THE long-awaited report of the Iraq Inquiry, led by Sir John Chilcot, concludes that the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, took the UK into war unnecessarily and without making proper preparations for the aftermath of the conflict.
Not only was the planning for the war “wholly inadequate”, and the consequences severely underestimated, “despite explicit warnings”, Iraq under Saddam Hussein did not pose a clear threat to Britain at the time of the invasion in 2003, the report finds.
Speaking in Westminster at the report’s launch on Wednesday, Sir John said: “It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day. We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action was not a last resort.”
As an anti-war protest took place outside, Sir John spoke to journalists and the families of soldiers killed and injured during the war, summarising the key findings of his 2.6-million-word report.
He spoke of how Mr Blair became convinced of the need to remove Mr Hussein shortly after the 11 September attacks in 2001, writing at one point in 2002 in a memo to the US President George Bush: “I will be with you, whatever.”
However, the rest of the UN Security Council could not be persuaded to agree a resolution calling for the toppling of Saddam Hussein. While Mr Bush and Mr Blair argued that their invasion was to uphold the UN’s authority, Sir John said that “the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council’s authority”.
The report does not take a view on whether the war was legal, but it does strongly criticise the circumstances in which the Government concluded that there was a legal basis to invade Iraq. On a number of occasions in the lead-up to the war, Mr Blair took decisions himself which should have instead been discussed by the Cabinet, Sir John said.
His report also addresses the infamous intelligence dossier on Iraq’s supposed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, for which no evidence was ever found.
Despite an “ingrained” certainty among the intelligence community that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction from the world, they were wrong, the report states.
Furthermore, a statement to the House of Commons and a dossier on the intelligence which purported to show Iraq was harbouring such weapons “were presented with a certainty that was not justified”, Sir John said.
“It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been.”
Despite attempts to influence the US’s plans, Mr Blair and the British Government were not able to play a significant role, the report also found.
Sir John said: “Mr Blair overestimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq. The UK’s relationship with the US has proved strong enough over time to bear the weight of honest disagreement. It does not require unconditional support where our interests or judgements differ.
“UK policy rested on an assumption there would be a well-executed US-led and UN-authorised operation in a benign security environment. Mr Blair told the inquiry that the difficulties encountered in Iraq couldn’t have been known in advance. We do not agree that hindsight was required.”
While the UK took on responsibility for rebuilding four provinces of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, it did not realise the magnitude of the task, or provide sufficient resources. Instead, its main focus was on how quickly it could withdraw UK forces.
With equipment shortages — a result of the Army’s being operational in two fields of conflict, in Iraq and Afghanistan — UK forces ended up making a “humiliating” deal with Iraqi militias to release detainees in exchange for an end to roadside bombs and attacks on its troops.
There were many lessons for future governments to learn from the Iraq debacle, the report suggests. As well as being less deferential to the US, it was important to challenge and debate any future requests for intervention.
Furthermore, ministers in the Cabinet must be cut into discussions about war and in drawing up a realistic strategy, rather than centralising too much authority in the Prime Minister and his or her team.
“More than 200 British citizens died as a result of the conflict, which has meant deep anguish for many families,” Sir John concluded. “The invasion and subsequent instability in Iraq had, by July 2009, also resulted in the deaths of at least 150,000 Iraqis and probably many more. One million have been displaced. The people of Iraq have suffered greatly.”
'Chilcot's lessons' - Leader comment