What You Need to Know About the Chilcot Report on Iraq
The Iraq Inquiry, also known as the Chilcot Report, looks into how the UK decided to enter Iraq in 2003 along with the US, how they conducted themselves during the war, and whether or not their objectives were reached.
Sir John Chilcot said invasion went “badly wrong”
Public outrage over Blair’s lies
Cabinet was misled by a ‘condensed dossier’ of information for the invasion
Blair ignored warnings and went in on false information
The report’s 6,275 pages of findings show that Tony Blair had participated in poor decision-making at best, and conspiracy at worst.
The UK entered Iraq on poor intelligence, with a weak rationale, and possibly even without a legal basis. Blair ignored warnings that invading could encourage more terrorism, and did little to consider troop equipment needs, the total cost of the war, or the post-conflict reconstruction of Iraq.
Upon unveiling his report, the chairman of the inquiry Sir John Chilcot said the invasion “went badly wrong, with consequences to this day.”
Chilcot’s blunt presentation of Blair’s irresponsibility has resulted in consternation and anger among politicians and the public alike. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party leader known for being anti-war, said “Frankly it was an act of military aggression on a false pretext, [which] has long been regarded as illegal.” Some families of the 179 military personnel who had fallen in Iraq have labeled Blair a “terrorist.” Blair expressed regret for the lost lives, but maintains that he made the right decision on Iraq.
Blair now faces potential legal action, though it remains unlikely that he will be tried. The inquiry was not a judicial process, but some still hope it could provide evidence for a future prosecution in British courts.
The key findings of the Iraq Inquiry reveal a failure to adequately justify, plan, and conduct the invasion.
Blair assured the public in his press conference that “there were no lies, Parliament and the Cabinet were not misled, there was no secret commitment to war, intelligence was not falsified and the decision was made in good faith.”
Let’s take a look at each of those claims:
“There were no lies”
The rationale for the war was false. According to the report, there was “no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein” at the time of the war, and the invasion was “not a last resort.”
- The report says that “We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted…Military action in Iraq might have been necessary at some point. But in March 2003 there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein. The strategy of containment could have been adapted and continued for some time…The majority of the UN Security Council supported continuing UN inspections and monitoring.”
“Parliament and the Cabinet were not misled”
The Cabinet did not see the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith’s full legal advice before the war.
- Two weeks before the war, Lord Goldsmith gave a dossier which said invasion was an option but that the “safest legal course” was a new UN resolution. Six days later, a meeting was held after which he decided to clarify that “on balance there was a secure legal basis.” When the War Cabinet met, they only saw a condensed version of the dossier which presented the clarified position. Chilcot said, “The advice should have been provided to ministers….Given the gravity of this decision, Cabinet should have been made aware of the legal uncertainties.” He also referred to the legal justification as “far from satisfactory.”
Ministers were not made aware of the risks or costs of military action.
- According to the report, the risks were “neither properly identified nor fully exposed to ministers.” For four years, “there was no clear statement of policy setting out the acceptable level of risk to UK forces and who was responsible for managing that risk.” Large deployment numbers then led to “serious equipment shortages” with no backups, which was particularly risky at a time troops were being sent to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province too. The MoD also responded too slowly to the threat of IEDs and ended up with a backlog of inquests for fallen troops. Ministers were also not given estimates of what the cost of war would be, and it ended up costing British taxpayers upwards of £9.2 billion.
“There was no secret commitment to war”
Communications between Blair and Bush show that he was committing the UK to war in July of 2002.
- In a phone call on 3 September 2001, Blair said to Bush, “It would be excellent to get rid of Saddam,” and that “there needed to be a clever strategy for doing this… An extremely clever plan would be required.”
- The day after the 9/11 attacks, Blair told Bush he should pursue countries who are trading WMDs and said that “some of this will require action that some will balk at.”
- In a note from Blair on July 28, 2002, he committed the UK to war by telling Bush, “I will be with you whatever.” This was months before the UK government had put together an intelligence dossier or legal advice on a potential war.
“Intelligence was not falsified”
The threat of Iraq’s supposed WMDs was misrepresented and overstated.
- According to the report, post 9/11 Blair “chose tactics” to “emphasise” the threat, and presented the Joint Intelligence Committee’s unchallenged and “flawed” intelligence with “a certainty which was not justified.” Chilcot’s report said that the infamous dossier in September 2002 was “designed to make the case and secure Parliamentary and public support for the government’s position” which was that Saddam Hussein’s regime needed to be immediately removed by US-led invasion. The report also declared that it was Blair’s government’s intention to have the dossier be “seen as the product” of the independent JIC.
According to the report, Blair “obscured” the nature of the threat by using the phrase WMD without providing a clear definition of what WMD meant.
- The report claimed that Blair’s lack of specificity around the threat made it unclear to the public what the exact nature of the WMD threat was, whether it be chemical, biological, or nuclear. The intelligence also hadn’t established beyond doubt that Saddam Hussein was still producing WMDs of any sort.
“The decision was made in good faith”
Blair ignored warnings by the Joint Intelligence Committee in early 2003 that war would increase the threat of terrorism from Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists.
- The JIC predicted that “The broader threat from Islamist terrorists will also increase in the event of war, reflecting intensified anti?US/anti?Western sentiment in the Muslim world, including among Muslim communities in the West….And there is a risk that the transfer of CB [chemical and biological] material or expertise, during or in the aftermath of conflict, will enhance Al Qaida’s capabilities.”
The Consequences Should Have Been Foreseen
Chilcot denies that hindsight is required to see the folly of invading Iraq, saying that “The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability and al Qaida activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion.”
The report found that the results of the invasion are that the government “failed to achieve its stated objectives” and invaded “without ensuring that it had the necessary military and civilian capabilities to discharge its obligations.” The planning for post-war Iraq was deemed “wholly inadequate.”
Now the JIC’s predictions about Iraq have come true with relentless sectarian warfare, ISIS’s emergence, and attacks on Western countries happening more frequently. Some Iraqis are placing the blame for this squarely on the invasion. A few days after the bombing in Baghdad on July 3, which killed more than 250 people, a local named Ahmed Ali told the Guardian, “This is the result of the war. It’s all destroyed. What do you want me to say? If I had money I would not live in Iraq another day. I would go anywhere that would take me.”