Iraq War Caused Rupture Between US and British Military


By Andrew Gilligan

Daily Telegraph
November 23, 2009


The end of "major combat operations" in May 2003 set the stage for two different kinds of conflict. There was the nascent insurgency in US-controlled central Iraq - though not, initially, in the four southern provinces occupied by Britain. And, quite unknown at the time, there was the growing battle between the UK and America, whose relations appear to have been far worse than anyone suspected.

To deal with security threats, British generals favoured what one, Maj-Gen Andrew Stewart, overall commander between November 2003 and July 2004, described in the leaked documents as a '"soft' approach...using negotiation with the Iraqis wherever possible... We have always come at it from the angle that jaw-jaw is better than war-war."

Maj-Gen Graeme Lamb, general officer commanding of 3 Division to November 2003, said: "Securing military victory over the enemy is probably not a reality and by becoming fixated with it, you risk losing a campaign that could have been won by soft effects."

The US, however, believed in pursuing, detaining or killing the enemy, not talking to him or fixing his local power station. The overall commander in Iraq, General Rick Sanchez, wanted Britain to be much tougher in the south against supporters of the firebrand Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, who had declared a shadow government and fought a number of clashes with American troops in Shia parts of Baghdad. The British were under Sanchez's command, but, say the papers, they simply refused to obey.

When US orders came in, said Brigadier Bruce Brealey, Britain's chief of operations support in the second half of 2003, "we noted the intent but tended to ignore the detail... We would follow the 'what' and often ignore the 'how.'"

Gen Stewart said: "I spent a significant amount of my time 'consenting and evading' US orders using negotiation where possible and trying to achieve the same result using different means." The British opposed America's focus on military activity, rather than reconstruction. Gen Stewart said: "A failure to understand what constitutes an insurgency

has resulted in faulty campaign planning in Baghdad. Only of late has the light [over reconstruction] come on, and that all too dimly."

Colonel J.K.Tanner, Gen Stewart's chief of staff, said: "As far as the Iraqis were concerned, here was a nation who could put people on the moon but who could not, or would not, fix the electricity supply."

Matters came to a head in March 2004 when - without even telling Britain - the Americans arrested a key lieutenant of al-Sadr and shut down his newspaper. All Iraq, including the British sector, burst into flames. General Stewart, who said, he "was trying to neutralise Sadr through the use of local Iraqis and succeeding," refused a direct US order to "conduct offensive operations" against the Sadr militia, causing a massive row which went all the way to Washington and a rare diplomatic reprimand from the US to a friendly ally.

Tensions first emerged, say the documents, in the planning phase before the war even started. British officers did try to raise the issue of reconstruction, says one of the key reports, but "had to work to a timetable and strong ideological views set in the US.... The train was in Grand Central Station, and was leaving at a time we could not control."

The Ministry of Defence "misunderstood" where the power in the US lay - sending "a high-ranking national contingent commander," Air Marshal Sir Brian Burridge, to US headquarters in Qatar "without fully recognising that his ability to influence events would always be limited."

Our documents detail the outbreak of trouble in a US-UK military relationship which has continued to deteriorate since, with many in the Pentagon feeling "let down" by the "weak" British. But ultimately, history may have shown that the Americans were more right than we were. By 2006-7, Britain's softly-softly tactics had left Basra in near-anarchy - while in Baghdad the US "surge" had brought about a significant reduction in violence.