Defending ‘Them’

I don’t know how closely you have been following the Iraq inquiry but every day it’s been running I’ve been following Channel 4′s twitter commentary as well as reading up on the roundups for the day wherever I find them. Almost everyone seems to want to get a kick in at DfiD.

John Scone @ Flickr

Earlier today Lt Gen Sir Robert Fry said,

We had DfID reps at planning HQ who could barely disguise their moral disdain for what we were doing.


Of course they did. The one thing that DfiD has running through it’s very bones is that it is a department with all but one aim and that isn’t going to war with people. They join up to help and the line that doctors on television seem to quote constantly about doing no harm is always at the top of the list of considerations when it comes to our work. Notice how I’m still saying ‘our work’…I reckon I’ll still be saying that for a few years to come despite finishing up here in a few days.

People being interviewed on the inquiry have said how we didn’t devote enough man power to the problem or how we didn’t engage properly with the other departments and the armed forces. No one engaged properly during that time and we now openly admit we should have got more people on the ground than we did. DfiD’s job isn’t to go in after our army kicks seven shades of crap out of people though. Our job is to help those living in poverty and to provide disaster relief where and when it’s needed. We don’t normally sit in on meetings where we’re told that x village is going to be ran over by tanks and that y substation is going to be blown up. That’s not disaster relief that’s mopping up after our army.

Clare Short took a beating for holding out for so long before quiting as our boss at the time the war started. Some say she should have towed the party line and made the department work the way they now wish it had within our government and with their international partners . Others had a go at her for holding out for so long before giving in. Having worked under her, all be it in Scottish part of the headquarters rather than the London office, we got the impression that she was holding on to make sure that DfiD carried on pushing for some sort of international consensus on things even if the UN resolution she was looking for wasn’t going to happen. She wanted to fight on until it became obvious that it didn’t matter what she said or did they would go ahead with the invasion.

I guess the reason that I’m getting worked up about all this is that it’s not just a case of I work for DfiD. I didn’t work in Iraq for DfiD or indeed for that matter in the Iraq Directorate in the London office but I did work closely with them. At the time I worked on the overseas team in the Human Resources Department. We dealt with sending the officers out there. The team beside me did the recruiting for the posts that came up in country and did all the personal stuff for those that got the jobs. We helped organise the hazardous location training, booked the flights to meet up with the military flights out of Kuwait, dealt with all the claims they sent in and organised their breather breaks. People I knew from within our office were out there running the offices. I gave serious consideration to applying to go out myself to help with the handover of the programmes to the Iraqi people.

There was never a sense of anyone involved not caring or not wanting to engage. In fact until this inquiry I had never actually heard a bad word about DfiD’s contribution and that was from talking to a broad spectrum of people including soldiers who had done tours in Basra and UN staff working with them in Baghdad. That’s not saying it’s not true. I just get the impression that after Gordon Brown’s recent comments about merging DfiD back into the FCO that we have become the scapegoat.

I wonder when I’ll change my thoughts on DifD from ‘we’ to ‘those buggers that basically threw my job away’?

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