Sunday, November 16, 2003
The London Observer
British warnings that America was failing before the war to prepare properly for a crumbling security situation in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was ousted were ignored by Vice President Dick Cheney and the Pentagon.
In some of the first direct evidence of serious divisions between the key allies in the run-up to the conflict, the former British Ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, said the US had failed to focus on what might happen after Saddam had been overthrown.
His admission raises serious questions that a lack of planning by US forces is at least partly to blame for Iraq's present security problems.
Last week 17 Italians and eight Iraqis were killed by a suicide bomber in the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriyah. It was the worst atrocity in the country for three months.
In an interview with The Observer, Meyer, who was ambassador just before the war began, said there were a series of meetings between British and American officials between the signing of the United Nations Resolution 1441 last November and the start of the war in March.
The British regularly raised their concerns about how much planning was going on to secure the country after Saddam, but the issue was largely ignored.
'One of the things that did not work out between us was a properly agreed strategy,' Meyer said.
'I suspect that a lot of things that we were saying to the Americans when we had a number of meetings towards the end of last year on post-Saddam strategy, a lot of those things have now been shown to be right.'
Meyer was referring to the security situation in Iraq, which critics say has been blighted by a lack of co-ordination between American forces and a lack of understanding about what the response of sections of the Iraqi population would be to the occupation.
Asked if the Government had warned the US about the need for planning the post-Saddam era, he said: 'Absolutely, absolutely.
He added: 'The problem was that bureaucratically there is a tendency in Washington to be able to focus on only one big issue at a time.
'I think they were consumed in the contingency planning for war.
'We were saying that's fine but we must be clear in our own mind what is happening afterwards. That was absolutely indispensable.
'The message was well taken in the State Depart ment but it could not agree an approach with the Defence Department and the Vice President.'
Meyer revealed that Tony Blair had made a personal appeal to Bush in the new year to delay the war.
At their Washington summit in January, Bush had made it clear that America was ready to attack the following month, well before all the diplomatic avenues had been exhausted and before Britain felt that its military capability was ready.
'Two issues had to be thrashed out,' Meyer said. 'Would the Americans support us going for a second resolution. The other was [that] we needed some delay - less to work through the diplomacy, more to get the British deployment there.
'I remember sending something to London on the eve of that meeting saying: "Neither argument had been won in Washington. Tony Blair is going to have to come to Washington and argue for support of the second resolution and argue for some delay which is desirable".'