UK IRAQ INQUIRY REPORT RELEASED, FINDS MAJOR FAILURES IN THE DECISION TO JOIN AND FIGHT THE WAR IN IRAQ
By: Harry C. Blaney III
REPORTING FROM LONDON
On July 6th, against the background of the Brexit referendum, the long-awaited report (click here to read) by Sir John Chilcot on the British participation in Iraq War was released after seven years. The Inquiry had approximately 2.6 million words that condemned the British decision to invade and the subsequent conduct of the Iraq War.
The report contained wide-ranging censure of the UK’s decision to enter the Iraq War and also the implementation of that war. It focused on former Prime Minister Tony Blair and UK intelligence reports that led to decisions on the planning and the strategy in Iraq that were made with insufficient debate in Britain. Chilcot said it was an intervention that “was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments.”
Chilcot and the report concluded that Britain went to war on the basis of unreliable intelligence. He added that planning for war was totally inadequate, concluding that there was insufficient debate on the decision. Chilcot further said that “in March of 2003, there was no imminent threat from the Saddam Hussein regime.” The implication was that the military action taken was not justified.
There was much criticism of the UK intelligence agencies, and in time more will likely come out on this in the UK and with implications also for the US intelligence agencies. Some have said the intelligence reports were flimsy and that MI6 in particular has been highly criticized.
The report found that diplomatic options had not been fully explored before the decision was made to go to war. This is a lesson today for both the UK and the US.
The families of the troops that were killed have supported the report and have both questioned how and why all went wrong in the buildup to war and argued for Blair to pay in some way for the cost of his actions. There has been talk about a legal action either domestically or in an international court. From a legal perspective, that is highly unlikely, however. But emotions will remain for a long time. The media has been exceptionally critical of Blair to the point of imbalance and unfairness, which indicates that the issue has created massive anger and bitterness in Britain.
FORMER PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR RESPONSE TO INQUIRY
After the release of the report, former Prime Minister Tony Blair held a two hour press conference (coverage linked above) in which he said he did not regret his decision to invade, which he said was the hardest of his term in office. He said he made the initial decision “in good faith,” adding that he “did not have the option to delay in response to the quick decision.” He also said he had more sorrow and regret over the decision than others will ever believe.
In a 2002 memo to Bush, Blair said “I will be with you, whatever.” But he added, which the UK media did not fully report, that he also wrote that all of the difficulties must be examined. He said it was a good act to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but added that they underestimated the potential for subsequent upheavals. There was also criticism in the report that the UK military and intelligence leaders were under-resourced, arguing that the troops did not have the tools to do their best and do it safely.
Blair said that he “will take full responsibility for any mistakes that were taken.” However, he “will not apologize for going to war.” Blair also added “the report makes it clear there [were] no lies.”
Some of the commentators have noted Blair’s efforts to moderate US Policies, which in the end were only partly successful. They noted in particular the effort to go to the UN Security Council to get the authority to go to war, which was stopped by a veto by Russia.
Neither the report nor Blair’s statement will put an end to the politics of this emotional issue for many years. It is still unclear if some kind of general agreement on what took place has finally been reached. I doubt that there will be much relief from the bitterness and acrimony that clouds British politics and society.
SOME ADDED THOUGHTS FOR US ALL
The report and the response by Blair will sadly not lay to rest the criticism or the bitter debate in Britain about the Iraq War. It will continue to influence public and governmental attitudes towards going into conflict situations for a very long time.
In America, this report will likely continue the debate (which has never stopped) over the wisdom of the US decision to go to war in Iraq. That was, in my view, an unforgivable act by the George W. Bush administration and one that was based, as we all know now, on lies and false intelligence reports by our own agencies.
Blair’s most relevant statement for the world of 2016 was that “we do not have the right strategy to deal with terrorism.” That is, as they say, a British understatement. On this Blair is quite right. We all need to re-think our global strategy and it will take a united effort and deep assessment to go forward with new military conflicts. I have argued that we need always to seriously assess the costs before going into conflict situations. Decision makers must consider the consequences of our actions. One clear failure was the poor policies and efforts to deal with the post-conflict need to establish security and ensure a stable government in Iraq. Neither America nor Britain took this problem seriously.
Both the US report (which was critical of many decisions by the Bush administration) and the UK report made it clear that both governments did not understand the high potential costs of their actions. As Chilcot said, the consequences of the war were misjudged. I hope that, in time, these reports and a more historic assessment will compel both nations to make future decisions based on a careful debate on a long-term strategic and moral judgment, as well as look at the facts on the ground. War is always costly and sometimes necessary, but the argument must be made with great care. I hope that we will have more clarity rather than hate and divisions. In the end, we need to make careful decisions that will create a safer world for all.
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