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Paddy Ashdown giving the lecture
Paddy Ashdown giving the lecture

Press Release - 24 November 2006

Ashdown says Iraq reconstruction is a "catastrophic failure"

Paddy Ashdown last night severely criticised the reconstruction of Iraq, calling it a ‘catastrophic failure’ in which ‘daily carnage’ was taking place.

Lord Ashdown, speaking at a public lecture at the University of Bath, said: “We have failed in Iraq. I happen to be on the side of those who believed Saddam Hussein had to be removed by force, but no one could have predicted that they would have made such a mess of the peace building afterwards. We have lost control of events and events now control us.”

Lord Ashdown told the audience of over 300 people that Donald Rumsfeld, the then US Defense Secretary, did not bring enough troops into Iraq to control the security situation after the war ended.

“This meant it was a copy book example of how we should not do it in the months and the weeks that followed.” He said civilians caught in conflicts had paid a high price, including what he called the “daily carnage taking place in Iraq today”.

Lord Ashdown was speaking about his role as former High Representative in the successful reconstruction of Bosnia. He said the successful actions taken in Bosnia were all interlinked: the rule of law was established, the economy was restarted, the institutions of state were created and security was established. But he contrasted this with what he called the “catastrophic failure in Iraq to control the security situation”.

Lord Ashdown said that it was essential for the coalition forces to carry out the one area where they could succeed, and that was to ensure that Iraq did not break up into separate states, which would create “very dangerous” uncertainty in the region.

He urged the coalition to talk to Iraq’s neighbours, including Iran, Syria and Saudia Arabia, to help preserve the unitary state. The Americans should also take steps to try and solve the issue of Palestine, he said.

Lord Ashdown, a former leader of the Liberal Democratic Party and former MP for Yeovil, pointed to the success in Bosnia Herzegovina, including the return of more than a million refugees, the removal of corrupt judges, and economic progress.

“As recent events have shown very graphically, the cost of allowing states to fail, in our increasingly interdependent world, is more often than not paid in blood and horror well beyond that state’s borders – a failure to finish the job in Afghanistan can result in unimaginable terror and destruction a decade later, in New York.”

The lecture, entitled Stabilising Peace in a Troubled World, was given as part of the University of Bath’s series of public lectures on international affairs organised with the Royal Society of Arts (South West Region). This was the largest audience any lecture in this series has had.

It was introduced by Professor George Lunt, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University and was held in the University Hall, which has recently been converted to accommodate more people.

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