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Britain begins Iraq war inquiry with spotlight on Blair

Tension between British, US military leaders in Iraq: report
London (AFP) Nov 23, 2009 - Hostility between US and British military leaders in Iraq ran deep, with one describing his US counterparts as "group of Martians," a newspaper reported Monday, citing leaked government documents. The top British commander in the country, Major General Andrew Stewart, said "our ability to influence US policy in Iraq seemed to be minimal" in the first year of the conflict, according to documents published by the Daily Telegraph. Britain's chief of staff in Iraq described as difficult attempts to communicate with senior US military commanders, "a group of Martians" for whom "dialogue is alien," the newspaper said. "Despite our so-called special relationship,' I reckon we were treated no differently to the Portuguese," the chief of staff, Colonel JK Tanner, said.

The statements were made in official interviews conducted by the Ministry of Defence with army commanders who had just returned from Iraq during the first year of peacekeeping from May 2003 to May 2004. Transcripts of the interviews, leaked to the newspaper, were revealed one day before an independent inquiry into Britain's role in Iraq begins public hearings on Tuesday, with the aim of learning the lessons from the conflict. British troops ended their mission in Iraq in July. The probe will reopen debate over what remains a highly controversial campaign, in which 179 British troops lost their lives.

A leaded army analysis published by the newspaper on Sunday showed Britain had no effective plan for what to do after coalition forces overthrew leader Saddam Hussein following the 2003 invasion. According to Monday's report, General Stewart bluntly said that "incredibly," there was not even a secure communication link between his headquarters in southern Basra and the US commander in Baghdad. A US decision to try to capture a key lieutenant of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in a British-run area "was not co-ordinated with us and no-one (was) told that it was going to happen," a commander said. Colonel Tanner said: "The whole system was appalling. We experienced real difficulty in dealing with American military and civilian organisations who, partly through arrogance and partly through bureaucracy, dictate that there is only one way: the American way."
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Nov 23, 2009
An independent inquiry into Britain's role in the war in Iraq begins public hearings on Tuesday that will culminate in the eagerly-awaited testimony from former prime minister Tony Blair.

Military chiefs, diplomats, ministers and senior officials will all be called before the five-member committee as it looks into what lessons can be learned from the controversial war.

The inquiry committee's chairman, former civil servant John Chilcot, said Monday he was confident of producing a "full and insightful" account of the decision-making process which took Britain into the conflict.

"Our determination is to do not merely a thorough job but one that is frank and will bear public scrutiny," he told the BBC.

"All five members of the committee are now completely independent from different perspectives and bodies of experience," he added.

John Scarlett, the former head of foreign intelligence service MI6, and one-time ambassadors to the United States, Christopher Meyer, and to the United Nations, Jeremy Greenstock, will be among the first to give evidence.

Scarlett was chairman of Britain's main intelligence committee when Blair's government produced a dossier outlining how Iraq had weapons of mass destruction -- a principal justification for the US-led invasion on March 2003.

The weapons were never found. Why ministers thought they existed -- and where they obtained their evidence -- will be addressed by the committee.

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix are also reportedly on the list of witnesses.

However, Blair's evidence is likely to be the highlight of the Iraq Inquiry, which will be held in public except where national security is a concern. The inquiry covers the period from July 2001 to July 2009.

Blair's decision to back US president George W. Bush and send 45,000 British troops into Iraq went against strong opposition from within Europe and at home, and was made in the absence of explicit UN approval.

The British campaign, which formally ended in July this year with the withdrawal of all but a handful of British troops from Iraq, came to define Blair's 10 years in power.

Commentators also suggest the divisions it caused in Europe may have cost him the post of European Union Council president, which last week went to Belgium's Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy.

Blair and other Labour Party government figures will give evidence in the new year, when the inquiry team considers the thorny issue of the legality of the conflict, with the final report not due before the end of 2010 at the earliest.

Chilcot said his committee does not want to put anyone on trial but will not shy away from criticism.

"I am quite confident that we can come up with a full and insightful description of the different considerations affecting the legality of the war," he told Britain's Press Association.

And he warned against witnesses giving evasive answers.

"Because we have so much documentary evidence, a witness who sought to hold something back or misdescribe something would be on a loser because we already have all the factual underpinning."

Announcing the long-awaited probe in June -- the third official investigation into aspects of the war -- Prime Minister Gordon Brown said it would be held in private and would apportion no blame.

However, he was forced to backtrack following a public uproar, an indication of how high tensions still run on issues surrounding the conflict.

The committee has already met with families of the 179 soldiers who died in the Iraq campaign, where they discussed why Britain went into the conflict and whether troops were properly trained and equipped.

On the eve of the inquiry, a newspaper reported British military leaders were deeply frustrated with a lack of communication with their US counterparts in the first year of the conflict, citing leaked government documents.

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