Long-awaited Iraq War report offers scathing assessment of Blair’s leadership of Britain
LONDON — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s justification, planning and handling of the Iraq War involved a catalogue of failures, a seven-year inquiry concluded yesterday in a scathing verdict on Britain’s role in the conflict.
Eight months before the 2003 invasion, Blair told US President George W. Bush “I will be with you, whatever,” eventually sending 45,000 British troops into battle when peace options had not been exhausted, the long-awaited British public inquiry said.
More than 13 years since the invasion, Iraq remains in chaos, with large areas held by Islamic State militants who have claimed responsibility for attacks on Western cities.
Many Britons want Blair to face criminal action over his decision to take military action that led to the deaths of 179 British soldiers and more than 150,000 Iraqi civilians over the following six years.
Critics also say it fuelled a deep distrust in politicians and the ruling establishment. The report was issued 13 days after Britons delivered a stunning blow to their political leaders by voting to leave the European Union.
The inquiry, which was given unprecedented access to confidential government documents and took longer to complete than British military involvement in the conflict itself, said Blair had relied on flawed intelligence and determined the way the war was legally authorised was unsatisfactory.
The threat posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction” — the original justification for war — had been over-hyped and the planning for the aftermath of war had been inadequate, it found.
“It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day,” said the inquiry chairman, former civil servant Sir John Chilcot.
Outside the building where Chilcot delivered his findings, protesters chanted “Tony Blair, war criminal.” But the report itself stopped short of saying the war was illegal.
In a lengthy and passionate defence lasting almost two hours, Blair explained his decision to back Bush and go to war alongside the United States in March 2003, at a time when the inquiry said Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat.
“I did not mislead this country. There were no lies, there was no deceit, there was no deception,” the former prime minister told reporters, looking strained but growing animated as he responded to questions.
“But there was a decision, and it was a controversial decision… to remove Saddam and to be with America. I believe I made the right decision and the world is better and safer as a result of it.”
The only Labour prime minister to win three general elections, Blair was in office for 10 years until 2007 and was hugely popular in his heyday, but Iraq has severely tarnished his reputation and legacy.
A statement issued by Bush’s spokesman Freddy Ford said the former president had not had a chance to read the report but defended the war’s goal of ousting Saddam.
“Despite the intelligence failures and other mistakes he has acknowledged previously, President Bush continues to believe the whole world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power,” the statement said, adding that Bush had “no stronger ally” than the United Kingdom under Blair, and that he remained grateful for soldiers’ sacrifices in Iraq and elsewhere.
Bush spent his 70th birthday yesterday bicycling with wounded veterans at his Texas ranch.
The war killed nearly 4,500 US personnel and wounded hundreds of thousands.
Blair said he would take the same decisions again, and that he did not see the action as the cause of terrorism today, blaming outside forces for continuing sectarian violence in Iraq and the legacy of the Arab Spring for the emergence of Islamic State militants.
However, he acknowledged mistakes had been made.
“The intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong. The aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever we imagined,” he said.
“For all of this, I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you will ever know.”
Throughout its report, the inquiry, which cost 10 million pounds (US$13 million), criticized Blair’s leadership, saying he over-estimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq and took major decisions without consulting his Cabinet.
Iraq is still struggling with the widespread violence unleashed by the war. On Saturday, 250 people were killed in Baghdad’s worst car bombing since the US-led invasion.
“I wish Saddam would return; he executed many of my family but he is still better than these politicians and clerics who got Iraq to the way it is,” said Kadhim Hassan al-Jabouri, the Iraqi who was famously filmed attacking Saddam’s statue with a sledgehammer after the invasion.
Relatives of soldiers killed in the conflict said they hadn’t ruled out legal action, although it’s unclear what form that could take.
“All options are open,” said Matthew Jury, a lawyer for some of the families.
“Never again must so many mistakes be allowed to sacrifice British lives and lead to the destruction of a country for no positive end,” a group of families said in a statement.
Herald with AP, Reuters