Iraq war: Blair warned by cabinet ministers not to overstretch UK troops

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London, July 3 (ANI): Two cabinet ministers had warned former British Prime Minister Tony Blair of "long-term damage" to the armed forces if they continued their occupation of Iraq, declassified documents released yesterday have revealed.

According to The Independent, Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw and Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told Blair that the number of troops on the ground needed to be cut by two-thirds within six months in order to avoid "overstretch".

In the event, the British force in Iraq stayed for six years, with wars being fought on two fronts, as operations in Afghanistan were also under way.

The letter is the latest material produced by the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war following the publication of letters and legal advice from the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, warning Blair that it would be illegal to start military action without a fresh United Nations resolution.

Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, had said that a "long-standing convention" for such documents to be kept confidential had to be waived because the issue of the legality of the Iraq war had a "unique status".

However, according to Whitehall sources, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has been behind the new openness.

In their letter, dated 19 March 2003, Straw and Hoon wrote to the Prime Minister: "It will be necessary to draw down our current commitment to nearer a third by no later than autumn in order to avoid long-term damage to the armed forces. Keeping more forces in Iraq would be outside our current defence planning assumptions. If ministers wanted us to, we would need decisions now so that we would be able to recommend what would have to give elsewhere.

Trevor Woolley, the MoD's financial director from 2003 to 2009, acknowledged that being involved in simultaneous missions in Iraq and Afghanistan stretched the armed forces. (ANI)

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