Britain's 'meaty' Iraq role aimed to influence US

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The Independent Online

Britain committed a large land force to invasion of Iraq in the hope that it would "buy" influence with the United States, the official inquiry into the war was told today.

Lieutenant General Sir Anthony Pigott, who was deputy chief of the defence staff (commitments), said that by taking on a "meaty" role the UK was able to show the Americans that it was a "serious player".



Following Tony Blair's meeting with George Bush at the president's Texas ranch in April 2002, Gen Pigott said he set up a small team to look at the options for military action against Iraq.



He said initially the focus was on getting Saddam Hussein to give up his weapons of mass destruction rather than "regime change" in Baghdad.



"The intent I was picking up from HMG Ltd - not the Americans, HMG Ltd - was WMD," he said.



Early on, however, he said it became clear that if it came to military action, Britain would want to play a major part in the operation and not just a "parking role".



"There was a growing feel that if all the legal things are in place there is more interest in a defined role - not for aggrandisement - not just a sort of nuisance," he said.



He added: "If there wasn't anything meaty, it was a long way to go to do nothing, you know, meaty."



He said that by being prepared to commit a significant force to the operation, it would "enhance no end" Britain's standing with the US military.



"You buy that on your contribution and your willingness to put - not just boots on the ground - people in danger," he said. "They know you are a serious player."



Gen Pigott was critical of the speed with which the Americans declared victory after the triumphant fall of Saddam's statue in Baghdad in April 2003.



"Nobody had won anything when the statue came down," he said.



"I tried hard - don't play too much on 'shock and awe' and 'we did it' and 'gotcha' and all those media cries that became part of the campaign.



"If you look at those media cries they don't add up to a sensible strategy."



While he insisted that it was "too strong" to say that it had gone wrong in the aftermath of the invasion, he dismissed the efforts at reconstruction invasion as "sticky tape stuff".



At times the inquiry panel seemed baffled by some of his answers.



Discussing the possibility - subsequently dropped - that British forces could invade through Turkey, he said: "You don't need an archbishop to tell you that is a sensible thing to do."



He then added, in an apparent reference to Turkish objections: "At the end of the day I said to CDS (Chief of the Defence Staff) 'the price of carpets is too high'."









Major General David Wilson, the senior British military adviser at US Central Command in Florida where the invasion was planned, said the UK had pressed for reassurances that preparations where in place for the post-war effort.

"The UK delegation made the point early on," he said. "I personally didn't think it got any entirely satisfactory answer."



He said the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which the Americans originally set up to supervise the post-war effort, had been unable to cope.



"They were under-staffed, under-funded, and they had profound difficulties in some instances with the clarity of their mission," he said.

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