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RAF pilot shot down in first Gulf War reveals 'sadness' for Iraqi people

Published 16/01/2016

John Peters is now a business consultant
John Peters is now a business consultant

Twenty-five years after the start of the operation to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, an RAF pilot shot down by the Iraqis has spoken of his sadness that British forces are still engaged in combat in the region.

January 17 1991 marked the onset of Operation Desert Storm - a US-led coalition campaign to drive the Iraqi dictator's forces from the oil-rich Gulf state they had illegally seized the previous summer.

It was also the day that Flight Lieutenant John Peters was brought down as his Tornado fighter jet returned from its first bombing raid on an Iraqi air base as part of the massive aerial bombardment to clear the way for the ground invasion.

Although he and his navigator, Flight Lieutenant John Nichol, managed to eject, they were quickly picked up by Iraqi troops and taken to Baghdad, where they were beaten and tortured before being paraded on Iraqi television.

The pictures showing their battered and bruised features caused outrage at home and quickly became one of the defining images of the first Gulf War.

A quarter of a century on, Mr Peters - who left the RAF in 2000 and is now a business consultant - feels no bitterness towards the Iraqis for his treatment, even though it was illegal under international law.

"I'm pragmatic about it," the 54-year-old told the Press Association. "My job was to be a military pilot. My job was to bomb their country and unfortunately I got shot down.

"What are you going to do to me when you capture me? I know we have laws like the Geneva Conventions, but I have information you require to prevent your friends and colleagues dying, so I understand the treatment.

"I don't hate the Iraqis. I feel terribly sorry for the Iraqi people. A quarter of a million of them died because of a bad regime that took on the rest of the world. That touches every Iraqi family, so I am very sad. It is a very historic nation and it is just sad where they find themselves now."

The two airmen were finally freed after 47 days in captivity, while Operation Desert Storm was largely judged a success in driving Saddam's forces out of Kuwait.

Nevertheless, Mr Peters does express regret that Western forces remain engaged in the region while the Iraqi people continue to suffer - now at the hands of the jihadists of Islamic State.

"You sometimes think: where we are now? You'd hope that having been to war it would have a positive effect and I'm not sure that what effect it did have," he said.

"It obviously liberated Kuwait, but then the subsequent wars that we've had - we're still seeing war on television, which saddens me in many respects."

Looking backing over the whole period, he said the great lesson was the importance of getting the post-conflict arrangements right once the initial war-fighting phase was over.

"Our technology, our philosophy, the advanced nature of how we engage in warfare, means the military can effect whatever the result you want," he said.

"The real things that solve problems (are) the political discussions afterwards. How do the politicians sell the fact that you are going to spend billions after a war to rebuild that nation, to establish a new society, because people lose interest?"

Although his name has long faded from the headlines, Mr Peters said there was still a lot of interest in what happened to him and he still gets invited to speak about his experiences.

"It is so much part of my life. I still get a lot of conversation about it," he said.

"People want to understand what it is like to go to war, what it is like to be tortured, what you think about when you think you are going to die."

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