[Updated] According to an article in the BBC, Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, said in an interview in the Daily Mail that British forces should “get out some time soon.”
In his interview, Sir Richard added that any initial [Iraqi] tolerance [for the British presence] “has largely turned to intolerance. That is a fact.”
The Times also has the story:
Although other senior figures in the Army have privately expressed concern about strategy in Iraq and, in particular, the lack of proper planning after the invasion had taken place in March 2003, no one as senior as Sir Richard has made such a personal attack on the Government’s strategy.
If Sir Richard has spoken out without consultation with or the approval of the other Service chiefs, and, in particular, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, it will place him in an isolated position and make him vulnerable to demands that he should resign. Traditionally, Service chiefs who oppose government policy would be expected to step down. However, Sir Richard, in his outspoken interview with the Daily Mail, has clearly decided to make a bold stand because of his serious concerns both for the safety of British troops in Iraq and for the deteriorating security situation in the country where sectarian violence has erupted in the past 18 months.
Nothing is being said about the American leadership of the “coalition forces” or their presence in Iraq in all of this. But surely the implications are clear. Said Dannatt:
We are in a Muslim country and Muslims’ views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. As a foreigner you can be welcomed by being invited in a country but we weren’t invited, certainly by those in Iraq at the time. The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in.
And just as surely as would be the case in America, the government likely aims to shoot the messenger: “Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, last night ordered Sir Richard to report for a meeting at the ministry this morning where his future will be discussed.”
Sir Richard said: “I am going to stand up for what is right for the Army. Honesty is what it is about. The truth will out. We have got to speak the truth.”
Last night Dr Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, said that Sir Richard’s comments came at a time when the Prime Minister’s authority was already “badly damaged and ebbing away”. He added:
“It has always been the case that our presence has been a recruiting tool for extremists. We have always known that our presence on the ground will be used by fundamentalists and men of violence to recruit people into their ways.”
Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, said that government policy on Iraq was “collapsing”. He said: “Senior military figures who were always doubtful about action in Iraq and its aftermath are becoming increasingly anxious about our role and the risks involved.”
Major-General Patrick Cordingly, who commanded the Desert Rats during the 1991 Gulf War, said that Sir Richard’s comments were “very brave”.
He added that the Army chief’s opinion was “enormously pragmatic” and may be “welcomed by some soldiers who have served several tours of duty in Iraq”.