An Ulster Unionist councillor, who was a Regimental Sergeant Major during the invasion of Iraq, remains proud of his actions in the conflict even though the fallout from it has been so controversial.
As the Iraq Historical Allegations Team (IHAT) suggests that UK forces may well be responsible for over 50 unlawful killings, and many cases of mistreatment and abuse, the legacy of the war continues to divide public opinion.
Doug Beattie, now an Ulster Unionist councillor for Portadown, served with the military for 32 years. Speaking about his experience of the war, he said: “I remain proud of my actions in Iraq as well as the actions of my colleagues. The Iraq war may turn out to be one of those conflicts we will forever find hard to come to terms with but when we crossed the border we did so thinking it was for the right reasons,”
An inquiry was set up by the Ministry of Defence in November 2010 after 146 Iraqi men claimed to have been tortured. IHAT is a unit set up to investigate allegations of abuse and torture by British soldiers in Iraq. The inquiry focuses on three interrogation sites near Basra, operated by the Joint Forward Interrogation Team (JFIT) between March 2003 and December 2008.
The Service Prosecuting Authority, the military equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service, has now been asked by IHAT for advice on 35 cases of unlawful killings and 30 of abuse and mistreatment. Reports suggest that up to 280 service personnel are now set to be investigated.
Doug said that while he believes some soldiers may have broken the rules of armed conflict he believes that most soldiers adhered to the laws and acted accordingly.
He said: “I was the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment (1 R IRISH) during the invasion of Iraq. I remember vividly standing beside my Commanding Officer, Tim Collins, as he spoke to the 600 men under his command at our base, Fort Blair-Mayne, in the Kuwaiti desert two days before we crossed the border. Colonel Tim outlined what he expected of every single soldier, saying if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory. His words are now famous but he he was stating what every soldier already knew that they must adhere to the Law of Armed Conflict (LoAC) which governs their actions and their behaviour in war,” continued Doug.
“I am not so naive as to think that every soldier in the stresses of battle, or the bitter insurgency that followed, adhered completely to the LoAC but I do not believe that cases of unlawful killing and abuse is as widespread as many would have us believe. As we focus on the accusations made against a few we tend to forget about the professionalism and sacrifices of the many, “ said Doug.
During his time in Iraq part of Doug’s duties was taking charge of the enemy prisoners of war. He remembers being affected by the condition of the men and that they were well treated by himself and the other soldiers.
He said: “As we crossed the border into Iraq, as part of the invasion force, it was my responsibility to take charge of the enemy prisoners of war. I was immediately overwhelmed by hundreds of captured enemy soldiers, all of whom were in tattered clothes, some starving, some seriously wounded and still others on the verge of death.
“As we herded them into a building to give them shelter from the elements, I can still remember their faces, a mixture of fear, bewilderment and gratitude. For them the war was over and the task of survival had begun,” added Doug.
“My soldiers immediately began the task of finding them food and water. At one stage orders had to be issued to the soldiers of 1 R IRISH not to give away their own food and water as our supply routes were incredibly precarious. However, it was an order that was ignored and for days following the invasion soldiers of my regiment shared their meagre rations with their Iraqi enemy as well as displaced civilians,” continued Doug.
As well as sharing their rations soldiers showed compassion and respect in their treatment of prisoners who had died. Doug said: “When prisoners died of their wounds, or when bodies were found, my men would bury them. They would take a compass bearing so the head would face towards Mecca and soldiers stood quietly, as a colleague of the dead enemy soldier said a few words. It was a gentleness that felt out of place on the battlefield but I found this compassion both moving and enriching. It was an abiding image that I kept with me throughout the war, to remind me that despite the brutality we had to keep our humanity.”
Doug added: “Later in the conflict I saved the lives of enemy soldiers who were about to be murdered by a baying Iraqi crowd, who had already murdered one of them, and for this action I proudly wear the Queens Commendation For Bravery on my Iraq medal, a small oak leaf that represents the actions of my men.”
Speaking about the current controversy and how it continues to divide public opinion, Doug said: “So this idea that ill discipline, abuse and unlawful killings was in the norm during the conflict doesn’t sit well with me. Of course the law must run its course, and if there is evidence that service personnel acted outside the LoAC, then there should be consequences. If it is found that some of these claims are malicious or that UK law firms have helped prosecute malicious claims for personal gain then I would hope these individuals are held to account.
“I remain proud of my actions in Iraq and the actions of my colleagues. The Iraq war may well turn out to be one of those conflicts we will forever find hard to come to terms with. However, when we crossed the border we did so thinking it was for the right reasons. We should not now let the legality of an unpopular war gives others an excuse to line their pockets at the expense of the ordinary men and women who fight wars on the behest of governments and politicians,” added Doug.