British military leaders question mission and ethics

Richard Norton-Taylor
Wednesday February 5, 2003
The Guardian

An undercurrent of profound unease over a war against Iraq is sweeping through Britain's military establishment, with senior commanders worried about confused objectives and the ethics of launching a pre-emptive strike.

Serious concerns were reflected yesterday by several well-placed sources close to the Ministry of Defence who, because of the sensitivity of the issue, insisted on remaining anonymous. "There is general disquiet not just about the issue of UN resolutions but about the ethical dimension," one said. "There is a feeling that in order to attack there has to be some kind of aggression in the opposite direction. This would be a first".

These underlying concerns were reflected last week by General Sir Jack Deverell, commander-in-chief of allied forces, Northern Europe, who told the BBC he would not like to go to war without the support of the country.

It has also been echoed by a string of former military officers, including General Sir Roger Wheeler, who was head of the army until 2000, General Sir Michael Rose, former UN commander in Bosnia, and Major-General Patrick Cordingley, commander of the 'Desert Rats' armoured brigade in the 1991 Gulf war.

Sir Roger said yesterday: "If we are going to war, we need the backing of the international community and the country and that means a second [UN] resolution. The military need to know what the political objectives are".

A number of well-placed sources pointed to what they called confused objectives - whether action was in pursuit of regime change, or the discovery and destruction of weapons of mass destruction.

"What if there aren't any [such weapons] or you can never find them?", asked one source close to Whitehall's military advisers.

Britain's military commanders hope that the Iraqi regime will "implode" after a massive bombing assault by the US. "What happens then?" asked another source."Do you go in, or stand and watch?"

Whatever happens, defence officials admit, the US will ask British and other European countries to stay on in Iraq to maintain law and order. "Obviously we will be in Iraq for several years to come", one senior defence official said yesterday. However, sources pointed out that any significant British forces remaining in Iraq would have serious implications for the defence budget.

There is growing frustration among the British military because they still have not been told about their role in US operational plans.

British intelligence agencies, meanwhile, maintained yesterday there was no evidence of links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida terrorist networks.

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