Tuesday, December 23, 2008

CGS on Iraq: "We have achieved what we set out to achieve"

Chief of the General Staff and head of the British Army General Sir Richard Dannatt has told the BBC that he "completely refutes" comments that British troops have failed to achieve anything in Iraq.

Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Monday 22 December 2008, Sir Richard questioned "the wisdom of some of the armchair critics" who have been vocal in the press.

He also stressed to the soldiers and their families who have taken part in the Iraq campaign that it's been worthwhile, and none of the 178 lives that have been lost have been lost in vain.

CGS said:

"We have been quite clear about what we had to do and we have done it and we are going to leave in the early part of next year because the job is done, and I want to make it absolutely clear that that is the only reason why we are going and that particularly for the servicemen involved and particularly for those who have lost their lives while they have been there and their families, they feel proud of what we have achieved. The job is done and Basra and southern Iraq is a much better place now than it was under Sadam Hussein in 2002."

Sir Richard said he completely refuted the idea that only the Iraqis and the Americans installed security in Basra:

"The fact of the matter is that the British Army took possession of Basra in 2003 in an extremely skilful and successful campaign and in an ideal world we would probably not have stayed there that much longer.

"I am reminded of the story of one of Battery Group Commanders who was approached by a elderly tribal Sheik, who said it's the third time in my life I have welcomed the British to my city but if you stay too long we will start to shoot at you. And there has been an element of having had to stay too long.

"We did not go on a unilateral basis, we were there as part of a coalition and the coalition led by the Americans had a whole range of issues to sort out across the country. And that, quite rightly, became a real focus and we continued to hold the southern flank of the operation if you like in Basra, partly because we were there may be for longer than we would otherwise ideally have liked to have been there, to provide an opportunity for the Iranians to back the Shia militias and that became an extremely uncomfortable experience.

"But our people stood up to that and resisted that extremely well."

Sir Richard said that Basra was always going to be a city sorted out by the Iraqis, and that British forces, though it had taken time, had enabled them to do that:

"It's a city of huge size, however many British troops or coalition troops have been there we would never have been able to impose a regime and we had not intention of doing that.

"It was always going to be an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem, and what we had to do was to enable that to happen, and that has taken a certain amount of time, but it has now happened, and the operation that started at the end of March this year ["Charge of the Knights"] was an Iraqi led operation.

"They already had control of Basra - we had given them a control at the end of last year - it's absolutely right that they did that. So Iraqis solutions to Iraqi problems was always going to be the way to solve this one."

On recent negative media comments on the British withdrawal from Iraq, Sir Richard said:

"I ponder about the wisdom of some of the armchair critics who have sat very comfortably at home while British soldiers, sailors and airmen and marines have fought with extreme valour in Basra and the south of Iraq over the last six years. Lets face it, this was all about politics in the first place, it was about regime change.

"That's a very difficult and political undertaking. We had done our part to the best of our ability. It started in politics, it will finish in politics, and in the middle is intra Shia politics."We have sensitively done what seemed right and stood back when it was right and only re-engaged also when it's right. This is not an easy situation. It has been very complex and I am really dismayed by some of the criticism that's been made particularly over this weekend, and I want to certainly re-assure the soldiers and their families who have taken part in this campaign that it has been absolutely worthwhile and the 178 lives that have been lost have not been lost in vain. We have achieved what we set out to achieve.

"We have now concluded the operation, or about to conclude the operation, in Iraq on the basis that the job is done. And I think that everyone who has been involved in that should take huge satisfaction of a difficult job that has been done well.

"And actually relatively quickly. I don't want to draw comparisons with Northern Ireland [but] it took 38 years of involvement there by the Army to bring that to a satisfactory conclusion, 14 years in Bosnia, nine years and still counting in Kosovo.

"Yet the operation in Iraq has been concluded will be concluded in six years. That is relatively quick as far as these things go. It's been complex, it's been difficult, but it's been successful and I really believe that people should recognise that and be appreciative of what our servicemen have done."

Sir Richard concluded, thanking the British people for their support to the Armed Forces throughout the operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan:

"I would like to say thank you to the British people for supporting the Armed Forces in the way they have, the way people turn out to support homecoming parades it is incredible and I am really appreciative of that."

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