After seven years, Sir John Chilcot finally released his report on the Iraq war. He had two objectives, to consider whether it was right and necessary to invade Iraq in March 2003 and whether the UK could have been better prepared for the bloody aftermath.
In a conclusion more damning than many pundits expected, he declared: “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.”
While Chilcot did not single out the then-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in his statement, much of the assessment hinges on his actions in power.
Here are some of the things we learnt:
1. Blair was with George Bush, “whatever”
In his statement, Chilcot noted that while in April 2002, the formal British policy was still to contain Saddam Hussein, there had been “a profound change” in the UK government’s thinking.
On 28 July, Blair sent Bush a memo that said: “I will be with you, whatever.”
“But this is the moment to assess bluntly the difficulties. The planning on this and the strategy are the toughest yet. This is not Kosovo. This is not Afghanistan. It is not even the Gulf War.
“The military part of this is hazardous but I will concentrate mainly on the political context for success.”
2. He glossed over the risks of invading Iraq
On 18 March 2003, Blair told MPs the threat from Saddam Hussein’s weapons arsenal could be a clear danger to British citizens. In the same statement, he warned of the dangers of terrorists getting hold of weapons of mass destruction.
But Blair was only telling half the story. Chilcot said:
“Mr Blair had been warned, however, that military action would increase the threat from Al Qaida to the UK and to UK interests. He had also been warned that an invasion might lead to Iraq’s weapons and capabilities being transferred into the hands of terrorists.”
He returned to this theme again:
“Mr Blair told the Inquiry that the difficulties encountered in Iraq after the invasion could not have been known in advance. We do not agree that hindsight is required. 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.”
3. His foreword to the “dodgy dossier” was misleading
On 24 September 2002, Blair presented evidence of the threat of Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction.
But while the dossier was based on information from the Joint Intelligence Committee, Blair added his own foreword and statement to Parliament. In it, he said he believed 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 programme”
The inquiry said it was “unlikely” that listening MPs and the public would have been able to distinguish between the authority of the foreword and the dossier itself.
“The deliberate selection of a formulation which grounded the statement in what Mr Blair believed, rather than in the judgements which the JIC had actually reached in its assessment of the intelligence, indicates a distinction between his beliefs and the JIC’s actual judgements.”
4. Blair didn’t discuss the military commitment with his Cabinet
Chilcot said: “Despite promises that Cabinet would discuss the military contribution, it did not discuss the military options or their implications.”
According to the report, neither the content nor terms of the UK’s offer to the US were considered by ministers collectively. The Cabinet were told in September 2002 that the question of military action would arise “only if inspections were thwarted again” and there then could be a discussion about the military options.
On 24 October, Blair told the Cabinet that “military options” would be discussed in due time. The Cabinet did not discuss military action until 17 March 2003.The invasion began three days later.
5. No minister had clear oversight of the invasion aftermath
The UK took responsibility for four provinces in South East Iraq, but there was never a formal ministerial decision. It was not clear who within the Ministry of Defence was even responsible for identifying gaps in the equipment needed to combat the threat from Improvised Explosive Devices.
Chilcot said of Blair:
“He did not establish clear Ministerial oversight of UK planning and preparation. He did not ensure that there was a flexible, realistic and fully resourced plan that integrated UK military and civilian contributions, and addressed the known risks.”