Monday, June 15, 2009

Keep them separate

The expected announcement today by Gordon Brown of an inquiry into the Iraqi war is the wrong inquiry, into the wrong subject, for the wrong reasons.

Already the left wing commentators are bemoaning the decision (as yet not officially confirmed) to hold the inquiry in private, headed by a high court judge, with at least two years elapsing before a report is produced.

But the more important point is the one that is being universally missed. The focus is to be an investigation into the reasons behind the government's involvement in the US-led invasion of Iraq, which means that the conduct of the subsequent occupation is unlikely to be given the full attention of the inquiry.

In fact, with three inquiries having already been conducted into the lead-up to the war, it is unlikely that anything useful will emerge from such an inquiry, whereas the conduct of the entirely separate occupation is one on which little public light has been shed.

However, whereas the political reasons for the invasion are largely history, illuminating the conduct of the occupation is of vital and immediate importance, as the "lessons learned" – which can only emerge from an independent inquiry – have immediate application to the prosecution of the counter-insurgency in Afghanistan.

There, it has long been evident that some of the mistakes made in Iraq are being repeated in Afghanistan, and it is also very clear that the military are in denial over their performance in Iraq. Without detailed – and public – scrutiny of the operation, it is doubtful whether the military can be induced to confront its own mistakes, which means that our mission in Afghanistan could be in jeopardy.

Lumping what amounts to the distinct phase of the occupation into a general inquiry on the whole Iraqi episode ensures that too little attention will be given to the occupation and, with the proposed timescale, any "lessons learned" will be too late to influence the current conduct of operations in Iraq.

At the very least, therefore, there should be two separate inquiries. One should cover the lead-up to the war and the invasion itself – with the accent on the political dimensions – but the other should deal specifically with the occupation. That inquiry should be carried out in public, and should be carried out urgently, with the aim of completion within a year.

We cannot afford the situation where the lessons of the occupation are lost in a deluge of political recriminations on why we went to war in the first place.

UPDATE: Brown's full statement.