General Sir Richard Dannatt
Army chief: British troops must pull out of Iraq soon
General attacks government policy that has 'exacerbated' security risks
Richard Norton-Taylor and Tania Branigan
Friday October 13, 2006
General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the army, dropped a political bombshell last night by saying that Britain must withdraw from Iraq "soon" or risk serious consequences for Iraqi and British society.Dannatt is just saying what CENTCOM knows, Afghanistan can be saved, but not with Iraq in the picture.
In a blistering attack on Tony Blair's foreign policy, Gen Dannatt said the continuing military presence in Iraq was jeopardising British security and interests around the world.
"I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them," he said in comments that met with admiration from anti-war campaigners and disbelief in some parts of Westminster.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Gen Dannatt, who became chief of the general staff in August, said we should "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems".
He added: "We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear.
"As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited in a country, but we weren't invited ... by those in Iraq at the time. The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in.
"Whatever consent we may have had in the first place, may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance." He added that planning for the postwar phase was "poor" and the aim of imposing a liberal democracy in Iraq had been over-ambitious. He was more optimistic that "we can get it right in Afghanistan."
Such an outspoken intervention by a British army chief is unprecedented in modern times and bound to increase pressure on the government to continue making its Iraq case against a backdrop of increasing mayhem on the ground.
But he's placed a turd in Tony Blair's bed. If he fires him, the House of Commons will erup, using his words to damn Tony Blair. It might be the trigger to force him to retire.
If he doesn't fire him, it's an intolerable level of insubordination from the armed forces. He's just called Blair a liar and doomed the British mission in Iraq.
Look at the composition of forces in Iraq
More than 1,000 soldiers
- Australia - Australia's contribution to the 'Iraqi theatre' officially comes under Operation Catalyst. (see also: Australian contribution to the 2003 invasion of Iraq) The largest contribution is a battle group contingent of approximately 450 troops initially deployed on February 22, 2005 replacing 1250 Dutch personnel. This contingent was previously the Al Muthanna Task Group but now is the Overwatch Battle Group (West)). Further deployments include; 500 personnel stationed in Kuwait, a military security detachment (SECDET) formation composed of approximately 100 troops assigned to protect Australian official representatives in Baghdad, an Australian Army training team of about 30 troops and several dozen liaison officers distributed throughout headquarter and command facilities throughout Iraq. There is also a naval deployment in the Persian Gulf as part of Australian-led Task Force 158 (TF158) including warship HMAS Warramunga (180 personnel) and two AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft (total of 190 personnel including ground crew). The Australian Air Force has also deployed two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft with about 150 associated personnel. Casualties: in January 2005, eight Australian soldiers were wounded, two seriously, by a VBIED on the road to Baghdad International Airport. In mid-2005 one Australian private military contractor was ambushed and killed along with a British and American counterpart; another was killed by a roadside bomb in June 2006. On November 7, 2005, an Australian Special Air Service SASR soldier was killed in a vehicle training accident in Kuwait. On 21 April 2006 Australian soldier Jacob Kovco as part of the Baghdad SECDET was was accidentally shot and killed.
- United Kingdom - 7,500 troops in south east Iraq as of August 23rd 2006; also commanding a number of other coalition troops throughout the southeastern provinces. After the invasion, approximately 8,300 troops were stationed in the south of the country, but 800 were withdrawn in May 2006. About 1,500 more are stationed in The Persian Gulf region. Prime Minister Tony Blair had considered an expansion of up to 2,000 troops to replace the troops of Spain and other departing nations. However, military commanders as well as former diplomats criticizing US military tactics put this into question. On the 6th of September 2006, the Ministry of Defence declared that 360 additional soldiers would be sent to Iraq temporarily to reinforce security during the upcoming six-monthly rotation, and that they would be withdrawn 'no later than January'. The British forces command the Multi-National Division (South East) which consists of forces from several other countries. The deployment includes infantry, mechanised infantry and armoured units as well as water-borne patrol personnel and a range of aircraft. The UK has lost 119 soldiers in Iraq: 89 in ambushes, engagements or other attacks (including the shooting down of a C-130 Hercules transport plane which killed 10 soldiers). Out of the remaining 30, the cause of death included accidents, friendly fire, illnesses, and suicide. See also: Operation Telic (operational name for the UK's involvement in Iraq) for further information on the British contribution.
- Republic of Korea - About 2,300 South Korean troops are officially deployed in Iraq (as of August 2006). 1,000 troops were withdrawn in the first half of 2006, from an initial 3,300, after a December 2005 vote by the National Assembly (10-3 with one abstention), thus approving a government proposal. The main tasks of the troops are to offer medical services and build and repair roads, power lines, schools and other infrastructure. The 2,700 soldiers, mostly combat engineers of the Zaytun ("olive-peace") Division, were deployed in late September 2004 to Irbil in the Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq and combined with the 600 humanitarian troops that had been operating in southern Iraq since April 2003. Although South Korea has the third-largest military presence in Iraq after the United States and Britain, there have been no casualties (Korean nor Iraqi) in their area except two Iraqi civilians killed in a car accident.
Between 100 and 999 soldiers
- Poland - 900 in the 'First Warsaw Division'. The Polish forces command the Multi-National Division (South Central) which consists of forces from several other countries. The contingent was cut from 1,500 troops to 900 troops in March 2006, and Polish force will shift toward the training of Iraqi security forces. On 5 January 2006, Radio Polonia reported that Polish troops had handed over control of the central Babil province to US troops and would be stationed at camps in the cities of Kut and Diwaniyah for the remainder of their mandate. In accordance with the decision of the former Polish Minister of Defense Jerzy Szmajdziński, the number of troops was reduced from 2,500 to 1,500 during the second half of 2005. Poland's former leftist government, which lost 25 September 2005 elections, had planned to withdraw the remaining 1,500 troops in January. However, the new defense minister, Radosław Sikorski, visited Washington on the 3rd of December for talks on Poland's coalition plans, and Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz declared that he would decide after the Iraqi elections on 15 December, whether to extend its troops' mandate beyond 31 December. On Tuesday 22 December, Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz announced to reporters following a government meeting, that he had asked President Lech Kaczyński to keep Polish troops in Iraq for another year, calling it "a very difficult decision." Poland has lost 17 soldiers in Iraq: 11 in engagements or ambushes and 6 in various accidents. In a statement released in July 2004, Al Zarqawi released a statement threatening Japan, Poland and Bulgaria over their troop deployments. He demanded of the Polish government 'Pull your troops out of Iraq or you will hear the sounds of explosions that will hit your country.' Hours later Prime Minister Marek Belka denied, and deputy Defence Minister Janusz Zemke said pulling out would be a 'terrible mistake.'
Either way, in an October of surprises, this is the worst and the most critical one Bush has gotten so far. There is no replacement for the British Army in Iraq, none. The US has three brigades, two deployable, left for any crisis in the world. The British protect the gateway to Iraq. They control the highways to Baghdad and points north. Without them Sadr and friends will. And it's a fight to the border.
Dannatt has placed his job and his word on the line. He's speaking for the militaries of those serving in Iraq, the US and UK. It is pretty hard to say he doesn't have the facts or hasn't seen the data. Downing Street's response was lame and the White House silent. But if Blair fires him, he will be eaten alive in the Commons, if he doesn't, he'll be expected to step down as Prime Minister.
Even more than the US forces, UK officers are extremely reluctant to become political in such an open way, no one can recall any other officer which had taken such an open stand. In the clubby world of the upper ranks of the British Army, such messages of disapproval are expressed through emissaries and in private clubs and messes. Not in interviews.
Civilian control of the military is a value in the UK as it is in the US, and Dannatt knew he was crossing a line. Generals do not attack government policies in the media.
But make no mistake, this is the most serious threat that the Blair government and by extension, the Bush government has faced over Iraq policy.
It ain't just Bob Woodward anymore.
posted by Steve @ 2:03:00 AM