Page last updated at 18:36 GMT, Monday, 7 December 2009

Tony Blair was urged by officer to delay Iraq war

Maj Gen Tim Cross recalls the warning he gave to Tony Blair about invading Iraq

A senior British officer has told the Iraq war inquiry he urged Tony Blair to delay the invasion of the country two days before the conflict.

Maj Gen Tim Cross, who liaised with the US on reconstruction efforts before the invasion, said planning for after the conflict was "woefully thin".

He said he briefed officials in the weeks before the war that Iraq could descend into chaos after the invasion.

UK officials have said Washington did not listen to warnings on the issue.

'No focus'

Maj Gen Cross was UK representative to the US Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) - the agency responsible for drawing up plans for post-war Iraq - in the run-up up to the war

Subsequently, he worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority which administered Iraq in the aftermath of the war.

Peter Biles
BBC World Affairs correspondent Peter Biles
The evidence presented by Major General Tim Cross amounted to trenchant criticism of the post-war planning in the United States where the Pentagon had the lead role.

But he also expressed his concern about the lack of clarity over policy direction in Britain.

General Cross mounted a strong defence of the retired American general, Jay Garner, whose time running ORHA (Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance) in Iraq was cut short when Paul Bremer was brought in to set up the Coalition Provisional Authority.

In his witness statement, General Cross concludes by saying that he left Iraq in late June 2003 "frankly dog tired and glad to be away".

His evidence has gone some way to explaining the lack of support for ORHA which meant that its efforts to help Iraq were doomed from the outset, and why Tony Blair found ORHA to be "a shambles" when he visited the country soon after the invasion.

When he arrived in Iraq after the war, Gen Cross said the situation was far worse than he feared and that "Baghdad was held together by chicken wire and chewing gum".

Maj Gen Cross said it was "too common" for the UK to blame the US for failings to stabilise the country after Saddam Hussein was toppled.

At a meeting at No 10 in February 2003, he said he conveyed his concerns to the prime minister about the lack of post-war planning in both the US and UK.

Mr Blair was "engaged", Maj Gen Cross said, but he claimed he got the sense there was "no coherent, single focus" across the government for post-war planning, nor any clear policy direction.

"I do remember saying, in so many words, I have no doubt at all that we will win this military campaign. I do not believe that we are ready for post-war Iraq."

Chaos warning

He said he briefed officials in the run-up to the invasion that the chances of military action leading to chaos in Iraq were "not insignificant".

But in the most strident criticism of UK attitudes to post-war planning heard to date at the inquiry, he said he did not believe the issue was taken "sufficiently seriously" in Whitehall.

The team set up within the Foreign Office to focus on post-war planning happened "very late", he said, while consideration of the aftermath was hampered by a belief within sections of the British government that the invasion would not happen.

November-December: Former top civil servants, spy chiefs, diplomats and military commanders to give evidence
January-February 2010: Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and other politicians expected to appear before the panel
March 2010: Inquiry expected to adjourn ahead of the general election campaign
July-August 2010: Inquiry expected to resume
Report set to be published in late 2010 or early 2011

"It has become very common for people to blame the Americans for all of this. I do just not accept that."

"We, the UK and we, Whitehall, should have done far more to get our minds round this issue."

He added: "There was no minister of cabinet rank reporting back and driving this day to day. I stress that does not mean it was not there. It is just I never saw it."

The inquiry was told last week that, after a visit to Iraq in July 2003, Tony Blair described OHRA's efforts as a "shambles".

Other UK officials have told the inquiry that the UK focused on post-war efforts in much more depth than their US allies but were unable to get their message across to Washington.

The inquiry is looking into UK policy towards Iraq between 2001 and 2009, focusing initially on the build-up to the invasion and planning for its aftermath.

Leading diplomats, military commanders and intelligence figures are appearing in the run-up to Christmas with politicians, including Tony Blair, due to appear in early 2010.

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