Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Prashant Rao, was posted to Yahoo News, July 31, 2009
BAGHDAD (AFP) – Britain's troop presence in Iraq formally concluded Friday, ending six years of controversial military involvement in the country that began with the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
Under a deal between Baghdad and London signed last year, the last of Britain's forces left this week ahead of the July 31 deadline for their withdrawal, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Baghdad told AFP.
A small contingent of around 100 naval trainers currently de-camped in Kuwait could return once Iraq's parliament has considered a new agreement between London and Baghdad. Parliament will reconvene in September.
"As our forces? existing permissions expire on July 31, we are now withdrawing the Royal Navy trainers while we discuss the position (of the new deal) with the Iraqi authorities," a spokesman for Britain's defence ministry said, adding that their departure was "unfortunate."
Friday's withdrawal deadline comes a day after Britain launched an inquiry into its role in the war. The probe will quiz key decision-makers, including ex-prime minister Tony Blair and be free to criticise government decisions.
Under Blair, Britain was a key ally of the United States when president George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 to topple Saddam, in the belief he was developing weapons of mass destruction.
Britain's decision to take part was opposed from the start by a large part of the population including cabinet minister Robin Cook, whose prediction that WMDs would never be found proved correct.
London's troop numbers in the campaign were the second largest, peaking at 46,000 in March and April 2003 at the height of combat operations that resulted in the dictator's overthrow and eventual execution for crimes against humanity.
Britain last year decided to switch its military emphasis to the struggle against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Baghdad and London signed a deal that all British soldiers in Iraq would withdraw completely by the end of July 2009 once they had completed their mission, which in recent months focused on training the Iraqi army.
The British embassy spokesman said the proposed deal for naval trainers to return has been endorsed by Iraq's cabinet and Britain will continue to offer training to Iraqi army officers as part of a NATO mission in the country and will provide training for Iraqi military personnel on courses in Britain.
The new agreement has faltered in parliament, however, as MPs loyal to radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have repeatedly walked out of debates on the accord, ensuring the assembly failed to reach the quorum required for a vote.
If approved, it would allow around 100 British sailors and five naval vessels to remain in Iraq until next summer in a "non-renewable" deal, according to government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh
Since the 2003 invasion, 179 British soldiers have died in Iraq.
Most of Britain's troops were based in the predominantly Shiite southern port city of Basra.
Basra, Iraq's third-largest city and a strategic oil hub, had been under British command since the 2003 invasion, but the province and its airport returned to Iraqi control earlier this year.
As well as training its soldiers, Britain was instrumental in the rebirth of the Iraqi navy.
The withdrawal comes 50 years after Britain's previous exit from Iraq, in May 1959, when the last soldiers left Habbaniyah base near the western town of Fallujah, ending a presence that dated back to 1918.
It also comes a month after US forces pulled out of Iraq's towns and cities as part of a deal between Baghdad and Washington that calls for all American soldiers to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
This article, by Toby Helm and Mark Townsend, was posted to Military Families Against the War, June 15, 2009
Gordon Brown was under intense pressure last night to throw open a new inquiry into the Iraq war to the public as families of soldiers who died, and anti-war MPs, reacted with horror to suggestions it would be held largely in secret.
Cabinet sources said the prime minister would announce an inquiry early this week, probably on Tuesday. Its structure would be "similar but not identical" to the Franks inquiry into the 1982 Falklands war, which was held behind closed doors.
Last night, as families of the dead said they would march on Downing Street if any of its deliberations were kept secret, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg stoked the controversy saying he would boycott the entire investigation if it was not open, wide in its remit and did not report speedily.
Clegg told the Observer that, unless those in charge were granted full access to all documents, could subpoena witnesses, had a remit to look back to events at least a year before the war began and reported within months, the inquiry would be seen as a sham.
He said: "If it does not have this kind of remit, my party will not back it or participate. We are talking about the biggest foreign policy mistake since Suez. To lock a bunch of grandees behind closed doors in secret and wait for them to come up with a puff of smoke, like the election of the pope ... would be an insult." Clegg added that the inquiry could be held on the lines of an open Commons select committee that the public and press could attend. "This inquiry is an acid test for all of Gordon Brown's talk of reforming British politics," he said.
"If he holds it all or partly in secret and kicks the eventual report into the long grass, it will be a betrayal of all those families who lost children serving in Iraq. They need answers, not another Whitehall stitch-up." Labour MP Alan Simpson, chair of Labour Against the War, said Brown's strategy of using the inquiry as part of a personal political fight-back and to win favour with his backbenchers was in danger of backfiring spectacularly. "If it is done secretively, it could be the final nail in his coffin," he said.
"We need no less rigorous an examination on this than we had on the far less important issue of MPs' expenses. A secret examination would be worthless."
The announcement of an inquiry comes just weeks after British troops officially ended combat operations in Iraq after a six-year campaign in which 179 British servicemen and women died.
The war, which was supported by Brown and which he financed as chancellor, cost the British taxpayer approximately £6.5bn, or roughly £1bn a year, equating to about £100 from every man, woman and child in the country.
Rose Gentle, whose teenage son, Gordon, was killed in Iraq in 2004, said that families who had lost sons and daughters in the conflict would march on Downing Street to protest if the proposed Iraq inquiry was "closed". She said it was vital that the government dispelled concerns over the reasons for invading Iraq.
"What is the point of an inquiry behind closed doors? No family would be happy with that. We already feel that we have been lied to by the government. We don't want any more lies. We would be prepared to go to Downing Street if the inquiry is not transparent." Philip Cooper, whose son Jamie was the youngest soldier seriously injured in Iraq, said: "Ministers should not treat us like us mushrooms - kept in the dark and fed on shit." Former Labour defence minister Peter Kilfoyle, who moved a parliamentary amendment to stop the war in early 2003 that attracted support from more than 130 Labour MPs, said: "Nothing but a completely full inquiry will do."
Those pressing for an inquiry argue that the war may have been illegal under international law and that Tony Blair made a wholly inadequate case for war by overblowing the case against Saddam Hussein, based on dubious intelligence.
Attorney general Lord Goldsmith's advice to the government over the legality of the 2003 invasion would also be a key part of any inquiry.
The Conservatives, who supported the war but have since questioned the government's handling of the run-up to the conflict, welcomed the inquiry and are broadly happy with a Franks-style investigation. William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "Given that many key decisions and events were in 2002 and 2003, it is vital that an inquiry starts work with all possible speed. It is crucial that it has access to all government papers, and that it is able to report on what went wrong with the planning and co-ordination of the occupation of Iraq, as well as the decisions about the war itself."
This article, by Nigel Morris, was originally published in The Independent, March 13, 2009
They disclose that the intelligence services were sceptical over the "iffy drafting" of government claims that Saddam Hussein could mount a missile strike on his neighbours within 45 minutes of ordering an attack.
Officials privately mocked assertions that the Iraqi president was covertly trying to develop a nuclear capability and wisecracked that perhaps he had recruited "Dr Frankenstein" to his supposed crack team of nuclear scientists.
The release of a series of confidential memos and emails, following a protracted Freedom of Information battle, reignited the controversy over accusations that Tony Blair's government "spun" Britain into war.
Last night both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats renewed their demands for a full public inquiry into the decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq.
The 45-minute claim – presented to MPs in a notorious dossier on 24 September 2002, six months before military action began – was central to the Blair government's justification for war.
But a memo sent 13 days earlier by Desmond Bowen, head of the Cabinet Office defence secretariat, to John Scarlett, who was head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, suggested he had grave reservations over the threat. His comments were copied to Mr Blair's press secretary Alastair Campbell and to his chief-of-staff Jonathan Powell.
Mr Bowen wrote: "The question we have to have in the back of our mind is: 'Why now?' I think we have moved away from promoting the ideas that we are in imminent danger of attack and ... intend to act in pre-emptive self-defence."
He argued instead that the Government should stress Saddam's disregard for international law and his continuing drive to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
Another memo, dated 16 September 2002, from an unnamed official, also suggests exaggerated claims were being included in the about-to-be-published report. It said: "I note that the paper suggests that Saddam's biotech efforts have gone much further than we ever feared. Page 4 Bullet 4: '[Iraq] has assembled specialists to work on its nuclear programme' – Dr Frankenstein I presume? Sorry. It's getting late."
A further email released yesterday, arguing for amendments to the report, says: "We have suggested moderating the same language in much the same way on drafts from the dim and distant past without success. Feel free to try again!"
A fourth email, sent by the then foreign secretary Jack Straw's private secretary, makes clear he wants language that can be conveyed very simply by the media. He wrote: "This should be brief enough to get on to the Sky wall – ie no more than five bullets."
Last night William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "This is the latest in a steady stream of damaging revelations about the events leading up to the Iraq war. These minutes shed interesting light on the process by which the caveats in the Joint Intelligence Committee's original assessment of Iraq's WMD programmes were stripped out of the dossier that was presented to Parliament and the British people.
"Now British troops are coming home, there is no longer any excuse for delaying a full-scale inquiry into the origins and conduct of the Iraq war, other than the Government's concern that its own reputation might be damaged."
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: "This confirms the widely-held suspicions that leading officials and political advisers close to Tony Blair were deliberately tweaking the presentation of the intelligence to bolster the case for war on Iraq. The jigsaw of how the public and some MPs were duped nears completion with this crucial revelation, and further strengthens the case for a full public inquiry."
The emails: How 'sexing-up' was achieved
11 September 2002 Desmond Bowen: "The question we have to have in the back of our mind is: 'Why now?' I think we have moved away from promoting the ideas that we are in imminent danger of attack and intend to act in pre-emptive self-defence... In looking at the WMD sections, you will clearly want to be as firm and authoritative as you can be. You will clearly need to judge the extent to which you need to hedge your judgements with, for example, 'it is almost certain' and similar caveats."
11 September 2002 Mark Sedwill: "I would expand the history of weapons inspections. It is an interesting story and would give the media a better feel for the difficulties they faced and the persistence of the Iraqi obstruction... We need a very simple table somewhere... This should be brief enough to get on to the Sky wall – ie no more than five bullets."
16 September 2002 Unnamed official (thought to be intelligence agent): "I note that the paper suggests that Saddam's biotech efforts have gone much further than we ever feared. Page 4 Bullet 4: '[Iraq] has assembled specialists to work on its nuclear programme' – Dr Frankenstein I presume? Sorry. It's getting late... We have suggested moderating the same language in much the same way on drafts from the dim and distant past without success. Feel free to try again!... Lots of 'ranges' close together – iffy drafting."
This article, by Jan Bruce, was originally published in The Herald (Glasgow), February 14, 2008
THERE have been more than 25,300 desertions from the British Army since 1998, according to Ministry of Defence figures released in a parliamentary written answer.
The number of times soldiers have gone Absent Without Leave (Awol) contrasts with 1090 absentees from the Royal Navy and 265 from the RAF.
Around 1000 soldiers are still on the run, although decisions on whether to track them down and return them to their units for punishment are made on a case-by-case basis.
The rate of desertion peaked in 2004, with 3025 soldiers missing from their bases, and has since averaged out to about 2500 cases a year.
A serving infantry officer told The Herald: "Most of those who go Awol do so for domestic reasons. Their wives or girlfriends have threatened to leave them, have actually flown the coop or are having an affair. The other main cause tends to be financial crisis caused by a partner emptying the family coffers.
"Although the figures appear alarming, most absences are temporary. The guys jump the wire, go home and try to sort out the drama and then come back to face the music.
"The other thing which should be borne in mind is that Army figures relate to numbers of Awol incidents rather than numbers of missing soldiers. Some people with particularly turbulent domestic set-ups have been known to abscond several times each."
The MoD dismisses claims that the desertion rate is related to frontline service in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Questions about the legality of Tony Blair's decision to join the US in invading Iraq will come under the spotlight before a rarely convened panel of nine law lords in Britain's highest court next week.
Rose Gentle and Beverley Clarke, the mothers of two 19-year-old soldiers killed in Iraq, will ask the judges to order the government to set up an independent inquiry into whether it took sufficient steps to satisfy itself that the war was legal before launching the invasion in 2003.
The fact that nine law lords, instead of the usual five, are set to hear the case - brought against the prime minister, the defence secretary and the attorney general - underlines its constitutional importance.
Nine judges sat in 2004 in the Belmarsh terror suspects' case on detention without charge, and in 2005 in the hunting ban case which challenged the legality of legislation passed under the Parliament Act.
The law lords will not be asked to decide whether the invasion of Iraq was lawful. But they are expected to look at the steps the government took in the run-up to the war to ensure that it was complying with international law.
Gentle and Clarke argue that they are entitled to an inquiry because article two of the European convention on human rights - incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act - guarantees the right to life.
They say this obliges the state to hold an investigation into whether the UK took reasonable steps to protect the soldiers' lives by not involving them in unlawful military operations.
The two mothers lost in the high court and in the court of appeal, where the judges ruled that the European convention was concerned only with domestic, not international, rights, and that there were some areas, such as waging war, which were matters for the executive, not the courts.
A key question for the law lords during the three-day hearing, which starts next Monday, is the extent to which, in the light of the Human Rights Act, there are still "forbidden areas" where the courts will not venture.
"Whether the invasion of Iraq was lawful is the most important unanswered question of this generation," said Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, the mothers' solicitor. "The law lords will have to decide whether there are any questions of law that are out of bounds simply because, although potential or actual violations of human rights are involved, the context is a political one."
Fusilier Gordon Gentle, from Glasgow, had been in Iraq less than a week when he was killed by a roadside bomb in June 2004, after finishing his training in May. A coroner ruled he died because a "chaotic" military supply chain had left his vehicle without a vital piece of equipment.
Trooper David Clarke, from Stafford, died under friendly fire west of Basra. There was no separate inquest into his death because no mortal remains were found to be brought back to the UK. Lawyers for the government are expected to argue that military action is not a matter for the courts, and that a decision to deploy troops in a foreign conflict is not capable of being a breach of its obligation to protect life.