Army chief under fire over Iraq comments

Richard Dannatt comes under fire over his comments on Iraq war
Richard Dannatt comes under fire over his comments on Iraq war

The head of the army committed a "constitutional breach" in his outspoken comments about Iraq, Paddy Ashdown has said.

Lord Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and an ex-soldier, said that although Richard Dannatt might believe British troops were making the security situation worse in some parts of Iraq, he should not have made his views public.

Tony Blair has given his full backing to Sir Richard, saying the general's comments that British troops should leave Iraq "sometime soon" were not at odds with the government's view, which was that troops should stay until the job was done.

But Lord Ashdown was among several key political figures who criticised the chief of the general staff this weekend, including former home secretary David Blunkett and former Conservative foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind.


"He may be accurate in what he said, he may be cheered to the echo in the army, but he certainly shouldn't have said it," Lord Ashdown told Sky News' Sunday Live.

"It's a clear constitutional breach and it opens up a massive division between him and the government, who have been saying not entirely the opposite but very, very different things."
Mr Blunkett told BBC One's Sunday AM military figures should not interfere in political decision-making, noting: "I think lessons will be learned, because we don't have the intervention of the military into our decision-making in Britain, and nor should we."

Malcolm Rifkind added that although Sir Richard was a "splendid general" and he agreed with his "every word", the general should not have made his views public.

"I have to say I think he was wrong to make these remarks because one of the things we pride ourselves [on] in Britain, and I think rightly so, is that the armed forces, the civil service are non-political," he told BBC Radio Four's Any Questions? on Saturday.

"They do not involve themselves in political debate, they leave that to the politicians."

However, Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond praised Sir Richard's comments, saying that "millions of people will be delighted at last that someone has spoken the truth about the reality of what our troops face in Iraq".

He told BBC Radio Four's PM: "Any breach of protocol that General Dannatt has committed is as of nothing to the breach of ethics, morality and the truth that the prime minister has committed."

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