A long-delayed inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq has issued a damning indictment of the decision-making, saying Iraq was not a threat at the time and that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was too eager to support U.S. President George Bush.
“The evidence is there for all to see. It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day,” concluded inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot. “Military action at that time was not a last resort.”
The inquiry has been under way for seven years and the 6,000-page report released Wednesday included 12 volumes and around 1,500 documents.
Among its conclusions:
• The policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments.
• Those assessments were not challenged “and they should have been.”
• There was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein in 2003.
• The strategy of containment could have been adapted and continued for some time.
• Mr. Blair overestimated his ability to influence U.S. decisions on Iraq.
Above all, Sir John said: “The lesson is that all aspects of any intervention need to be calculated, debated and challenged with the utmost rigour. And, when decisions have been made, they need to be implemented fully. Sadly, neither was the case in relation to the U.K. government’s actions in Iraq.”
The report examined the period immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., through the March, 2003, invasion and up to 2009 when British troops left Iraq. More than 200 British citizens died in Iraq during that period, along with at least 150,000 Iraqis, the report said. And more than one million people were displaced. “The people of Iraq have suffered greatly,” Sir John said.
The report said that from the start Mr. Blair was keen to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the U.S. “I will be with you, whatever,” Mr. Blair said in a note to Mr. Bush in July, 2002. The two men developed an extremely close working relationship, with Mr. Blair frequently sending notes and injecting his views on major issues of the day. Mr. Bush, the report said, “encouraged that dialogue and listened to Mr. Blair’s opinions.”
Mr. Blair “had a habit of writing notes, both internally and to President Clinton and President Bush on all sorts of subjects,” Jonathan Powell, Mr. Blair’s chief of staff, told the inquiry.
Britain was eager to back the U.S. immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in part because it feared that vital areas of co-operation would be damaged unless it gave the Americans full support, the report found. The British government also thought that it could best influence U.S. policy by committing full support and seeking to persuade from the inside.
“The issue of influencing the U.S., both at the strategic and at the operational level, was a constant preoccupation at all levels of the U.K. government,” the report said.
However, the report concluded that that while British arguments at times made a difference in shaping U.S. policy, “the relationship between the two is unequal.” And it noted that countries like Germany and France opposed invading Iraq and that “does not appear to have had a lasting impact on the relationships of those countries with the U.S., despite the bitterness at the time.”
The report also goes into detail about the drafting of a dossier Mr. Blair presented to parliament in September, 2002, which claimed the “assessed intelligence” had “established beyond doubt” that Saddam Hussein had “continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and that he had been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile program.”
The dossier had been based on information from the Joint Intelligence Committee, JIC, which the inquiry said had not come to those conclusions at all. The JIC had found that Iraq had produced chemical and biological agents, and that the country had the means to deliver chemical weapons, but “it did not say that Iraq had continued to produce weapons.” It also made clear that as long as sanctions remained effective, “Iraq could not produce a nuclear weapon.” However, the report said the JIC did not press its case with Mr. Blair, allowing him to come to his own conclusions.
The report said Mr. Blair had also been warned by his officials that military action would increase the threat from al-Qaida and that an invasion of Iraq might lead to Iraq’s weapons and capabilities being transferred into the hands of terrorists.
“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,” Sir John said.
The widespread perception that the dossier overstated the evidence in order to influence public opinion “has produced a damaging legacy, including undermining the trust and confidence in government statements, particularly those which rely on intelligence which cannot be independently verified,” the report concluded.
The report said the British military was ill prepared for the 2003 invasion, that it lacked proper equipment and that there was scant planning for postwar Iraq.
“The government’s preparations failed to take account of the magnitude of the task of stabilizing, administering and reconstructing Iraq, and of the responsibilities which were likely to fall to the U.K.,” the report said.
In a statement, Mr. Blair said he will take “full responsibility for any mistakes without exception or excuse.” But he added that the report “should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit.”
“Whether people agree or disagree with my decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein; I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country,” he said.
A group of family members of soldiers who died in the Iraq war said they welcomed the report and they are considering suing Mr. Blair and others. After the report was released on Wednesday, many couldn’t contain their anger at Mr. Blair.
“There’s one terrorist in this world, that the world needs to be aware of, and his name is Tony Blair,” said Sarah O’Connor, whose brother, Sergeant Bob O’Connor, died in 2005 when the helicopter he was in was shot down.
Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon died in a roadside bomb blast in 2004, said she wanted to look Mr. Blair in the eye and ask him: “Why did you kill my son?”
“My son died in vain,” added Roger Bacon, who lost his son, Major Matthew Bacon, during the war.
The Iraq inquiry
It was set up 2009 to answer two questions:
Whether it was right and necessary to invade Iraq in March 2003; and whether the U.K. could, and should, have been better prepared for what followed.
The report was released Wednesday, July 6. It contains 12 volumes covering 6,000 pages.
Highlights and quotes:
• “I will be with you, whatever”: British Prime Minister Tony Blair to U.S. President George Bush in 2002.
• There was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein in March, 2003.
• The strategy of containment could have been adapted and continued for some time
• Military action at that time was not a last resort
• British Prime Minister Tony Blair overestimated his ability to influence U.S. decisions on Iraq
• Judgments about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were presented with a certainty that was not justified
• Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated.
• The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate.
• The British government failed to achieve its stated objectives
• 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.
• British Prime Minister Tony Blair to U.S. President George Bush, July 28, 2002, less than a year before the invasion: “Suppose it got militarily tricky. Suppose Iraq suffered unexpected civilian casualties. Suppose the Arab street finally erupted. … if we win quickly, everyone will be our friend. If we don’t … recriminations will start fast. … And there is one other point. We will need to commit to Iraq for the long term. Bedding down a new regime will take time.”
PAUL WALDIE AND MARK MACKINNON
London — The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Jul. 06, 2016 6:29AM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Jul. 06, 2016 9:18AM EDT