Iraq Inquiry: Seventh Day of Public Hearings, with Boyce & Tebbit, 3rd December 2009

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    3rd December, 2009

    Iraq Inquiry: 7th day of public hearings with Boyce and Tebbit

    By Julie

    This post, like the 1st Day, the 2nd Day, the 3rd Day ,the 4th Day, the 5th Day and the 6th Day comes with my grateful thanks to Julie here

    Also see Iraq Inquiry timetable of hearings, who and when

    Pic: (left) Lord Michael Boyce; (right) Sir Kevin Tebbit

    These are the most significant quotes from the seventh session of the Iraq Inquiry.

    And you can read the full transcript of the session here

    And you can watch the video here


    7th day of public hearings

    Subject: Military Planning

    3rd December 2009: Morning session: Evidence by

    • Lord Michael Boyce (Chief of Defence Staff, the professional head of the armed forces)
    • Sir Kevin Tebbit (Permanent Secretary of the department responsible for the policy advice, financing and general management of the department)


    “In the latter part of 2001, we had also heard the there was talk about from the United States side, there was talk about Iraq and an effort to try to tie in somehow or other with Iraq, who had been involved in Al Qaeda in the 9/11 bombings. We absolutely did not want to get involved in such conversations. It was made very clear to the people who were my people, either in Tampa or in any other conversations in telling the Americans that we were not interested in discussing Iraq, and absolutely no contingency planning went on in 2001 so far as Iraq was concerned.”

    “Did we have any influence?“, I think, you know, if the Americans were minded to go, at one time, by the end of the year, but they wanted us on board. Therefore, our protestations that we wanted to go down the UN route first and foremost, actually, if you like, did influence their behaviour. So I think we did have an impact. Whereas, if we were offering a very small contribution, they probably would have just rolled past it and it wouldn’t have had as much bearing.”

    “I think, as far as the Pentagon was concerned, both the civilians in the Pentagon and the uniforms, they just thought that Iraq would be fine on the day, that, having knocked Saddam Hussein down, that the place suddenly the following day would be a lovely democracy and everybody would be happy.”

    “The force those units which were going to the front of the front line on 20 March, I am confident were properly equipped.”

    “I think, as far as our own area of operation was concerned, we felt that probably we were about okay, but I was always extremely concerned about the anorexic nature of the American contribution, and not just because the Fourth Infantry Division was taking a while to get there, but because it was Rumsfeld the Americans, certainly at that particular stage, were very much, “We are here to do the war fighting, not the peacekeeping.” And combine that with the obsession that Mr Rumsfeld had with network centric warfare and therefore to prove that you could minimise the number of your troops, in particular, because you had clever methods of conducting warfare, other than using boots on the ground, meant that, in my view anyway, we were desperately under resourced in terms of boots on the ground so far as those forces going towards Baghdad were concerned.”


    “That is to say that, were the UK to consider doing something of that kind, military action, it would need to be only after we had exhausted the arms’ control, UN, UNMOVIC, as it became, route, only when public opinion was behind it and understood the difficulties and dangers, only when there was a broad coalition of international support for the action, and only when there was clarity as to what would happen afterwards.”

    “It’s important not to feel that there was a military pressure building for things to happen. That was never the case. At this early stage, and I think we are still talking about April 2002, we did not know whether the Americans were going to go for a military option and, if so, which one. So this was very, very preliminary ground clearing,”

    “The Secretary of State, Geoff Hoon, I’m sure will talk for himself, but he continually emphasised to Rumsfeld the importance of pursuing the UN route and that disarmament was the UK objective, not regime change. We talked about changing the behaviour of the regime, which, by implication, may well have meant that Saddam Hussein couldn’t stay in those circumstances, but  it was an order to secure disarmament. Rice, I think, Condi Rice, said to us that the US policy had been transformed by being persuaded to go down the UN route. One took these things with a certain pinch of salt, but I think there was quite a lot of evidence to suggest that we were having an impact in terms of the advice and the concerns we were expressing in parallel with the military planning. This also included, for example, the decisions by the Americans to involve as many nations as possible in their efforts to persuade them, as it were, to take the multilateral route which was fundamental to British thinking rather than any unilateral approach. So I think we were getting through. The concerns we expressed in July were beginning to have an impact, but this was a difficult structure in Washington to penetrate.”

    So this was very much a view, I think, that the Prime Minister and government had, that this was a vital problem for international security that should be dealt with by the international community as a whole and, therefore, that Britain should have a full part in it and that also informed the idea of a large-scale ground force component. It was just the defence budget itself was too small, but, you know, I find it difficult to be saying this, but at no stage did the Chancellor of the Exchequer withhold the resources necessary to carry out the operation.”

    “Now, of course, there have been some people who have argued that oil was at the bottom of it all. That was completely untrue, but it was very clear in planning that it was important to secure the oil fields both in the north and in the south, very early on, to prevent Saddam Hussein firing them and causing an environmental and a humanitarian disaster, but also to preserve the resources necessary for rebuilding Iraq afterwards.”

    “I think one I would just reinforce what people have said earlier in this Inquiry, that the effect of 9/11 was absolutely massive on the American people, absolutely fundamental. It was worse than Pearl Harbour in a way, and they felt that never again would they watch a dictator build up a military capability with weapons of mass destruction and be able to choose the timing and the nature of an attack. This was the preemption philosophy, and the American thinking at that stage was that this was such an overriding concern they were not prepared to sit back and allow it to happen. They would take action beforehand. That stream of thinking was very, very strong, so we were competing with three rather different views: a rather simplistic military approach, on the one hand; a deeply ingrained view about the need for preemption and the fact that things had been allowed to go on for too long already, and that one needed to act militarily; and the third one was very much in line with our own views about the importance of exhausting the arms control track, achieving disarmament through negotiation, multilateral approaches, and a very clear view about the effort that would be required after the invasion to rebuild Iraq, so, in July, one was right in the middle of these issues, and I think the British view  was that we had the opportunity to shape thinking in Washington in a positive, multilateral direction, and that we felt that we were making some progress but not complete progress.”

    “I think, the Prime Minister felt that, you know, this was the right thing to do. It wasn’t simply a question of certainly there wasn’t a question of poodling to the Americans, but that the importance of disarmament was paramount, and if it meant one had to take military action, then so be it, albeit with the conditions which we imposed. It is very easy to say, with the benefit of hindsight, “Well, perhaps we should have pushed harder”. I certainly didn’t have the impression that we weren’t pushing hard. We all were pushing as hard as we could all the way through.”

    “Things like individual items, I have to say the press had almost treated it like a sport, trying to find reasons for criticism, but enhanced combat body armour was an issue, and just to give you an illustration, for example, in the weekly urgent operational requirement update on 28 February we knew that 25,000 had been delivered, with deliveries rising to 14,000 a week, basically we then had something like a target of 33,000.”

    I put it that way because it wasn’t necessarily a second Security Council Resolution in all circumstances. It was we wanted one if we could possibly get one, and if we couldn’t get one, the reasons for failure had to have been clearly, as it were, unreasonable behaviour by other members of the Security Council rather than a lack of general support”

    “I seem to recall the Prime Minister himself asking questions at that stage about minimising risks to civilians and how that could be managed in terms of targeting, in terms of a number of other points.”

    “I think the first thing I would say about that is that nobody, I think, expected, including the Iraqis themselves, frankly, the level of violence and internecine strife which finally emerged to actually happen. I think everybody, totally, was surprised at what happened eventually. I don’t think anybody was completely prepared for that. I think there were obvious concerns that these were, to some extent, risks, but the scale of violence that finally emerged, I think, surprised everybody.”

    “I think one of the consequences of the way in which the United States finally decided to go about things, with ORHA then being succeeded rapidly by a sort of vice-consul, Bremer, is that decisions were taken on deba’athification and on the removal of senior military officers right down the chain to quite low levels, that would not have been consistent with British opinion. We felt that, in doing that, a huge problem was being created.”

    Important exchanges

    LYNE: “So by and large, if we were going to go in, you were in favour of going in with a large package?”

    BOYCE: “Do it properly, yes.”

    LYNE: “If I can put it another way, if, in ideal conditions, you were preparing for an operation like this, would you have deployed the land force sooner to give it more time to train on the ground or to acclimatise or to make sure that it had all the right equipment in the right places?”

    BOYCE:My advice was that they had had sufficient time to make themselves ready.”

    LYNE: “And the equipment was in the right places?”

    BOYCE: “Yes.”

    LYNE: “When they were debriefed after they completed their tours of duty, were they still saying that they had had the right equipment at the right time in the right places?”

    TEBBIT: “The impression I had was that, overall that was the case. That doesn’t mean to say there weren’t individual cases where people said they hadn’t.”

    LYNE: “Lord Boyce, looking at another of the areas in which maybe we need to learn some lessons, did you feel, as Chief of Defence Staff, that you had the right form of two-way communication with the political leadership in this country, with the Secretary of State for Defence, and, above all, with the Prime Minister? Did you feel throughout this period that you were fully and appropriately consulted by the Prime Minister, that he was open to your advice and listening to it, that you were given a clear definition of what our political leaders were asking the forces under your command to do and that you were given clear decisions when you needed them?”

    BOYCE: “Yes, I was very happy about that. I saw the Defence Secretary, not only daily, but more often than daily, certainly as the tension was building up, and, likewise, the Prime Minister I saw frequently and we always had a totally open conversation. My job was to present him with what the military capability was, what was within our capacity to do. He always listened very carefully, as did the Secretary of State, and I always felt that he took on board what advice I was giving him. I never felt that I was being excluded from any particular consultations, as far as the military end of the as far as the military aspect of the whole issue was.”

    LYNE: “Within these frank conversations, were there times when you had to express serious reservations or warnings to the Prime Minister about the course we were heading down?”

    BOYCE: “I would certainly, on a number of occasions, have expressed views about, for example, the holding up decisions to get reserves mobilised, the decision to go overt or to start allowing the preparations to be made, and whatever other problems as I saw them, as they came up, you know, which we would then go about solving. I certainly never had any hesitation in making those known, and, indeed, was taken aside from time to time to  say, “Can’t we make it more of a half full rather than a half empty assessment?”, but my view was what I had to do was provide as realistic an appraisal as possible, which was what I was being asked to do and I never felt I was being shut out from doing that.”

    LYNE: “Lord Butler’s report”

    BOYCE:” Not by the Ministry anyway.”

    LYNE:Lord Butler’s report took issue with the style of what was called “sofa government”, I think, which meant that formal processes of decision-making were not always being used in this period. Did that bother you, or did you think the Whitehall decision-making was working well?”

    BOYCE: “That was not my problem. I had the ear of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary, whether it was on the sofa or whether it was in the Cabinet room, and I never had a problem with my communication line. Whether it was a correct way to do things or not is a matter for somebody else. As far as getting my point across was concerned, I was achieving that.”

    LYNE:”Had we not already, long before then, got ourselves so hooked on to an American policy that we couldn’t have unhooked ourselves?”

    BOYCE: “I was absolutely prepared to unhook ourselves. As I said to you earlier on, up until 17 March and the decision taken, you know, the debate in Parliament, which was to say whether or not we should get engaged. I was perfectly prepared to give an order saying, “We will not go further. We will stop where we are”.

    LYNE: “So you could have had your forces deployed out there but you would have said, “They are not going to cross the start line”.

    BOYCE: “Absolutely.”

    LYNE: “Would that not have been very humiliating?”

    BOYCE: “We are a democracy. If Parliament said we were not to engage, we would not engage.”

    LYNE:” What would it have done for our relations with the United States, including our very important military relationship with the United States?”

    BOYCE: “Pure speculation.”

    LYNE: “It must have been a matter of your calculations, surely?”

    BOYCE:”As I said earlier on, we kept on saying to the Americans all the way through that there were provisos about our commitment, and, towards the end, one of those provisos was that Mr Blair was going to put this to a full Parliament. They understood absolutely that if Parliament had said no, we would not be going, and what contingency planning they were doing, if that were to happen, I have absolutely no idea.”

    FREEDMAN: “But ministers, presumably, would have liked some sense of potential casualties, for example. What numbers were we putting at risk? Were they told this sort of thing?”

    BOYCE:” Part of the briefing process would have included casualty assessments, yes.”

    FREEDMAN: “Can you recall what it was?”

    BOYCE:”I don’t know remember what the numbers were. All I know is they were a lot less what actually happened at the end of the day was significantly less than what we actually thought might have happened, particularly since part of our casualty assessment process was that we thought, in fact we were completely convinced, that we would meet at some time or other chemical and biological warfare, and indeed, as you will have seen from the reaction of our force on the ground  in Kuwait, on 20 March, when the Iraqis fired missiles at us in response to the initial bombing, the first reaction of everybody was to don their special protective equipment, and we had various lines on the map in Iraq at points where we thought that we almost would certainly meet some sort of chemical or biological resistance, and one of the reasons why our casualty assessments were significantly lower at the end of the day, of course, was we never actually met any chemical or biological weapons in reality.”

    FREEDMAN: “Just a final bit on our own planning: how good was the interagency coordination on this question? Were you happy with the relationships with DFID, for example?”

    BOYCE: “No, not particularly. I thought that DFID were particularly uncooperative, particularly as led by Clare Short.”

    FREEDMAN: “Would you like to elaborate?”

    BOYCE: “Well, you had people on the ground who were excellent operators for DFID, who were told to sit in a tent and not do anything because that’s the instruction they had received and I actually met them.”

    FREEDMAN: “How did you address this in problem within Government?”

    BOYCE: “Well, I passed it up my command chain, if you like, and I expressed my concerns to the Defence Secretary. But that’s about all I could do. Indeed, a lot of the activity that went on the ground was done by members of the division without the support of the DFID that they might have actually hoped for.”

    FREEDMAN: “Sir Kevin, would you like to?”

    TEBBIT: “I think we got there in the end but it was hard pounding. I think the problems DFID faced were, firstly, that they felt that a second UN Security Council Resolution was absolutely essential before they could agree to do anything, and therefore that the UN framework they required was absolute, and that meant, of course, that it was only late in the day that we were able to get them fully engaged. I think the second thing was that their focus on poverty relief, rather than backing a strategic objective of the British Government, meant that they were not sure at first that the Iraqi people were quite poor enough to deserve major DFID aid. I remember saying at one stage to them, “If you wait a bit, they certainly will be, if you don’t come forward.” The amounts of money which they were envisaging allocating to our area, if you like I call it that once we had an area of operations, the four southern provinces I thought very small. That, eventually, was increased, but I think it did take a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister to finally hammer out the terms of proper support. This was in the immediate phase, after the military operations, where essentially it is our armed forces that would have to administer the direct humanitarian assistance. That, as I say, was hammered out, I recall, in March, not until quite close to the final events, by the Prime Minister personally presiding over a meeting.”


    See my earlier post on Clare Short’s behaviour.

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    One Response to “Iraq Inquiry: Seventh Day of Public Hearings, with Boyce & Tebbit, 3rd December 2009”

    1. All PRO Iraq war summaries of the Iraq Inquiry « Julie's think tank Says:

      […] 7th Day: Boyce & Tebbit […]

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