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UK Iraq war inquiry: Will Tony Blair come under fire?

A UK Iraq war inquiry began Tuesday, amid allegations that British soldiers abused detainees during the war. The panel is to focus on how and why Britain went to war.

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The latest allegations emerged in reports Nov. 18. Dozens of former prisoners at a British Army interrogation center in Iraq claim they suffered torture similar to the interrogation techniques used at Guant√°namo Bay.

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Those follow separate claims made two days earlier by a former soldier, Britain's first convicted war criminal. The soldier told an inquiry into the death of an Iraqi man in British military custody that abuse of Iraqi civilians was widespread and sanctioned by officers.

Bill Rammell, Britain's Armed Forces minister, said that all claims would be investigated but insisted that allegations did not equal facts, adding that there was no credible evidence that abuse was systematic.

While many in the British military have privately described the effects of the Iraq as "corrosive" on troop morale and on public support for overseas operations, these latest allegations could not have come at a worse time for a government struggling to shore up support for the Afghan campaign.

British need to improve counterinsurgency

Michael Codner, director of the Military Sciences department at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said that he was not convinced that the British involvement in southern part of Iraq would be looked on in the future as a strategic failure, adding: "The British did not crawl out with their tails between their legs."

In fact, he said that the eventual withdrawal of British troops from a wider area of occupation in southern Iraq to garrisons from which they supported local security forces is the logical next step in Afghanistan. 

"When the military looks back on Iraq now, you get an acknowledgement that mistakes were made, but that appropriate changes needed to be made and have been made."

David Betz, of King's College, London, who has examined British strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, pointed out the British military is preparing to start its own formal study of the Iraq war in January.

"However, in the shorter term, what they have already taken from it [the war] is the sense and realization that the British Army is not terribly good at counterinsurgency, that they rested on their laurels to a large extent," he says. "There is a pretty strong sense that the Americans really surpassed them quite quickly."


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