Were the invasion, occupation and reconstruction of Iraq mishandled?

Although the initial invasion and takeover of Iraq was achieved quickly and with the loss of fewer lives than many had predicted, the subsequent occupation by US and UK forces saw hundreds of thousands of people lose their lives.

The extensive loss of life and protracted occupation are in themselves reasons to examine the government’s approach to the war. Many criticisms have been raised on these issues and it has been said that the UK government failed both to carry out its own planning for the post-war situation and to influence US plans. However, some have argued that the situation that arose was an inevitable and predictable consequence of the invasion.

In 2008 an official report on “Stability Operations in Iraq” from May 2003 to January 2005 was published online by Wikileaks. It was highly critical of a number aspects of pre-war planning and post war operations and said that the US and UK may have breached the Geneva Conventions in respect of their duties as occupying powers.

As part of its “lessons learned” remit, the Inquiry has closely examined the plans made for post-war security and reconstruction as well as the implementation of these and subsequent approaches.

How many people were killed as a result of the invasion and its aftermath?

The issue of the total death toll resulting from the invasion and its aftermath is highly controversial. The government has disputed estimates produced by non-government organisations but has not produced its own estimate. Given that this is the most significant direct consequence of the war, the Inquiry will need to make an assessment of this issue.

However, the public hearings have paid little attention to the issue and the Inquiry has been criticised by Iraq Body Count (IBC) for its apparent lack of interest. IBC has pointed out that the issue has only been discussed briefly on two occasions – once during Tony Blair’s appearance and once in a session with former armed forces minister Adam Ingram. read more

Pre-war planning

What assessment did the UK government make of US military plans plans before it committed UK forces to military action?

Leaked documents show that in the run-up to the war British ministers and officials were concerned that the US military plans were not viable. The Downing Street memo records that in July 2002 a decision was taken to act on the assumption that Britain would take part on the invasion, depending on the assessment of US military plans. It is not clear what assessment was made subsequently.

What assessment did the UK government make of US post-war planning before it committed UK forces to military action?

There is significant evidence that British ministers and officials had serious concern in the run-up to the invasion that the US administration was not paying sufficient attention to planning for the post-war occupation of Iraq.

Was UK planning compromised by Tony Blair’s refusal to make it known within government that he intended to take part in the invasion?

There is some evidence, including the leaked “Stability Operations” report, that secrecy within government hindered planning. The Inquiry will need to assess the extent to which this secrecy was imposed for political rather than operational reasons.

Did UK military planning anticipate that an insurgency would arise during the occupation?

Were mistakes made during the invasion, occupation and reconstruction of Iraq?

Did the UK breach the Geneva Conventions during the occupation?

How effective were reconstruction efforts?

Did a failure to make progress on reconstruction provoke or exacerbate the insurgency?

Did UK forces allow militia to undermine the rule of law?

Did UK forces commit or collude in human rights abuses?

Did UK forces abuse the human rights of detainees in their custody?

It has been alleged that British forces committed widespread abuses of human rights in Iraq. Three separate inquiries have looked or are looking into these issues:

The Baha Mousa Public Inquiry looked into the death of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi civilian who died in Iraq in September 2003. It published its report in September 2011.

The Al-Sweady Inquiry is looking into allegations that British soldiers murdered and tortured Iraqi civilians in the aftermath of the “Battle of Danny Boy” in southern Iraq in 2004.

The Iraq Historic Allegations Team is an internal UK government Inquiry, rather than a public inquiry, and also is looking into specific cases rather than systemic issues. Its independence has been repeatedly challenged in the courts. In May 2013 the High Court ruled that, although IHAT was now sufficiently independent, a major overhaul of its investigative approach was needed, as well as a reconsideration of how systemic issues would be addressed.

The Iraq Inquiry has largely ignored these issues.

Did UK forces hand captives to the US in circumstances where they might be mistreated or unlawfully removed from the country?

The government has admitted that UK forces participated in the rendition of insurgents or terror suspects to the US. The transfer of prisoners from one jurisdiction is what is known as rendition and is highly controversial. It has also admitted that the US then moved two of these people from Iraq to Afghanistan, in breach of international law. Given that the US has admitted that its service personnel abused detainees and carried out interrogation techniques on detainees that amounted to torture, concerns have been expressed that the UK should not have handed detainees to the US authorities. The UK government has said this happened on the basis of written undertakings from the US that detainees would not be mistreated but these undertakings have been criticised as inadequate, ethically and in law.

A further inquiry, the Detainee Inquiry, also known as the Gibson inquiry, looked at “whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, held by other countries, that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11.” The Detainee Inquiry did state that it would examine:

the cases of two detainees captured by UK forces in Iraq, handed over to the Americans, and then subsequently subjected to rendition to Afghanistan in 2004, as well as any other allegations of the awareness of or involvement in mistreatment or rendition by UK personnel whether they are military or civilian.

This Inquiry was wound up in July 2012 and a partial report given to the prime minister.