Vital reconstruction delayed by squabbles between ministers

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Indy Politics

A classified report into the reconstruction of Iraq being prepared by Britain's most senior military officials blames squabbling Cabinet ministers for delaying vital operations.

Defence chiefs meet on Tuesday to review a draft paper on the MoD's operations following Saddam Hussein's removal from power.

A senior official familiar with the confidential report has told The Independent on Sunday it is highly critical of ministers for failing to do a better job of planning and implementing post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq.

It reveals that Tony Blair refused a request from George Bush to help US soldiers to keep the peace in Baghdad, leaving the British military with reduced influence over their American counterparts as they struggle to maintain security in the Iraqi capital.

Funding for key projects to restore infrastructure was held up because of Whitehall squabbles, according to assessments prepared for the so-called "Lessons Learned, Phase IV" document.

Military officials on the ground are also reported to be scathing about the decision by Mr Blair to appoint former diplomats such as Sir Jeremy Greenstock as British envoys.

"They say that what we needed were former chief executives of big local authorities with experience of running sewage systems and street lighting. What we got were people who were very good at sending diplomatic telegrams," a senior official said.

Preparations for reconstruction were delayed by squabbles between Cabinet ministers. Clashes with the Department for International Development, in particular, held up funding for military reconstruction problems for six months.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who chaired the Cabinet committee on post-war Iraqi reconstruction, is known to have had a series of heated clashes with Clare Short, the then Secretary of State for International Development, over the role of the military in Iraq. Inadequate preparations led to soldiers carrying out inappropriate tasks such as the training of a civilian police force, according to the report. The Department of Health is, however, singled out for praise in the draft.

One senior figure with first-hand experience of the MoD's reconstruction efforts says that the military cannot escape all the blame, particularly for the decision not to share the policing of Baghdad.

"It was politically attractive but was rejected as it would lead to overstretch. Joint operations with the Americans were also not militarily popular," he said.