Select Committee on Defence Third Report


1. The men and women of the Armed Forces deserve the highest praise for their conduct and performance in Iraq. The commitment required of them not only during the combat operations but also in the subsequent peacekeeping and peace support roles is of a very high order. That commitment is most forcibly demonstrated by the fact that 33 members of the Armed Forces lost their lives during the combat operation, and, 24 have subsequently lost their lives in the post-conflict period.[1] In addition 1,757 personnel have suffered injuries or illnesses severe enough to require their aeromedical evacuation, 160 of whom have been seriously ill or injured.[2] Considering the size of the deployed force and the task demanded of them these figures are thankfully small. But that is no comfort to the friends and families of those who lost their lives. We extend to them our deepest sympathies.

2. We are conscious that our coalition partners and the Iraqi people have also suffered significant casualties and we extend our sympathies to them as well.

3. We are aware that there have been a very small number of occasions on which the conduct of British service personnel appears to have fallen below what is expected of them. Some of these have been the subject of continuing investigations. We did not consider it appropriate to seek evidence on particular cases before those investigations had been completed.

Our inquiry

4. It has been the practice of Defence Committees to conduct inquiries following major combat operations involving UK Armed Forces.[3] The focus of our inquiry and therefore of this report has been the British contribution to the combat operations in Iraq in March and April 2003. But we have also examined the preparatory and deployment phases and the transition from combat operations to peace keeping and peace support operations. It is our intention to return to issues relating to the continuing British military commitment in Iraq later this year.

5. We chose not to commence our inquiry into Operation Telic until the combat operations had concluded, in order, to quote our predecessors in 1991, 'to avoid any possibility of endangering their success and thus the lives of British and Allied personnel, or of distracting the attention of those whose efforts had to be single-mindedly devoted to the endeavour.'[4] Nonetheless we kept a close eye on the operations as they unfolded. We are grateful to the Secretary of State for following the example of his predecessors in being prepared to give us regular private briefings during the combat phase.

6. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) routinely conducts a 'lessons learned' exercise after an operation. On this occasion it decided to publish some initial lessons within a few months, with a more considered report following later. The Secretary of State told us:

    …the Ministry of Defence has launched a thorough and broad-ranging exercise to identify lessons learned from the operation. This work has only just started; it will be several weeks before we can publish our initial thoughts, and several months before we can present definitive conclusions.[5]

MoD published Operations in Iraq: First Reflections on 7 July 2003 and Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the Future on 11 December 2003. The second of these documents is not dissimilar in form to MoD's Kosovo: Lessons from the crisis, which was published in 2000. We welcome the openness of MoD and the Armed Forces in publishing its 'lessons learned' reports on operations in Iraq and we commend them for the efforts they made to do so promptly after the major combat phase had concluded.

7. Our inquiry began with evidence from the Secretary of State on 14 May 2003. Our final session of evidence was again with the Secretary of State on 5 February 2004. In total we took evidence on 19 occasions from 48 witnesses. As well as senior members of the Armed Forces and MoD who were involved in the operation our witnesses included officials from other Government departments, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and of the media, as well as academics and commentators. A full list of our witnesses is on pages 204-6 . We also visited many of the units of our Armed Forces which took part in the operation and other organisations which contributed. In July 2003 we travelled to Iraq. We visited British forces in the south of the country and then flew to Baghdad to meet Ambassador Paul Bremer and other senior members of the Coalition Provisional Authority and Lt General Ricardo Sanchez, Commander of Combined Task Force 7 (ie the principal elements of Coalition forces in Iraq). We were also briefed on the work of the Iraq Survey Group. We would like to take this opportunity to express our thanks to all those who shared their experiences and their knowledge with us as well as all those without whose help we could not have undertaken our many visits. Much of what has proved to be most useful and informative in the course of this inquiry has emerged from those visits.

8. Many of the officers involved in Operation Telic have subsequently been promoted. However, in order to avoid confusion, we have in this report referred to them throughout by the rank they held during the operation.

9. Throughout our inquiry we have been assisted by our Specialist Advisers: Mr Paul Beaver, Professor Michael Clarke, Rear Admiral Richard Cobbold, Dr Toby Dodge, Air Vice Marshal Tony Mason, and Brigadier Austin Thorp. We are grateful to them.

Other inquiries

10. We have already noted that MoD has published two documents on the lessons which it has drawn from operations in Iraq. A number of other inquiries have also taken place which have been relevant to our work.

11. The Foreign Affairs Committee published a report on the decision to go to war in Iraq on 7 July 2003.[6] That report focussed on the dossiers presented to Parliament by the Government in September 2002 and February 2003. The same committee published a report on the foreign policy aspects of the war against terrorism (one of a series of such reports) on 31 July 2003 which contained sections covering the diplomatic processes in the UN and elsewhere in the run up to the conflict and on post-war Iraq, including the role of the UN and the British diplomatic presence in Iraq.[7] On 2 February 2004 the committee published its latest report on the foreign policy aspects of the war against terrorism which examined developments in Iraq over the period since the earlier report.[8]

12. The Intelligence and Security Committee conducted an inquiry into Iraqi weapons of mass destruction which examined whether the available intelligence, which informed the decision to invade Iraq, was accurate and properly assessed and whether it was accurately reflected in government publications. Their report was published on 11 September 2003.

13. The National Audit Office (NAO) published its report into Operation Telic on 11 December 2003. The report focuses on the mechanics of the deployment for, and execution of, the operation and the performance of equipment used by the Armed Forces. The Committee of Public Accounts held an evidence session with MoD's Accounting Officer, the Chief of Defence Logistics, and the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Commitments) on that report on 21 January 2004.

14. In July 2003, the Government asked Lord Hutton, a Law Lord, to conduct an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, who had been one of the chief weapons inspectors in Iraq in the period following the 1991 Gulf War and was employed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory of MoD. Lord Hutton published his report on 28 January 2004.[9] It was the subject of a full day's debate in the House of Commons on 4 February 2004.

15. On 3 February 2004, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs announced the establishment of a committee of Privy Counsellors, under the chairmanship of Lord Butler of Brockwell, to review intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. Its terms of reference are:

    to investigate the intelligence coverage available in respect of WMD programmes in countries of concern and on the global trade in WMD, taking into account what is now known about these programmes; as part of this work, to investigate the accuracy of intelligence on Iraqi WMD up to March 2003, and to examine any discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the Government before the conflict, and between that intelligence and what has been discovered by the Iraq survey group since the end of the conflict; and to make recommendations to the Prime Minister for the future on the gathering, evaluation and use of intelligence on WMD, in the light of the difficulties of operating in countries of concern.[10]

It has been asked to report by the summer recess 2004.

16. Where relevant and appropriate we have sought to take the work of these inquiries into account in this report. Where those inquiries have been tasked with answering specific questions we have not sought to second guess their conclusions. Only the NAO report focussed specifically on military issues and we have made extensive use of the information contained in it. Our inquiry, however, is the only one which has examined the military operations in their broader political context. That context was of particular importance in this case because this was advertised from the outset as an 'effects-based' operation in which the success or otherwise of military actions could only be judged by reference to political outcomes. We discuss the implications of this in greater detail below.

Relations with MoD

17. A glance at our list of witnesses shows that the overwhelming majority of them have been from MoD. We also asked for and received a significant amount of written information. As we mentioned above we have visited a number of MoD sites. By and large we have received the co-operation and assistance which we have requested. In some respects however we have not:

18. As noted above we made a number of visits to military units and establishments involved in the operation as well as visiting British forces in Iraq. All of our visits were valuable and informative. Some were arranged at short notice, and where that was the case, there were inevitably occasional constraints on whom we were able to meet or what we were able to do. But sometimes we were perhaps not as well served as we should have been. One such occasion led to correspondence between us and MoD.

19. When he appeared before us at the conclusion of our inquiry, the Secretary of State said:

    I should begin by congratulating the Committee on what I know has been a very thorough inquiry into Operation Telic. I will not pretend that this process of scrutiny is always entirely comfortable for those who sit on this side of the table… but… All those who care about defence will certainly welcome and applaud the inquiry. It is a serious and appropriate examination of what are extremely important issues.[13]

In a debate in the House on 13 January, he said, of MoD's own lessons learned exercise:

    There is no benefit in a lessons process that is bland or uncritical. I encouraged the production of an honest, unflinching report that focussed quite rightly on the future, and outlined areas where there must be improvements.[14]

20. MoD's two published lessons documents were prepared and published with commendable speed and, while they did not hesitate to draw attention to the many successes of the operation, they did also identify failings and shortcomings in a number of areas. But they were conducted within MoD, drawing on evidence provided through the chain of command. The process was not independent and it was not transparent.

21. By contrast, our inquiry has been both transparent (as far we have been able to make it) and independent. We are an all party committee, established by the House of Commons and entrusted by it with the responsibility to scrutinise the policies and actions of MoD and the Armed Forces. Our report is derived from the evidence we have received. Some of that evidence has been classified. We have spoken to many of the commanding officers whose reports on the operation we have not been allowed to see. We do not believe that they would have been less candid in the reports which they submitted, if they had known that those reports would be provided to us. We regret that MoD has failed to provide us with certain documents which we have requested and has demonstrated on occasion less co-operation and openness than we have the right to expect as a select committee of the House of Commons.

Special Forces

22. We raised the increasing importance of special forces to modern military operations in our inquiry into the New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review last year. In a speech to RUSI in July 2002 the Secretary of State said 'there will also be an increasing role for the use of Special Forces in the present environment.'

23. That 'increasing role' was demonstrated in operations in Afghanistan, and has now been emphatically reinforced by the crucial role which they played in Iraq. Their skills and professionalism provide a unique capability to the total British military effort. It remains, however, the policy of MoD to make no public comment on their activities. As the Secretary of State told us in May 2003, '…I am not going to go into the detail of what [Special Forces] were doing.'[15] The information which we have received subsequently on their activities has largely been classified. Because of this longstanding policy on the part of MoD not to speak publicly about their contribution, we have been unable to cover their activities in the way they deserve in this report.

1   Ev 443 Back

2   Ev 444 Back

3   Eg First Report of Session 1982-83, The Handling of Press and Public Information during the Falklands Conflict, HC (1982-83) 17; Tenth Report of Session 1990-91, Preliminary Lessons of Operation Granby, HC (1990-91) 287; Fourteenth Report of Session 1999-2000, Lessons of Kosovo, HC (1999-2000) 347. Back

4   Tenth Report of Session 1990-91, HC 287  Back

5   Q 1 Back

6   Ninth Report of Session 2002-03, HC 813 Back

7   Tenth Report of Session 2002-03, HC 405 Back

8   Second Report of Session 2003-04, HC 81 Back

9   HC (2003-04) 247 Back

10   HC Deb, 3 February 2004, c 625 Back

11   National Audit Office: Ministry of Defence, Operation TELIC-United Kingdom Military Operations in Iraq (HC 60, Session 2003-04, 11 December 2003), Appendix A Back

12   Ev 402 Back

13   Q 2220 Back

14   HC Deb, 13 January 2004, c686 Back

15   Q 79 Back

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