Documents Hint at Iraq-related Chaos in Tony Blair’s Government

Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, during the 2007 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Photo by: Monika Flueckiger / World Economic Forum

Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair appears to have disregarded one of his ministers’ concerns about the U.K.’s reconstruction plans for post-invasion Iraq, The Guardian reports, citing newly released documents.

Letters sent by Sally Keeble, the junior international development minister during Blair’s term, to the then prime minister were presented July 4 before members of the Iraq Inquiry, an ongoing British public inquiry about the U.K.’s role in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The letters were dated two months after the invasion in March 2003.

In her letters, Keeble expressed her misgivings about the “underperformance” of the Department for International Development with regards to Iraq’s post-war rehabilitation, the Guardian says.

Among the problems she highlighted were bad planning of the war, poor financial management, confusion regarding the tracking of emergency medical supplies and DfID officials’ lack of Arabic language skills.

Some of these problems were a result of then international development secretary Clare Short’s position about the war, Keeble said.

Blair wrote back to Keeble after a month, saying that DfID has fully responded to the points she raised.

“I am keen that DfID, under Valerie’s leadership, should move on. The Department is already working much more closely with the rest of the Government, and I will be keeping a careful eye on things to ensure that this continues,” Blair wrote in his reply to Keeble.

Valerie Amos assumed the post of international development minister after Short resigned in May 2003.

Keeble also expressed in her letter deep concern over how the post-invasion humanitarian effort was handled.

“I remain deeply concerned by the way in which the humanitarian effort was handled and the failure to deliver practical support at the time it was needed … I found it very difficult working in a department that had under-performed on such a key issue and where, as a minister, I was, for a variety of reasons, prevented from helping to shape the course of events,” she said as quoted by the Guardian.

A letter by Suma Chakrabarti, DfID’s permanent secretary at that time, was also presented to the Iraq Inquiry. Chakrabarti said Keeble’s claims were serous but unfounded. He also criticized the former junior development minister for not raising the issues until after she left the department.

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  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.