6 July 2016
The main points from Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry regarding Tony Blair’s decision to go to war and how he put his case.
The Chilcot inquiry has delivered a damning verdict on the former prime minister Tony Blair’s decision to commit British troops to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It says:
The UK chose to join the invasion before peaceful options had been exhausted
Chilcot is withering about Blair’s choice to join the US invasion. He says: “We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.”
Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein
Chilcot finds that Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by the Iraqi regime as he sought to make the case for military action to MPs and the public in the build-up to the invasion in 2002 and 2003. The then prime minister disregarded warnings about the potential consequences of military action, and relied too heavily on his own beliefs, rather than the more nuanced judgments of the intelligence services. “The judgments about Iraq’s capabilities … were presented with a certainty that was not justified,” the report says.
George Bush largely ignored UK advice on postwar planning
The inquiry found that the Bush administration repeatedly over-rode advice from the UK on how to oversee Iraq after the invasion, including the involvement of the United Nations, the control of Iraqi oil money and the extent to which better security should be put at the heart of the military operation. The inquiry specifically criticises the way in which the US dismantled the security apparatus of the Saddam Hussein army and describes the whole invasion as a strategic failure.
There was no imminent threat from Saddam
Iran, North Korea and Libya were considered greater threats in terms of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons proliferation, and the UK Joint Intelligence Committee believed it would take Iraq five years, after the lifting of sanctions, to produce enough fissile material for a weapon, Chilcot finds. Britain’s previous strategy of containment could have been adopted and continued for some time.
Britain’s intelligence agencies produced ‘flawed information’
The Chilcot report identifies a series of major blunders by the British intelligence services that produced “flawed” information about Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, the basis for going to war. Chilcot says the intelligence community worked from the start on the misguided assumption that Saddam had WMDs and made no attempt to consider the possibility that he had got rid of them, which he had.
The UK military were ill-equipped for the task
The UK’s military involvement in Iraq ended with the “humiliating” decision to strike deals with enemy militias because British forces were seriously ill-equipped and there was “wholly inadequate” planning and preparation for life after Saddam Hussein, the Chilcot report finds. The Ministry of Defence planned the invasion in a rush and was slow to react to the security threats on the ground, particularly the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that killed so many troops, the report says.
UK-US relations would not have been harmed if UK stayed out of war
Chilcot rejected the view that the UK would lost diplomatic influence if it had refused to join the war. “Blair was right to weigh the possible consequences for the wider alliance with the US very carefully,” the report says. But it adds: “If the UK had refused to join the US in the war it would not have led to a fundamental or lasting change in the UK’s relationship with the US.”
Blair ignored warnings on what would happen in Iraq after invasion
The report says that between early 2002 and March 2003 Blair was told that, post-invasion, Iraq could degenerate into civil war. In September 2002, the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, predicted “a terrible bloodletting of revenge after Saddam goes”, adding: “Traditional in Iraq after conflict.” Sir Christopher Meyer, UK ambassador to the US, added: “It will probably make pacifying Afghanistan look like child’s play.” Chilcot rejects Blair’s claim that the subsequent chaos and sectarian conflict could not have been predicted.
The government had no post-invasion strategy
According to Chilcot, Blair did not identify which ministers were responsible for postwar planning and strategy. The prime minister also failed to press Bush for “definitive assurances” about the US’s post-conflict plans. Nor did he envisage anything other than the best-case scenario once the invasion was over: that a US-led and UN-authorised force would find itself operating in a “relatively benign security environment”. All of this contributed to Britain’s ultimate strategic failure.
The UK had no influence on Iraq’s postwar US-run administration
The Bush administration appointed ambassador Paul Bremer to head a new coalition provisional authority in Baghdad. The UK had practically no input into subsequent decisions taken by Bremer, including the dissolving of Saddam’s army and security structures. This decision alienated the Sunni community and fed the insurgency. Blair continued to talk to Bush, but Britain had little influence on the ground over day-to-day policymaking.
The UK did not achieve its objectives in Iraq
Chilcot says that by 2009, when UK forces were pulled out of Iraq, Downing Street was facing strategic failure. Iraq was gripped by “deep sectarian divisions”. There was a fragile situation in Basra, rows over oil revenues, and rampant corruption inside Iraqi government ministries. No evidence had been found that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. During this period the government did not reappraise the situation, Chilcot says. He describes as “meagre” the results of Britain’s costly six-year occupation.
The government did not try hard enough to keep a tally of Iraqi civilian casualties
Before the war, Blair had said that the US-led invasion coalition would try to minimise civilian casualties. As the war and occupation unfolded, however, the MoD made only a “broad estimate” of how many Iraqis were being killed. The report says that more time was devoted to which department should have responsibility for the issue than was spent on finding out the number. The government’s main interest was to “rebut accusations that coalition forces were responsible for the deaths of large numbers” of Iraqis.