Insights into Editorial: Why the Chilcot report is vital
08 July 2016
Sir John Chilcot’s long-awaited report into the UK’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its bloody aftermath is now published. Journalists and experts are now poring over the report for insights into what Chilcot concluded had been a military adventure based on flawed intelligence following which the occupation of Iraq had been “mishandled at every level”.
- The Chilcot inquiry launched in 2009 as British troops withdrew from Iraq, tasked with investigating the run-up to the 2003 US-led invasion and the subsequent occupation.
What is the Chilcot report?
The report is the culmination of the Chilcot inquiry into the decisions that brought Britain into the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and Britain’s subsequent role in occupied Iraq. The inquiry was announced in 2009 by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Why has it taken so long to publish?
The report was initially slated for publication in 2014, but lengthy negotiations with the Americans and the ‘Maxwellisation’ process – that is, allowing those criticised in the report a right of response – held things up. Concerns about releasing the report in the run-up to the 2015 general election were also raised, and so the report was pushed back until July 2016.
Who conducted the inquiry?
The inquiry was led by Sir John Chilcot, who was assisted by military historian and academic Sir Lawrence Freedman, historian Sir Martin Gilbert, Sir Roderic Lyne, Britain’s former ambassador to Russia and the UN, and John Major’s former private secretary and Baroness Prashar, member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and chairwoman of the Judicial Appointments Commission. The inquiry was advised by General Sir Roger Wheeler, ex-chief of the British Army’s General Staff and former Preisdent of the International Court of Justice Dame Rosalyn Higgins.
What restrictions has the committee faced?
Evidence would not be made public if it would endanger the national or economic interests of the UK; endanger the lives of anyone mentioned or was judged not to be in the public interest.
In 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein. The invasion began in March that year and Hussein was captured by December. Britain’s involvement in the war was hugely contentious, with many MPs, including from the governing Labour party, voting against military action.
- In the absence of a concrete plan for the aftermath of the downfall of Hussein’s regime — he had been in power since the 1970s — Iraq sank further into chaos, as sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shia engulfed the country. American and British troops, who continued to patrol the streets of major cities in the immediate aftermath, became targets of insurgent groups.
- It was only in 2011 that the U.S. and Britain formally ended their military presence in Iraq, by which time hundreds of thousands of civilians, tens of thousands of insurgents, and thousands of coalition troops (including 179 British troops) had died.
- Public pressure began to build for a full parliamentary inquiry. In 2009, the then-prime minister Gordon Brown announced that an independent inquiry would be launched in order to learn lessons from the Iraq war. It would be chaired by Sir John Chilcot. The Chilcot report, finally published seven years later, is the end result of that inquiry.
What did the inquiry find?
Sir John Chilcot said “Britain joined the 2003 invasion of Iraq before peaceful options had been exhausted”, and that Britain’s policy was “based on flawed intelligence which was not challenged and should have been”. He also said that Saddam Hussein did not pose an imminent threat to the UK in 2003, that there was no definitive proof Iraq had WMDs and that the entire report is an “account of an intervention that went badly wrong”.
What the report says?
The Report leaves no ground for doubt about Mr. Blair’s culpability. It is clear that the U.K. chose to join the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 before all peaceful options for disarming Saddam had been exhausted, thus establishing that war at that time was not, as Mr. Blair claims, a last resort.
- There was no imminent threat from the Iraqi leader and with a majority of the United Nations Security Council supporting UN inspections and monitoring, Mr. Blair’s judgment about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq “were presented with a certainty that was not justified”, and intelligence that had “not established beyond doubt” that Saddam was proceeding with the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons. In his presentation to the British Parliament just prior to the invasion, these were details that Mr. Blair hid.
- The legal basis for military action was “far from satisfactory”, the report notes. In taking this action the U.K. “undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council.” The report is equally critical on military planning, establishing that three military brigades were not properly prepared, and the risks not “properly identified nor fully exposed” to Ministers.
- Finally, planning and preparations for the post-Saddam period were “wholly inadequate,” the report states. The U.K. government “failed to achieve the stated objectives it had set itself in Iraq.” As a consequence of this, more than 200 British citizens died, and by July 2009, 150,000 Iraqis had died and more than one million were displaced, figures that continue to rise till date.
Why this is important?
Tens of thousands of Iraqis died during the conflict and the brutal sectarian war that followed, while 179 British soldiers also lost their lives — many of whose relatives are still searching for answers. The invasion was controversial at the time as it did not have explicit approval from the UN Security Council, while claims that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction proved unfounded.
So what happens next?
Many, including veterans of the war and families of the soldiers who died in Iraq, alongside organizations like Stop the War and Greenpeace, are calling for the report to be a first step in legal and political action against former PM Tony Blair. The International Criminal Court is also looking at the Chilcot Report to see if its prosecutors find grounds to charge Blair on. And although the former PM cannot be charged with a war crime in the UK, he could be accused of misleading parliament, which is a prosecutable offense.
The Iraq Inquiry is not a court and was not set up to make a legal case against Mr. Blair and individuals in his government who took wrong decisions that led to such disastrous consequences. But the painful reality of life after an unjust war is an experience that Iraq’s people suffer every day. There is no justice that can undo what military action conducted on false premises against their country in 2003 has wrought.