I grew up in Baghdad in the 1970s.
My father was a defense attaché and it was an amazing place to live.
The Iraqis were incredibly nice, I could bike all over town, we went camping in the desert on the weekends, and we grilled huge river carp on the banks of the Tigris.
In Iraq, where I returned in 2007 as commander of the 4th Battalion,
the Rifles was a very different place.
The young riflemen I had the privilege of commanding were quick to call our base at Basra Palace “probably the worst palace in the world” – according to Carlsberg advertisements at the time.
From May to September of this year we fired thousands of rocket and mortar shells. We were hit by about 100 roadside bombs.
We faced snipers. We faced small arms fire. Going into town meant an almost 100 percent chance of getting into a firefight.
That year alone 47 and 202 British soldiers were killed
wounded. Many of the fallen were from my own regiment.
So, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Iraq conflict, I
understand why many veterans will remember it with mixed feelings.
It took me a long time to come back from what my regiment had been through.
I went to some dark places. But I think looking back at Operation Telic – as the British campaign in Iraq was called – offers us a unique opportunity.
For veterans who are still dealing with the physical and emotional scars of hard days, this is an opportunity to share our experiences.
Because it wasn’t until I started having conversations like this with friends that I understood that my feelings were normal; Her empathy and understanding helped me lift my eyes and move forward.
The advantage of looking back also brings perspective. The anniversary is an opportunity to remember what went right and what went wrong.
Op Telic was an extraordinary achievement – one of the largest British operations since the end of the Second World War.
It included all three services. Initially around 46,000 soldiers were deployed, including 9,500 reservists.
The UK sent 19 warships, 14 Royal Fleet auxiliaries, 15,000 vehicles, 115 fixed-wing aircraft and nearly 100 helicopters to the Gulf.
Although for many it was their first experience of a ‘hot war’, the achievements of British forces in the early days were extraordinary.
They quickly took the port city of Umm Qasr. In the liberation of Basra, our troops won the largest tank battle involving British forces since World War II.
And together with our brilliant US allies, they deposed a brutal dictator.
Having lived in Iraq before Saddam, I knew how much the Iraqi people had suffered under his regime.
And I knew how pleased they were that he was gone.
Hard years followed. The flames of the rebellion burned and, thanks to the late Sir John Chilcot, many lessons were learned.
But we should not forget the courage of our soldiers. I saw her learn. I saw them adjust. I’ve seen their toughness and fighting spirit develop – despite some very heavy hits.
Private Michelle Norris was the first woman to receive the Military Cross.
At just 19, barely out of basic training and under furious fire, she escorted her badly wounded patrol commander to safety.
Private Johnson Beharry was awarded the first Victoria Cross
In the 21st century.
Despite being badly wounded by enemy rocket shells, he still managed to get his injured comrades out of harm’s way.
Many Iraqi veterans are still serving today. Michelle Norris is now a sergeant at 22 Field Hospital. Johnson Beharry was recently promoted to Sergeant Major.
The Iraq war still provokes strong opinions. But today we put those debates aside.
Wreaths are laid next to the Iraq and Afghanistan War Memorial in Whitehall and at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
Like other veterans, my thoughts will be with old friends.
Those who continue to serve, those who have been long retired, and those who never made it home.
Thousands have been injured over eight years, many innocent Iraqis
died and 179 British employees paid the ultimate price.
Her sacrifice was not in vain.
Your service laid the foundation for a strong partnership with the Iraqi government; a partnership that continues to help rebuild this proud country that I remember from my childhood and bring stability to the entire region.
And today, in a time more dangerous than anyone I’ve known in uniform, these desert warriors remain a true inspiration. They have shown us that it always takes real courage, dogged determination and an offensive spirit to win the battles of the future.
https://www.the-sun.com/news/7671325/iraq-war-soldiers-die-in-vain-army-head-general-sanders/ “I can say that British soldiers did not die in vain as we mark the twentieth anniversary of the Iraq war,” says the army chief