Speed of military success in Iraq 'took planners by surprise'

British occupying forces were unprepared for the problems they faced running Iraq after invading in 2003, the official British inquiry into the war heard today.

The speed of the military operation took planners by surprise, according to a senior Army officer, and reconstruction efforts were hampered by a growing insurgency; security issues; economic, governance and power supply problems.

Lieutenant General Frederick Viggers, who was the senior British military representative in Iraq from May to September 2003, said: “It was rather like going to the theatre and seeing one sort of play and realising you were watching a tragedy as the curtains came back.

“We suffered from a lack of any real understanding of the state of that country post-invasion.”

Not enough research had been carried out, he said, and the reality was a “long way” from the expectation that it would be a humanitarian crisis with a population willing to help.

Gen Viggers told the inquiry it took 16 days for troops to enter Baghdad from the start line, compared with the estimated 100 days.

“That was a stunning military operation but in so doing it took everyone by surprise,” he said.

After being met initially with a “hugely celebratory population”, the tide quickly turned against the occupying forces, the inquiry heard.

“We were not laying on everything that we were expected to do,” Gen Viggers said. “They are saying to us ’you people put a man on the moon and now you are telling us we can’t have electricity’.”

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