By Ben Fenton
Tony Blair's first envoy to Iraq, banned from publishing his own book on the crisis there, has used a roundabout route to make sharp criticism of the British and American governments for failing to study history before invading the country in 2003.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, a former ambassador to the United Nations, says American politicians ignored the lessons of British disasters, failed to delegate proper authority to commanders on the ground and lacked imagination in their leadership.
He has run into official Foreign Office objections to his own book, The Cost of War, but makes trenchant observations in his introduction to a reissue of the book Tigris Gunboats by Wilfred Nunn.
It is a history of the 1914-17 expedition to capture Baghdad by a British expeditionary force for which Nunn led the naval contingent.
Sir Jeremy writes that it was an appallingly bloody campaign, fought against the Ottoman Turkish army in which Britain suffered 40,000 men killed, wounded or captured in a few months.
Eventually Baghdad was taken, but the capture proved nothing but a heartache for the invaders.
"The victory of March 1917 left the British owning the territory of Iraq after the war," writes Sir Jeremy. But it brought them "many years of trial and distress in trying, first through colonial occupation and then through intrusive diplomacy, to stabilise a nation that has rarely in its history remained both united and peaceful.
"Is it too churlish to ask whether the leaders of a more modern administration might have profited from studying this experience?
"It now transpires that many individual American officers did try to learn from Iraq's earlier history.
"But other considerations closer to home were weighing on the top-level decision-makers; there was little delegation of real authority to those in the theatre who could see what the local conditions required; the different parts of the military and civilian systems were out of tune with each other; and the limitations of the use of force were poorly understood.
"That meant that a sense of common purpose was missing after the ousting of Saddam Hussein, which was not the case nine decades earlier."
Sir Jeremy adds: "Neither the British Government in 1917 nor the Coalition in 2003 really understood what they were taking on when they assumed control of Baghdad."