BRITISH attempts to improve “dire” planning for the aftermath of the Iraq invasion were repeatedly ignored by the US, the inquiry into the war heard yesterday.
Tony Blair himself raised concerns directly with US President George Bush amid alarm in London at the state of the Pentagon’s preparations.
But senior figures in Washington had a “real blind spot” and assumed there would be “dancing in streets” when the invasion took place, senior diplomat Edward Chaplin told the inquiry.
“We tried to point out that was extremely optimistic,” he said.
Mr Chaplin, who was head of the Middle East section of the Foreign Office at the time of the March 2003 invasion, said there was “a pretty dire state of lack of planning”.
There was “a touching belief (in Washington) that we shouldn’t worry so much about the aftermath because it was all going to be sweetness and light”.
“I think ministers were aware at their level. They constantly talked to their US opposite numbers for the need for proper aftermath planning.”
Mr Chaplin, who was British Ambassador to Baghdad in 2004, said the US State Department had initially started the planning for after the invasion. But its work was discarded when the task was taken over by the Pentagon, which was hostile to United Nations involvement, as the invasion drew closer.
Asked whether the Pentagon involved Britain in the planning, Mr Chaplin said: “They didn’t take many steps to involve their own colleagues in the administration in planning.”
Britain started planning for an Iraq without Saddam Hussein in the autumn of 2002, another senior Foreign Office official told the inquiry.
Peter Ricketts, director general political between 2001 and 2003, said: “It wasn’t clear then exactly what scenario there would be. But we assumed from that point onwards that we would be dealing with an Iraq without Saddam Hussein and in the aftermath of a military intervention.”
Ricketts, now the top civil servant at the Foreign Office, said ministers had urged the US to allow for more time for planning ahead of the invasion.
In January 2003, the British perceived that the US “tempo” on the invasion was accelerating, he said. “We made a major effort from the prime minister downwards to make the case again... to make the case for more time.
“I don’t think we said six months or three months or four months were essential but we were certainly feeling in general that more time was needed.”
He said the Foreign Office stressed to Downing Street the need for post-invasion planning to be taken “very seriously indeed”.
“We were very doubtful indeed about the neo-con assumption that international forces would be welcomed as liberators.”
Asked whether Number 10 listened to the Foreign Office’s advice, he added: “Absolutely, and Mr Blair and the Foreign Secretary (Jack Straw) in their many conversations always made a point I think of stressing to the US that they must take planning for post-conflict Iraq just as seriously as planning for any military operation.”
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