In October 2002 I was fortunate enough to visit the island of Cyprus for the first time, on holiday with my wife and children, visiting my sister-in-law and family stationed with the British Army on the Sovereign Base Area garrison of Dekelia where our brother in law was at the time a Sergeant.
It was the first time I’d visited Cyprus & also the first time I’d stayed on an Army camp. I was surprised by what I found. A British community the size of a medium English village was enclosed within the camp – which is apparently somewhat smaller than the corresponding camp at the west of the island – Akrotiri. The houses were reminiscent of UK Council Houses – with the very obvious difference that there were was a complete lack of graffiti, poor maintenance or anti-social behaviour – there’s a very low tolerance of any of these in the Army (although I think they make an exception for binge drinking !)
Security was very low key – being admitted on the strength of our passports on the first day, and with a wave of a letter from the office on the camp for the rest of the week. (It was by comparison very stringent when we visited again the following spring after the invasion of Iraq).
We came and went as we pleased, and spent a glorious few days relaxing on the beach in what was effectively the last week of the Summer season, drinking copious Brandy Sours from the bar of the Sergeants’ Beach Club.
My brother-in-law was not with us however. Even then there was much talk about an imminent invasion of Iraq, and he had been placed on exercise in a country very close to Iraq, which can now be seen as a rehearsal for the eventual invasion. He was away for most of the week.
Not that we worried much.The sun was warm and lacked some of it’s burning power due to the lateness in the year. It was close to perfect for us. On the Friday afternoon shortly after three though, my sister-in-law got a call on her mobile phone. It was her husband – calling from the middle east – he was coming home, and would be back this evening.
We quickly stirred our stumps, drained our cocktails, deflated the lilo’s, got the kids dressed and headed for the Naafi supermarket to get some stuff in to cook an even meal. As we drew up in the car outside the house (on the base) who should we see but my brother-in-law walking down the garden path – slightly miffed that he’d waited 5 minutes and no one was there.
He’d flown back straight to the camp in the space of about an hour – it might have been a bit more – we weren’t timing, just coming home from the beach. We were surprised to see him so quickly – but put it down to us still thinking that we were in England – Cyprus is, after all, well over to the East of the Mediterranean.
Anyway it was good to see him before we went home the next day. We didn’t think much of it until some months later, when a call to my wife’s sister found her in quite an agitated state, as the camp had given information to all households to the effect that they were in likely firing range of Iraqi weapons, and that weapons could be targeted on the island with as little as 45 minutes notice. This obviously made sense to her, and to us, remembering the speed with which her husband returned home after the exercises the previous October.
That was the first time I heard the phrase “45 minutes” in relation to Iraq. Not long after that we saw the claims of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq being target on British forces within 45 minutes. I assumed that it was this warning that they referred to, yet all these years later the debate about this claim still rumbles on, and once more yesterday it cropped up in the Chilcot inquiry.
After reading of Alastair Campbell’s questioning at the inquiry yesterday I have to confess that it upsets me that so many people are more ready to doubt our political leaders, than to accept their explanations for the events that led to the war.
It seems that people have forgotten that Iraq was the country that launched an unprovoked invasion of neighbouring Kuwait some years earlier, and during the military operations to re-take Kuwait, deliberately fired SCUD missiles into densely populated civilian areas of non-belligerent Israel in an attempt to draw them into the war.
Given that miniaturised nuclear weapons of less than a metre in length, such as the Davy Crockett missile, were ready for use as long ago as the 1960’s by the US and allegedly by the Soviet Union. It is not stretching a point too far to suspect that Iraq may have been capable of mounting a small nuclear strike on for instance Dekelia, or perhaps the holiday resort of Aya Napa, with less than an hours warning that it was on its way.
The Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan have proved long and arduous, and few would derive any pleasure from the death and suffering they have caused, and I can’t imagine there are any who don’t want to see the end of it. But don’t forget, despite the very significant protests against the Iraq war, it was supported at the time by the majority of the parliamentary Labour party, and more or less all of the Conservatives – and to my memory enjoyed huge public support.
Whilst some appear shocked and disappointed by Alastair Campbell’s “No regrets” stance on the war, I am not one of them, and in fact would have hoped for nothing less from him.
War’s a horrible business – but please let’s try not to be too harsh on the people who we elected to make those decisions for us, just because things turned out to be more unpleasant than we expected. I suspect many of us would have made the same decisions, armed with same information, had we been in that position ourselves.
With todays announcement of an inquiry into the Iraq war Iraq war inquiry to be in private one might have thought that Gordon Brown was sidestepping critics by doing exactly what they were asking him to do.
Personally I don’t see much point in yet another inquiry after Butler & Hutton, but that’s not really the point.The calls for an inquiry have become a thorn in Gordon Brown’s side, something that he receives regular criticism on, and something which he can set in motion relatively easily in order to assuage public opinion.
So a quick win then ?
Well no – because it will be held in private – for “security reasons”. Which means the waste of time that would nonetheless have lifted some of the pressure from the Prime Minister, will instead still be a waste of time, and will only increase the pressure on him. Does anyone think for one second that this will appease the likes of The Stop the War Coalition ? I don’t think so !
Does he not have any one to give him sensible advice ?