Iraq chaplain reveals sadness at Chilcot findings

A former military chaplain in Iraq has revealed his sadness at the Chilcot report’s findings that alternatives to war were not pursued before Britain and the United States launched the Iraq War.

Revd Angus Macleod Rev Angus Macleod, of St Columba's Church of Scotland in Pont Street, London, who served as a military chaplain in Iraq, pictured in the London Scottish Regimental Chapel at St Columba's.

Rev Angus Macleod of St Columba’s Church of Scotland in London, who served as a military chaplain to troops deployed to Iraq, spoke to broadcaster Ricky Ross on BBC Radio Scotland’s "Sunday Morning with" program on July 10.

“I think my overriding reaction is sadness at the findings— many of which I don’t think were that surprising,” he said. “But the real regret and sadness is that in March 2003 going to war wasn’t the final option and the other avenues had apparently not been exhausted. I think of all the repercussions on a personal level that’s the thing that struck me most.”

With demonstrations against the war dividing the country, British troops were also feeling the pressure, he said.

“As chaplains we were all aware of the unease about possible action at all levels of the organisation,” he said. “I think the experience was particularly difficult for reservists, who had been called up perhaps unexpectedly and then found themselves awaiting the beginning of a war situation conscious that there were peace protests going on all through the preparations.

“There were some people who were clearly unsettled. However the vast majority responded: “We’ve been asked to do a job. We are representing a democratically elected government. We are sent by the nation as a whole and so we respond.”

“Eventually the discussion has to stop because you just don’t have the luxury of debating it and the forces are good at focusing on with what they are required to do. They have to because I don’t think you could cope with things if that wasn’t the case.”

“At a certain point those serving out there had to put to one side the decision making. Most people arrived at the sense: If action is to be taken, let’s get on with it and as with all soldiers let’s get home once it’s done.”

Mr Macleod said his sister and young nephew were among those protesting for peace; while his brother, Reverend Rory MacLeod, another Army Chaplain also deployed into Iraq in the summer of 2003. “I was proud that we came from a country where such protests were possible – proud too that there were chaplains seeking to minister to our young servicemen and women at a very significant time.”

During his two deployments, Mr Macleod said he learned a lot about the role of a chaplain and its value to the troops. And while he wouldn’t want to repeat the experience, he was glad he had been able to help and support the soldiers in his units.

“People are facing extreme situations. Mortality is clearly in the air. I was lucky that the unit I deployed with in 2003 all came home safely. In 2007 that wasn’t the case. There is clearly a role for a chaplain around death, injury, and then just the fact that people are away from home: there is the much more routine work of befriending, supporting people who are anxious about loved ones--maybe scared.”

One hundred and seventy-nine British service personnel and countless thousands of Iraqis were killed in the conflict and its aftermath. Yet despite strong opposition at home, British troops were initially welcomed by Iraqis.

“When we went in, certainly in the southeast, we were welcomed. And as we drove north – it was actually on Palm Sunday— the roads were lined with cheering folks. They were also very clear: we’re glad you’re here; we’d like you to be gone in six months.”

“I said at the time there was an opportunity for Iraq but that it would require a long haul and I suppose that even then I wasn’t sure that we as a nation and as an alliance had the stomach for a long haul, and I am not sure if that hasn’t been proven.”