LONDON – Leaked British government documents call into question ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair's public statements on the buildup to the Iraq war and show plans for the U.S.-led 2003 invasion were being made more than a year earlier, a newspaper reported Sunday.
Britain's Sunday Telegraph published details of private statements made by senior British military figures claiming plans were in place months before the March 2003 invasion, but were so badly drafted they left troops poorly equipped and ill-prepared for the conflict.
The documents — transcripts of interviews from an internal defense ministry review of the conflict — disclose that some planning for the Iraq war had begun in February 2002. Maj. Gen. Graeme Lamb, then head of Britain's special forces, was quoted as saying he had been "working the war up since early 2002," according to the newspaper.
In July 2002, Blair told lawmakers at a House of Commons committee session that there were no preparations to invade Iraq.
Critics of the war have long insisted that Blair offered then-President George W. Bush an assurance as early as mid-2002 — before British lawmakers voted in 2003 to approve U.K. involvement — that Britain would join the war.
The leaked documents are likely to be supplied to a public inquiry established by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to scrutinize prewar intelligence and postwar planning, and which will hold its first evidence sessions later this week.
Brown appointed ex-civil servant John Chilcot to lead the panel, which will call Blair and the current and former heads of Britain's MI6 intelligence agency — John Sawers and John Scarlett — to give testimony in person.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, military leaders used the defense ministry review to criticize government departments over their failure to plan for reconstruction work once Saddam Hussein had been deposed.
"We got absolutely no advice whatsoever. The lack of involvement by the FCO (Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office), the Home Office and the Department for International Development was appalling," the newspaper quoted Brig. Bill Moore as saying in his statement.
It quoted Lt. Col. M. L. Dunn as reporting that his soldiers "only had five rounds of ammunition each" when the invasion began, and that troops lacked the correct armor and other equipment.
In another statement, Lt. Col. John Power said long-distance radios failed in Iraq's heat and claimed planning was so haphazard that military officials mistakenly sent a container of skis along with desert equipment.
The newspaper said the internal review concludes that a swift military victory was won only because Iraq's forces were so poor. "A more capable enemy would probably have punished (our) shortcomings severely," it quotes a document as saying.
Britain's role in the Iraq conflict — which triggered massive public protests at home — left 179 British soldiers dead.
"Tony Blair consistently denied to Parliament and public that the U.K. government was preparing for war in Iraq, yet these documents show that planning began as far back as 2002," Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, said Sunday. The revelations prove Blair took Britain "an illegal and disastrous war on false pretences," Salmond said.
The defense ministry declined to comment Sunday on the leaked documents, but said it "recognizes the importance of identifying and learning lessons from operations."
Two previous British studies into the war have been carried out . One cleared the government of blame for the death of David Kelly, a government weapons scientist who killed himself in 2003 after he was exposed as the source of a British Broadcasting Corp. report that accused Blair's office of "sexing up" prewar intelligence.
A separate 2004 inquiry — which Chilcot took part in — into intelligence on Iraq also cleared Blair's government, but criticized spy agencies for relying on seriously flawed or unreliable sources.
Findings of the new inquiry will not be published before next summer, meaning the conclusions won't be known before Britain's next national election, which Brown must hold by June 2010.