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5 July 2016updated 09 Sep 2021 11:29am

5 questions for Chilcot to answer

There are five areas that the Chilcot inquiry can tell us about how government should work, Daniel Thornton explains. 

By Daniel Thornton

  1. Did the spies overpromise and under-deliver? 

The invasion of Iraq was justified by the belief that Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) presented a threat. The belief was based partly on intelligence – much of which turned out to be wrong after the invasion. The intelligence and its presentation in the famous dossier were well examined in the Butler and Hutton reviews. The question for Chilcot is whether the spies sold the intelligence too hard.

  1. Was the intelligence well-assessed and was the case for joining the US-led invasion soundly based?

Papers that are already public show that various options were considered for dealing with the threat from Saddam and his failure to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors.  In retrospect, the options didn’t take enough account of the likelihood of instability in Iraq and Iran’s potential role after the invasion. Chilcot should show us whether the failure to predict these issues was reasonable, or whether it was due to advice from the Foreign Office not being taken into account. 

  1. When and with what conditions did Tony Blair commit to joining the US-led invasion?

It is clear from the papers that Tony Blair was in favour of the UK joining a US-led invasion, if certain conditions were met, such as that UN authorisation for military action should be sought. Chilcot will consider whether Tony Blair made a commitment to George Bush to join the invasion, or whether the conditions meant that he had not made a commitment.

  1. Were decisions taken on the sofa and does it matter?

The Butler review concluded that “the informality and circumscribed character of the Government’s procedures” risked “reducing the scope for informed collective political judgement”. It is clear from the papers that officials were meeting and planning in the approach to the invasion. It is also clear that most of the Cabinet did not received detailed briefing on paper about the approach to war – although key ministers were being briefed by their officials. In particular the uncertainty about the legality of the war was not known to the Cabinet, Parliament or the public. This will be a central issue for Chilcot to consider.

  1. Did the UK meet its responsibilities to Iraq after the invasion? 

The US and the UK had joint responsibilities towards Iraq after the invasion. The evidence to the inquiry raises lots of questions about whether the UK was able to meet those responsibilities properly.  According to several of Chilcot’s witnesses, the US made mistakes after the invasion – disbanding the Iraqi army, and purging the regime of members of the ruling party – which the UK was not able to influence as the junior partner.  The evidence also points to failures on the UK side of coordination, and inadequate resources for the UK to meet its responsibilities. This will be an important part of the report, and an area not covered by previous inquiries.

Daniel Thornton is a programme director at the Institute for Government, and worked in Downing Street during the Blair years.

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