Friday, 8 July 2016


The question of consequences for the makers of bad or questionable decisions who sent our soldiers into harms way for political gain should be allowed avoid any lasting consequences is not a new one. Rudyard Kipling, wrote Mesopotamia in 1917 after a military disaster in Iraq – the last but one verse is particularly powerful and as relevant today as it was in 1917.

Mesopotamia (1917) – Rudyard Kipling

They shall not return to us, the resolute, the young, 
    The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave: 
But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung, 
    Shall they come with years and honour to the grave? 

They shall not return to us, the strong men coldly slain 
    In sight of help denied from day to day: 
But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain, 
    Are they too strong and wise to put away? 

Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide—
    Never while the bars of sunset hold. 
But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died, 
    Shall they thrust for high employments as of old? 

Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour? 
    When the storm is ended shall we find 
How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power 
    By the favour and contrivance of their kind? 

Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends, 
    Even while they make a show of fear, 
Do they call upon their debtors, and take counsel with their friends, 
    To conform and re-establish each career? 

Their lives cannot repay us—their death could not undo— 
    The shame that they have laid upon our race. 
But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew, 
    Shall we leave it unabated in its place?

Thursday, 7 July 2016


To summarize the summary, the Chilcot Report (which covered the period from 2001 until 2009) has confirmed that the dossier prepared by Blair to make the case for war was deliberately distorted in order to convince Parliament to vote for an illegal war. The dossier did not reflect the evidence given to Blair by the security services. The report also confirms that Blair undermined the UN Security Council’s authority and that war was not a last resort.

It is now clear that when Blair was unable to secure a second UN resolution to legitimize the war, he pretty much handed over UK foreign policy to George Bush. Blair’s legacy is over a million dead, a failed state and a destabilized Middle East riven by conflict. The region as a whole in crisis, with people abandoning their homes and possessions and desperately fleeing their own brutal governments and equally brutal terrorist organisations, to seek sanctuary in Europe.

Basically the dossier that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq was based on a whole series of false statements (lies to the rest of us). Any judgements made about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were unsound or unproven. Yet statements about WMD were written up as established fact – something which they were not. The Intelligence material used to justify the invasion had "not established beyond doubt" that Saddam Hussein had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.

Additionally the Joint Intelligence Committee said Iraq has "continued to produce chemical and biological agents" and there had been "recent production". It never stated that Iraq had the means to deliver chemical and biological weapons and it did not say that Iraq had continued to produce weapons. And Blair’s policy on the Iraq invasion was made on the basis of flawed intelligence assessments – this was not challenged, and it should have been robustly challenged – but wasn’t.
Blair staked everything on the case for war – unfortunately for him (and the Blairites) - the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were "far from satisfactory". The invasion began on 20th March 2003 but it was not the 13th March that the then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith advise that there was, on balance, a secure legal basis for military action. It is worth noting that aside from No 10's response to his letter on 14th March, no formal record was made of that decision and the precise grounds on which it was made remain unclear.
The UK's actions directly undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council, as the UN's Charter places responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security on the Security Council. The UK government made much of its false claim that it was acting on behalf of the international community "to uphold the authority of the Security Council". Yet it knew it did not have a majority supporting its actions. In Blair’s Cabinet, there was little questioning of Lord Goldsmith about his advice and no substantive discussion of the legal issues was recorded.
If the case for war was flaky, so was the preparation for war on the part of the MoD. Chilcot noted that the military had "little time" to properly prepare three military brigades for deployment in Iraq. For years soldiers who have served in the army in recent and not so recent years have repeatedly told me (`nd others) that they routinely bought their own kit.
The risks were neither "properly identified nor fully exposed" to ministers, resulting in "equipment shortfalls". Between 2003 and 2009, our soldiers in Iraq faced gaps in some key capability areas - including armoured vehicles, reconnaissance and intelligence assets and helicopter support.
Chilcot has noted that it was not sufficiently clear which person in the department within the Ministry of Defence had responsibility for identifying and articulating such gaps. Delays in providing adequate medium weight protected patrol vehicles (something that resulted in the deaths of our soldiers) and the failure to meet the needs of UK forces for reconnaissance and intelligence equipment and helicopters should not have been tolerated.
Despite repeated and explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were significantly underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were "wholly inadequate" – basically there was no coherent plan for the aftermath of the invasion. The UK government pretty much failed to achieve its stated objectives it had set itself in Iraq – and then in my opinion tried to spin its way clear of the consequences.
More than 200 British soldiers died as a result of the conflict. The Iraqi people also suffered greatly, by July 2009, at least 150,000 Iraqis had died, and more than one million were displaced. By 2016 this figure had grown to 1.2 million and the consequences of the invasion and destruction of the Iraqi dictatorship had destabilised the region and fed the war in neighbouring Syria.
The decision to go to war understandably should be the most difficult decision that any political leader ever has to make. To justify that decision, with falsehood and deceit for simple political expediency, is and will always be unforgiveable. Current and former political leaders who directly lied to the public to make the case for a war, which put our soldiers (without the necessary kit they needed and with ill-defined objectives) into harms way, should justly face lasting consequences for their actions.

Monday, 4 July 2016


Remembering Mametz and the Somme.
Last Friday (July 1st) was the one-hundredth anniversary of the first day of the start of the battle of the Somme; there were 57,470 casualties, with 19,240 men being killed on the first day. The Somme battle would last through until it ended in November 1916. It was at Mametz Wood were the 38th (Welsh) Division, raised in Wales, would fight during the Battle of the Somme. Their attack was aimed German positions in the wood, between 7th July and 12 July 1916.

The Somme 1916 (Reuters)
On the 7th July the first wave, which was intended to take the wood in a few hours, ran into strongly defended fortifications, machinegun posts and shelling which killed and injured over 400 soldiers before they entered the wood. Attacks by the 17th Division on 8th July failed to improve the position. A full-scale attack planned for the 9 July was postponed until 10th July 1916. 

The attack on 10th July was on a larger scale, in spite of heavy casualties the edge of the wood was reached and some bayonet fighting took place before the wood was entered and a number of German machine guns silenced. Fierce fighting in the wood took place the Germans defenders stubbornly gave up the ground.

By the 12th July Mametz wood was effectively cleared. The Welsh Division had lost about 4,000 men killed or wounded in this searing engagement and did not see action as a division until July 31st 1917 at Passchendaele. The fight for Mametz was essentially a soldiers battle, one fought with great courage and endurance, in the most difficult of circumstances.

Welsh Memorial at Mametz
Despite the delay in clearing the wood, a volunteer citizen force recruited from all parts of Wales (Caernarfon, Ynys Mon, Swansea, Cardiff, Rhondda,  Gwent, etc.) achieved its objective, clearing the wood in the face of fierce resistance from what was probably at the time the most efficient well trained fighting force in Europe. They paid a terrible price suffering some 4,000 casualties – many of the dead and the missing still have no known grave, being commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.