The deep hostility of Britain’s senior military commanders in Iraq towards their American allies has been revealed in classified Government documents leaked to the Daily Telegraph.
By Andrew Gilligan
Published: 10:00PM GMT 22 Nov 2009
In the papers,
the British chief of staff in Iraq, Colonel J.K.Tanner, described his US military counterparts as “a group of Martians” for whom “dialogue is alien,” saying: “Despite our so-called ‘special relationship,’ I reckon we were treated no differently to the Portuguese.”
Col Tanner’s boss, the top British commander in the country, Major General Andrew Stewart, told how he spent “a significant amount of my time” “evading” and “refusing” orders from his US superiors.
At least once, say the documents, General Stewart’s refusal to obey an order resulted in Britain’s ambassador to Washington, Sir David Manning, being summoned to the State Department for a diplomatic reprimand – of the kind more often delivered to “rogue states” such as Zimbabwe or the Sudan.
The frank statements were made in official interviews conducted by the Ministry of Defence with Army commanders who had just returned from Operations Telic 2 and 3 – the first, crucial year of “peacekeeping” operations in Iraq, from May 2003 to May 2004.
The disclosures come the day before the Chilcot inquiry is due to begin public hearings into Britain’s involvement in Iraq. Among the issues it will investigate is the UK-US relationship.
The leaked documents paint a vivid picture of the clash between what General Stewart described as “war-war” American commanders and their British counterparts, who he said preferred a “jaw-jaw” approach.
General Stewart bluntly admitted that “our ability to influence US policy in Iraq seemed to be minimal.” He said that “incredibly,” there was not even a secure communication link between his headquarters in Basra and the US commander, General Rick Sanchez, in Baghdad.
Col Tanner said that General Sanchez “only visited us once in seven months.” Col Tanner also added that he only spoke to his own US counterpart, the chief of staff at the US corps headquarters in the Green Zone, once over the same period.
Top British commanders angrily described in the documents how they were not even told, let alone consulted, about major changes to US policy which had significant implications for them and their men.
When the Americans decided, in March 2004, to arrest a key lieutenant of the Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr – an event that triggered an uprising throughout the British sector – “it was not co-ordinated with us and no-one [was] told that it was going to happen,” said the senior British field commander at the time, Brigadier Nick Carter.
“Had we known, we would at least have been able to prepare the ground.” Instead, “the consequence [was] that my whole area of operations went up in smoke… as a result of coalition operations that were outwith my control or knowledge and proved to be the single most awkward event of my tour.”
Among the most outspoken officers was Col Tanner, who served as chief of staff to General Stewart and of the entire British division during Operation Telic 3, from November 2003 to May 2004.
He said: “The whole system was appalling. We experienced real difficulty in dealing with American military and civilian organisations who, partly through arrogance and partly through bureaucracy, dictate that there is only one way: the American way.
“I now realise that I am a European, not an American. We managed to get on better…with our European partners and at times with the Arabs than with the Americans. Europeans chat to each other, whereas dialogue is alien to the US military… dealing with them corporately is akin to dealing with a group of Martians.
“If it isn’t on the PowerPoint slide, then it doesn’t happen.”
Gen Stewart was more diplomatic, but said: “As the world’s only superpower, they [the US] will not allow their position to be challenged. Negotiation is often a dirty word.”
Gen Stewart added: “I spent a significant amount of my time ‘consenting and evading’ US orders… Things got sticky…when I refused to conduct offensive operations against [al-Sadr’s] Mahdi Army as directed [by the US]. This resulted in the UK being demarched by the US, by [Paul] Bremer [the US proconsul in Iraq] through State [the US State Department] to the UK Ambassador in Washington.”
A “demarche” in this context was a formal diplomatic reprimand of a kind not normally handed out to friendly allies such as Britain. Gen Stewart said that the US military “were mortified” that it had got so far and said he “was always fully supported in the UK by the Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Joint Operations.”
Yesterday the Sunday Telegraph told how leaked “post-operational reports” detailed major shortcomings in the planning and execution of the war and peacekeeping phases.
Most of the documents – apart from some which might compromise sources – referred to yesterday and today are published online at Telegraph.co.uk