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31 Jul, 2009 04:53

Iraq: British soldiers out of frying pan

After a six-year presence in Iraq, the last British troops are leaving the country. Their mandate expired on Friday, one day after the start of the long-awaited inquiry into mistakes made during the Iraq war.

And it is not just the government and the public in Britain who are questioning the merit of a military operation many opposed – many who fought there also have misgivings.

The campaign was expected to be quick and the country was to be handed swiftly back to a new Iraqi government. But no-one was expecting the sectarian insurgencies that followed.

Lee Kamara was there from the beginning. An armored Infantry soldier, his job was to help flush the militia out. However, the plan started to go wrong almost immediately.

“The militia didn’t want to go North, they didn’t want to leave their homes – and rightly so,” Lee recalls.

“They were guarding their families. They were with their children, mums, dads, brothers, uncles. So obviously they didn’t want to leave, and we had to make them, and it just got worse and worse.”

Dr Richard North wrote a book about the campaign’s failures, called “Ministry of Defeat”. He said this attempt at social engineering was when the war was lost.

As Britain withdraws the last of its troops from Iraq on Friday, he lays the blame on both the government and the armed forces.

“The politicians clearly failed to set out the objective clearly enough and to resource the agenda,” Dr North explains.

“But from there, my belief is that it could have been recovered. I think the army had lost faith in its mission and therefore effectively gave up.”

Lee didn’t see it like that. Even though the soldiers were so ill-equipped they wore heavy boots in the desert’s intense heat and didn’t have enough water to drink.

But now he wonders why his government sent him in to fight this particular battle.

“I’ve got quite a bitter view on the government now that I’ve learnt about why we were even there, and questions like ‘was it really our fight?’” Lee confesses.

“We were going in and doing another man’s job, and the people who died out there, they didn’t have to die. Was this Gulf War our fight? Was it a British soldier’s fight? I don’t believe it was.”

Lee now lives in a caravan by the sea, and has become a singer/songwriter together with a fellow veteran. He says it’s helped him to come to terms with what he saw in Iraq.

Veterans of the Iraq War rejoiced at the news their comrades were coming home. But in many cases, they will not be home for long. Some soldiers will have 4 weeks’ leave, and then get a new posting – to Afghanistan.

Old soldiers and campaigners are determined that lessons should be learned from the British army’s time in Iraq.

But if the government and military continue to crow about a job well done, there’s a fear that won’t happen, and the men and women fighting in Afghanistan will find themselves in an even worse position: out of the frying pan, into the fire.

Voices of war

Read also Robert Gates's visit to Iraq unveils USA's another major problem