UK Politics

UK had no idea in Iraq aftermath, says Col Tim Collins

Colonel Tim Collins
Image caption Colonel Tim Collins' eve-of-battle speech gained him recognition around the world

The UK government and military leaders had "absolutely no idea" what to do after invading Iraq, a prominent veteran of the 2003 war has claimed.

Part of the problem was "obsequious" officers telling ministers what they wanted to hear, said Col Tim Collins.

And he called on the Iraq inquiry to recommend action to end this culture.

He was speaking as Sir John Chilcot's Iraq inquiry team visited an Army base in Tidworth, Wiltshire, to hear evidence from former front-line troops.

Col Collins, who gained worldwide fame for his eve-of-battle speech to his men in the Royal Irish Regiment, said his troops lacked a clear understanding of the reasons for war.

"I don't think anybody had any idea why it was we were going to do this," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

'Biblical' looting

He said the prime minister at the time, Tony Blair, and US President George W Bush had given Saddam Hussein "an offer he couldn't understand" and even the Iraqi dictator probably did not know what he was required to do to avoid war.

"I rather thought that there would be some sort of plan and the government had thought this through and I was clearly wrong," he said.

"When I gave my now notorious talk to the Royal Irish, I was trying to rationalise for those young men what was going on from my standpoint. As it turned out, it had a wider appeal because nobody had any idea why this was happening.

"It became very apparent to me shortly after crossing the border that the government and many of my superiors had no idea what they were doing."

Individual units, like his, were left to make plans to restore order after the invasion, which they tried to do by forging links with local people who advised them how to keep shops, schools and markets open, said Col Collins.

"That was all done at a local level by the Irish brigade with no instruction whatsoever coming from above," he told Today.

"There was no preparation. They had absolutely no idea what to do. We turned up, took away a country's infrastructure and its law and order with absolutely nothing to put in its place."

Looting on a "biblical" scale which took place shortly after the invasion was "the fault of the coalition for not providing that help", he added.

Asked what he was hoping for from the Chilcot Inquiry, which is due to report by the end of the year, Col Collins said: "I think it has to look at the way in which government controls its armed forces and takes these decisions.

"And it has to look at the higher ranks of the Army and the armed services to weed out incompetence and obsequious behaviour, so people are giving sound advice to government, not telling them what they want to hear, which is what they were doing.

"Anyone who lost anyone dead in that conflict should feel angry about that."

He said the US military appeared better able to learn from mistakes in Iraq than the British.

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