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Customer Review

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some light shone into a dark void !, 6 July 2009
This review is from: Ministry of Defeat: The British War in Iraq 2003-2009 (Hardcover)
I have used the title 'Some light . . ' because that is what this book is. Dr Richard North has only 256 pages to explore a massive issue so he has only been able to cover part of it in this excellent book. The part that he does cover he covers encyclopiedically. The book covers the British Armed Forces defeat in Iraq primarily from the standpoints of procurement errors, policy and tactical doctrine errors and the worst error of all - a failure to learn from our mistakes and correct our policy and tactical doctrine on the ground from our mistakes. The book starts by providing a brief history of the military occupation of Southern Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. As is usual in Dr North's books the narrative is well crossreferenced to footnotes to verify each statement. There is also a good quality gallery of photos - some of them very interesting & original. As the book goes on the historical narrative starts to show the confused changes in policy and tactical doctrine on the ground, changes often driven to suit the timescales and press schedules of politicians in London. The problems and restrictions on tactics caused by unsuitable equipment are reviewed in forensic detail. Dr North became well known for his campaign against the deployment of Snatch LandRovers. With his reputation on that subject and a limited number of pages he concentrates on that issue as an example of the procurement fiascos but also covers, in less detail, shortage of usable helicopters, counter-mortar equipment (which was already in service but not in Iraq) and unmanned surveillance drones (UAV's).
I have already mentioned above that some of the tactical errors were, in Richard North's opinion, caused by the wrong equipment being in theatre but a further problem was a total refusal by senior British officers to realise there was a problem and try to improvise new tactics - something which military officers have to do in every war they fight if they are to be on the winning side. The later chapters of the book cover the refusal to recognise the tactical errors, in-depth analysis of the procurement sagas and the failure to review doctrine and equipment decisions which are now affecting our troops in Afghanistan. An excellent example of senior British military mentality is on page 186. The British kept claiming to our allies in Iraq that we had great experience of counter insurgency from our deployments in Ulster. In fact our deployments in Ulster were radically different in most aspects from our deployment in Iraq - as just one example I cannot remember an IRA suicide bomber ! Yet in 2007 the senior British Major General J Shaw was lecturing US counterparts about British experience in Ulster - US officers 'were just rolling their eyeballs'. The British had just withdrawn from Basra handing it over to the militias yet thought they could still lecture allies on counter insurgency tactics and hadn't learnt anything in four years in Iraq.
The final point that is made in this book is very simple. We can criticise the govt. of the day (with some exceptions) we can criticise senior civil servants and officers but we do live in a democracy. Where were our 'Free Press' and 'HM Opposition' during all this ? Richard does give some examples of MOD 'media management' during the occupation. Yet the Press accepted the media management without protest and didn't cover many issues that were in the public domain. It is a salutory lesson to note that in the earlier chapters of the book (the beginning of the occupation) most of the reference footnotes are to UK media sources - in the later chapters (end of the occupation, the procurement sagas etc) the references are often to foreign Press sources (including Middle Eastern sources !). US and Canadian Press were openly discussing British military issues our own Press were avoiding. Similarly, in Parliament some of the best questions that were asked on defence issues were asked by Tory backbenchers such as Ann Winterton while the Tory 'shadow' Defence team were inactive.
This is an excellent start at throwing some light on this massive issue and the timing is very neat as the govt. has now of course just announced an inquiry into the 'Iraq War' and the lessons to be learned from it. This means a vast amount more material will come into the public realm. I look forward to Dr North writing a(much needed)update to this work.
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Location: Bradford West Yorks

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