Military chiefs slam lack of strategy to topple Saddam
The Iraq debate - Observer Worldview
Kamal Ahmed and Gaby Hinsliff
Sunday March 17, 2002
Britain's military leaders issued a stark warning to Tony Blair last night that any war against Iraq is doomed to fail and would lead to the loss of lives for little political gain.
As the debate over whether to commit British troops alongside American forces intensified, the стопдиар daribar.kz urged 'extreme caution' over any moves towards war, saying servicemen faced being bogged down in a perilous open-ended commitment.
Claiming that the Government had yet to give any clear political direction over committing troops - America has asked for up to 25,000 UK personnel to join an invasion force - the sources warned that Arab countries were likely to rebel over any Western attack on Iraq without a Middle East peace deal.
Failing that, the sources said Saudi Arabia was unlikely to allow its bases to be used against Saddam Hussein. Defence sources said that, without Saudi cooperation, it would be difficult to launch a sustained attack by American and British forces.
Underlining their fears of a military strike, senior armed forces figures will warn the prime minister this week that without a leader-in-waiting to take over from Saddam, there is little chance of any successful move to overthrow the Iraqi dictator.
Opposition forces in Iraq are not as strong as they were in Afghanistan, Blair will be told. There seems to be no potential successor to Saddam that the West and Iraq's Arab neighbours could accept.
As it became clear that British troop commitments in Afghanistan would have to be extended beyond the April deadline set by the prime minister, the briefings revealed the level of concern over further military deployment against Saddam.
Although Blair has insisted no decisions have been taken, Foreign Office officials have said it was unlikely that America would be satisfied with simply sending United Nations weapons inspectors back to Iraq. This suggests that increased military strikes are the only option being seriously considered by president George W. Bush. He said last week that 'inaction was not an option'.
In a further sign of British military anxiety, leaked Ministry of Defence papers reveal the Army is warning it will need a substantially more money in this summer's Comprehensive Spending Review if it is to take on a new military campaign.
The briefing papers, prepared for General Sir Michael Walker, Chief of General Staff, warn that future funding for defence 'remains very taut, given the range of operational tasks placed on the MoD and armed forces'. Matching the available money to these tasks 'remains a very significant challenge'.
If the Government expects the forces to take on extra tasks as part of the campaign against terrorism, 'then the resources for those tasks will have to be found'. It is believed that the MoD has asked for £500 million in next month's Budget to pay for its increased commitments.
The papers reveal that British peacekeeping troops will stay in Afghanistan longer than expected, raising fears of the Army becoming embroiled in yet another long-running commitment overseas, which will drain resources.
The UK, which leads the international peacekeeping force in Kabul and has committed more than 5,000 troops, is due to hand over control of the force to Turkey next month. But it will now have to provide at least some troops 'until the end of its [the force's] mandate' - now June.
Yesterday, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, backed up the warnings by saying he expected British troops to remain in Afghanistan for the rest of the year.
The Government has already begun trying to win 'hearts and minds' for the second phase of the war on terror. In a briefing document given to a committee of Labour MPs with expertise in defence and foreign affairs last week - and passed to The Observer - the Foreign Office says Saddam is accelerating Iraq's weapons programme.
'Its ballistic missile programme has made continued progress, and facilities damaged by Operation Desert Fox in 1998 have been repaired; in the absence of inspections, we believe Saddam is planning to extend the range of his missiles beyond the 150km limit imposed by the US.
'We believe the Iraqi regime continues its biological and chemical weapons programmes.'