Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, mounted a direct attack on the Government over the invasion and occupation of Iraq when he used a national memorial service commemorating the servicemen killed in the conflict to accuse Tony Blair and his ministers of failing to “measure the price” of military action.
By Neil Tweedie – Telegraph
Delivering his address in St Paul’s Cathedral before a congregation including the Queen, Gordon Brown and Mr Blair himself, the spiritual head of the Church of England accused the former prime minister of indulging in rhetoric before the 2003 invasion, while leaving ordinary servicemen and women to pick up the pieces in a campaign which went on to last six years and claim 179 British lives.
”When such conflict appeared on the horizon, there were those among both policy-makers and commentators who were able to talk about it without really measuring the price,” he said. “Perhaps we have learned something Â– if only that there is a time to keep silence, a time to let go of the satisfyingly overblown language that is so tempting for human beings when war is in the air.”
Mr Blair, who was sitting in the second row with his wife, Cherie, was forced to sit in silence as the Archbishop described the “chaotic, ravaged society” that resulted from the occupation.
He went on: “The moral credibility of any country engaged in war depends a lot less on the rhetoric of politicians and commentators than on the capacity of every serving soldier.
”The invisible enemy may be hiding in the temptation to look for short cuts in the search for justice Â– letting ends justify means, letting others rather than oneself carry the cost, denying the difficulties or the failures so as to present a good public face.”
Mr Blair, who is hoping for political resurrection in the shape of the presidency of the European Union, left the cathedral in stoney-faced silence, his wife at his side.
More than 2,000 men and women from the Armed Forces attended the service, which followed the formal conclusion of Operation Telic, the name given to the invasion and occupation of Iraq between March 2003 and April of this year. They were joined by relatives of the dead and 12 members of the Royal Family attended, led by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and including the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince William. Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah sat next to Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq.
The war in Afghanistan, which has already claimed more British military lives than Iraq, has left the military little time to reflect on the Iraq engagement, one of the most controversial foreign adventures undertaken by a British government since the Second World War.
The Archbishop, who has in the past described the decision-making process leading to the Anglo-American invasion as “flawed”, spared no opportunity to make his point in front of the country’s political, military and diplomatic elite.
”The conflict in Iraq will, for a long time yet, exercise the historians, the moralists, the international experts,” he said.
”In a world as complicated as ours has become, it would be a very rash person who would feel able to say without hesitation, this was absolutely the right or the wrong thing to do, the right or the wrong place to be.”
Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of the Defence Staff, who attended the service, later conceded: “It’s fair to say a lot of mistakes were made throughout the campaign by the coalition. Some of the planning for the post conflict phase was perhaps not as carefully thought through as it might have been.”
The service will not draw a line under the Iraq conflict. In July, a new inquiry into the war began under the chairmanship of Sir John Chilcot. Gordon Brown was forced to abandon plans for it to sit in camera and not apportion blame to individuals following protests.