Skip to main content


Volume 685: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they expect to publish a report on the lessons learnt from operations in Iraq since 1 May 2003, and if so when.

My Lords, the Government have already published two reports on lessons from Iraq. These were Operations in Iraq: First Reflections, published in July 2003, and Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the Future, published in December 2003. Internal analysis continues, but the Government do not currently have any plans to publish further reports on this matter.

My Lords, I trust that the Minister has read the Wall Street Journal this morning, which reports that a new US medical academic survey estimates that there have been around 600,000 Iraqi deaths from violence since March 2003. We have had no updated lessons-learnt report in the last three years, as he has just told us, but we need to learn the lessons if we are not to make the same failures in the future. When will there be an update?

My Lords, I have not read the Wall Street Journal report to which the noble Lord refers; I will read it when I return to the department. As I said in my original Answer, there is an ongoing process of analysis within the Ministry of Defence. There are no current plans to publish the outcomes of that analysis. However, if that situation changes, I will inform the House.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that lessons learnt from the operations have been applied in practice?

Yes I can, my Lords, and I will give some examples from both an operational and an equipment standpoint. What we are doing operationally today in Baghdad and Basra—Operation Sinbad—is a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood clearance of the sectarian killers, with reconstruction on a neighbourhood basis, which is having real success. The chair of the Basra security council, Hammadi, has been out on the streets with the local press, pointing out what has been done to develop local schools. On equipment—just to give one example—improvements in the accuracy of our munitions to reduce collateral damage and investment that we have put into communications have had a big impact on the effectiveness of our operations, which has been reflected on the ground.

My Lords, I am not sure that the Minister can answer this, but I shall ask it nevertheless. Is it not common sense and common knowledge to most of us now that Iraq will go down in history as an example of how to win a war and lose the subsequent peace? That happened because when Colin Powell was talking about the post-conflict situation, he was increasingly marginalised and power went to Donald Rumsfeld, with the result that there was no post-conflict plan in operation, which left us very exposed in the south of Iraq. We have all paid a very high price for that. That is the lesson, and it is a very important one, not least because there will be other times when we have to intervene, as the previous Question exemplified.

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. Those points have been reflected in the lessons-learnt documents published by the department. It is fair to say that we are very concerned about the situation that we face in Iraq today. Concern is mainly focused on the difficulties that we have in the cities, primarily Baghdad but also Basra. It is correct to say that we had a successful operational campaign in March 2003, which we expected more rapidly to become a peacekeeping operation; we did not expect to have an extended counter-insurgency operation such as we have been faced with. However, we are responding to that from the lessons that we have learnt on the ground and we are seeing progress in the reconstruction effort. A million people in Basra now have electricity and water 24 hours a day. That was not the case a year ago, or five years ago.

My Lords, but do the Government, the United States or anyone yet have any evidence of a clear exit strategy from one of the biggest tragedies that mankind has faced for many long years?

My Lords, we absolutely have a clear exit strategy. Our strategy is to support the Iraqi security operations—the police and the army—in creating an environment where governance and reconstruction can take place. We have seen that that has worked. This summer, two provinces have been successfully handed over to the Iraqi security forces. We hope that the situation will allow us to hand over a third province. However, the key is the progress that we are able to make in Basra and Baghdad. That is where the main challenge is and that is where we are focusing our attention, but our strategy has not changed. We are following a clear process that is shown to work.

My Lords, is not the lesson of the Iraq war that when Her Majesty's Government differ with the United States on an important issue of policy, they should press their case more vigorously than they did this time?

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government's policy on Iraq is clearly to work with our coalition partners to support the development of the country as a democratic state. We have seen how the Iraqi people have responded to that in two general elections and the establishment of a constitution. There is no doubt that the Iraqi people want the country to progress but, as has been said, there is tremendous sectarian violence between the Sunnis and the Shia. We have to stick with this. We have seen progress in a number of provinces. The main area of difficulty is within the cities. We have a tactical plan which, in the early days, is working. We need to stick with that through the coming months.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that any publication about any shortcomings must be consistent with the safety of our troops on the ground at the moment? The idea of publishing something that feeds a media frenzy rather than serving the real purposes of our troops serving on the ground in Iraq would, for many of us, be a tragedy.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. She is absolutely right; there is obviously a real limitation to the detail into which we can go. Having spoken to operational commanders and troops on the ground, I must say that they find it difficult that the emphasis is on the difficulties and that no real recognition is given to the progress that has been made. The feeling, which is shared by people in DfID, is that the progress that has been made on the reconstruction effort in very difficult circumstances is not properly reflected in the discussion.