Learning the lessons? Iraq and the truth about the Irish troubles

Back in 2003, there was a lot of talk that the British Army’s experience in Northern Ireland gave it an expertise in ‘winning hearts and minds’ that would be useful in Iraq. That idea no longer seems to have the same currency:

[US marine] Col Anderson said British troops "did the best they could", but added:
"I’m not sure they did as good a job as they did traditionally. This
isn’t Northern Ireland. They thought they had a pretty good model but
Iraq is a different culture." (Telegraph)

Patrick Cockburn makes the obvious point:

Claims that the British military could draw on counter-insurgency experience built up in Northern Ireland never made sense.

In Northern Ireland it had the support of the majority Protestant
population. In Basra and the other three provinces where it was in
command in southern Iraq the British forces had no reliable local
allies. (Independent)

It’s particularly ironic that the withdrawal from Basra should be taking place just as the MOD has been forced to withdraw its analysis of the conflict in the North:


  The Ministry of Defence has apologised after labelling an innocent
  Londonderry youth shot dead during Operation Motorman as a "terrorist"

  Army chiefs today issued "sincere apologies" for the "
  considerable distress" caused to the family of 15-year-old Daniel

  Daniel, from Swilly Gardens, died after being shot in Creggan Heights in the
  early hours of July 31, 1972.

  The teenager was branded a terrorist in a document analysing the British
  Army’s operations in Northern Ireland between August 1969 and July this

  The MoD claimed today that an error had occurred because the document had
  not been proof-read before being published on the internet in July. (Belfast Telegraph)

That would still not account for other misrepresentations in the document, as SDLP leader Mark Durkan pointed out:

“I welcome this amending of the Army record as the Minister honouring a
commitment that the Daniel Hegarty slight would be rectified. However,
I am concerned that the Ministry of Defence has stated that it intends
to issue a new version of its assessment of the conflict. There are
unfortunately a number of other families whose tragedies and travesties
have been misrepresented by this document, including the Bloody Sunday
families. I will be pursuing this matter further with the British
government in order to see that they will have their burdens eased by
the removal of additional injustices in the guise of this document.” (SDLP)

The families of those killed by the Glennane Gang are also among those who have raised concerns about the document.

The whole episode shows why the search for truth about the Troubles is no mere academic exercise. If the British Army’s analysis of Operation Banner had been a more honest accounting, perhaps it would not have been so sanguine about the prospects in Iraq.



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