Light on Iraq

The Sunday Herald has its own story on the Dannatt affair, also shedding further light on reports of explosions at an ammunition dump earlier this week.

Major gun battles were being fought in two of Baghdad’s districts – Doura and Mansoor. Doura has a large oil refinery, Mansoor is technically an affluent area close to the IZ. Gunfire and explosions were louder than normal and then, at around 7pm, the first large rocket landed inside the IZ itself. Another hit came after 10 minutes, then another two minutes later. Then a series of explosions, different to the daily “normal” rocket attacks were felt. For those in the IZ, the explosions were so close and so fierce that, even for experienced military personnel, “you could taste the cordite in your teeth”.

The sustained attacks lasted for two hours, during which Camp Falcon, a major US ammunition and storage dump, was hit. The attack resulted in what one security official called “a fireworks display”. But the display wasn’t put on for entertainment. Immediate military feedback pointed to casualties.

It was thought the Green Zone might come under direct attack. As for Dannatt:

Sacking a chief of the general staff for speaking out on a military matter would damage Blair more than Dannatt. An apology from Dannatt would look like political coercion and leave him unable to do his job. Through long phone calls that lasted well into Thursday morning, it was decided that Des Browne would contact Dannatt and order him to “explain” himself.

In a series of interviews at the BBC and outside the MoD, rather than clarify, Dannatt appeared to expand on what he had said. He told the BBC: “I am a soldier speaking up for his army and just saying, ‘Come on we can’t be here for ever at this level’.” He also said he had an idea of what he wanted Britain and the army to be like, and that those values and standards were being threatened by other people and other influences.

So this story has Blair more captive to events than plotting a major shift in policy. But if he isn’t taking an active role in abandoning a failed policy, others just might.

[Ministry of Defence] sources say it is highly likely that Dannatt appreciated that the situation in Iraq was returning to prime focus. The MoD knew the details of The Lancet’s report on civilian deaths. The Pentagon’s criticisms were also centre-stage. And the return of MPs to parliament last week after the summer recess pointed to a re-examination of Iraq and Afghanistan, both part of the narrative on Blair’s diminished authority.

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