine the training given to soldiers before deployment. The committee noted that internment of civilians was still being practised in British-controlled southern Iraq. While accepting the need for "limited use" of imprisonment without trial, it said: "We believe that this extraordinary power ... should only be maintained for as long as there is a compelling operational need for it."

The report also said the United Nations - in effect snubbed by George Bush and Tony Blair in the approach to the invasion - should play a more prominent role in Iraq.

However, the main focus of the report, Iraq: An Initial Assessment of Post-Conflict Operations, was on the "series of mistakes and misjudgements" by the US and Britain especially in planning for the "post conflict situation" which, it concluded, "did not match the post-conflict expectations".

Coalition misjudgements had included a failure to anticipate the level of opposition among Iraqis and a failure to foresee that the insurgency would act as a magnet for foreign fighters "from the Middle East and further afield". Poor border security in the post-war period and a failure to secure the defeated regime's weapons depots had made matters worse.

While the committee agreed that the allies was right to ensure that the existing Baathist forces should not retain any power, "we believe that Security Sector Reform should have been given greater priority by Coalition and British forces before and immediately after the invasion. ... Only belatedly, did the Coalition begin building the Iraqi Security Forces. Even then, a bottom up, numerically focused approach meant that the Iraqi military, security, and police did not develop in a well-coordinated manner."

These early efforts, said the committee, were characterised by " short-termism and indecision ... Weaknesses in that reform programme came close to undermining the success of the initial military operation."

While belated efforts were being made to restructure the military, the Iraqi police were left out of the initial planning, further delaying the process of re-establishing security.

The shortcomings mean that Iraq's interim government is not in a position to provide for its own security and will want British and other coalition forces to stay on. "This may be a substantial period of time. In light of the state of emergency and the condition of the Iraqi security forces ... it seems likely that British forces will be present in Iraq in broadly similar numbers to the current deployment into 2006."

The Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, welcomed the report which, he said, "highlights the 'considerable success' that has been achieved by the coalition and UK armed forces, as well as looking into how the government can better address post-conflict situations in the future".

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