The 2003 invasion of Iraq was a “catastrophic success”, the official inquiry into the war heard today.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK’s former special representative to Iraq, said Saddam Hussein was toppled so quickly that US and British forces were left “holding a baby without the materials for looking after it”.
He also criticised the planning of the post-invasion period, saying the operation was under-resourced and rushed.
The inquiry faced fresh questions about its openness today after the live video feed of Sir Jeremy’s evidence was halted for more than a minute for reasons of national security.
Explaining his reasons for cutting the broadcast, inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot said: “There was a mention of sensitive information as defined in our published protocols, so we had to interrupt very briefly.”
The video feed was stopped as Sir Jeremy was talking about the over-optimistic attitude of Paul Bremer, head of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority set up to run Iraq after the invasion.
An audience member said he went on to say that then-US secretary of state Colin Powell came to use British intelligence reports about Iraq because they were more accurate than Mr Bremer’s upbeat dispatches to Washington.
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said the hearings should not be halted to avoid political embarrassment.
“Any suggestion that the inquiry would be party to suppressing political mistakes - whether by Americans or Brits - would be highly damaging to its credibility,” he said.
Critics have previously raised concerns about how much of the inquiry is being held behind closed doors.
Sir Jeremy was UK ambassador to the United Nations in the run-up to the war and special representative to Iraq from September 2003 to March 2004.
He told the inquiry in central London there were fears before the start of the Iraq conflict in March 2003 that Saddam could fall too quickly.
“There was a view that our invasion of Iraq could be a catastrophic success,” he said.
“That is, it would happen so quickly and Saddam’s regime would collapse so fast that we would be left holding a baby without the materials for looking after it.
“And that indeed is what happened.” Britain was warned that the Iraqi people had a huge “capacity for violence” before the invasion, the inquiry heard.
Sir Jeremy said Egypt’s then-ambassador to the UN, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, told him: “You will not believe the degree of violence of which these people are capable when you come to it. So be careful what you take on.”
The former diplomat was critical of the Coalition Provisional Authority saying it was “not fully up to the business of administering Iraq”.
He said: “There was an under-resourcing, a misunderstanding of the difficulty of the mission, right from the very beginning.
“This was clearly - it’s history - too rushed an exercise for the size of the task that we found on the ground, a task which some people had been predicting would be as difficult as it was.”
Sir Jeremy argued that British politicians did not provide enough resources, challenge the US adequately or focus enough on the parts of Iraq outside the UK area of control in the south.
“It’s in the nature of a democracy always to under-resource and not to pre-empt and not to insure because the Treasury will always argue against that.
It’s too expensive,” he said.
“As it happened, Iraq became more expensive because we didn’t do those things, because we didn’t insure. We carried our own insurance and it was very expensive.
“It was in the nature of the British machine not to cover every eventuality because fundamentally it was unaffordable.”
The inquiry heard Tony Blair ordered the creation of a post-invasion Iraqi police force within months despite being warned it would take much longer.
On September 2th, 2003 Sir Jeremy attended a meeting with the former prime minister and Sir John Sawers, the UK’s former special envoy for Iraq.
They discussed the deteriorating security situation and Mr Blair said he wanted to see the creation of new Iraqi police officers to restore civil order.
Sir Jeremy said: “(Sir John) and I tried to warn the prime minister that it would take quite a long time to get a decent police force of the necessary size going with decent training from scratch.
“But he said that was his priority and he wanted us to get on with that and see how quickly we could do it.
“We thought it might take a year or so to get a decent police force running.
He said try and do it by the end of 2003 if you possibly can.
“John and I looked at each other but decided we had better see whether we could do anything to help that. But we realised it was an extremely ambitious request.”
Sir Jeremy blamed the impatience of politicians in London and Washington for the failure to create a strong Iraqi police force.
He said: “The sense of hurry that we had from our two capitals militated against the production of well-trained, well-behaved policemen on the ground.”
Sir Jeremy said there was anger and resentment among UN officials that Britain and the United States had decided to go to war despite widespread international opposition.
The former diplomat said the invasion of Iraq was of “questionable legitimacy” when he gave evidence to the inquiry at an earlier hearing last month.
The inquiry was adjourned until tomorrow.