Chilcot report draws lessons of Iraq war
London - Seven years and 2.6 million words later, the Iraq war inquiry known as the Chilcot report reaches damning conclusions but does not go as far as anti-war activists had hoped in terms of indicting the Tony Blair government.
According to the report, Blair, then the prime minister, rushed to war in Iraq before peaceful options had been exhausted, deliberately exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein based on “flawed intelligence”.
Planning and preparation for post-Saddam Iraq were “wholly inadequate” and the legal basis for military action was “far from satisfactory”.
While the report enumerates many mistakes, it did not say Blair had outright lied to the country or issue pronouncements of guilt. Blair expressed “sorrow, regret and apology” for mistakes made in the planning of the conflict but said that he believes it was right to invade Iraq.
“I did not mislead this country. I made the decision in good faith and I believe it is better we took that decision. I acknowledge the mistakes and accept responsibility for them. What I cannot and will not do is say we took the wrong decision… As this report makes clear, there were no lies, there was no deceit,” an emotional Blair said in a speech following the report’s release.
“The Chilcot report is a damning indictment of Tony Blair and those around him who took us to war in Iraq,” said a statement from the Stop The War coalition, which was established following 9/11.
Thirteen years on, Iraq is in the grip of sectarian violence, plagued by the Islamic State (ISIS), a group that represents both a territorial and ideological threat to the region and beyond. The Middle East overall is facing numerous multidimensional conflicts amid a cold war between regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The genesis of much of the violence and unrest can be traced to Iraq and particular decisions made in the post-conflict period.
Giving evidence to the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee following the issuance of the report, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond acknowledged that “many of the problems we see in Iraq today stem from that disastrous decision to dismantle the Iraqi army and embark on a programme of de-Ba’athification”.
“That was the big mistake of post-war planning. If we had gone a different way afterward, we might have been able to see a different outcome,” he said.
De-Ba’athification, a policy that sought to remove the influence of Saddam’s Ba’athist Party from the new Iraqi government, created more divisions and arguably led to the sectarian divide that grips the country. Even US administrator Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, admitted the policy failed.
“I mistakenly gave Iraqi politicians responsibility to implement this narrowly drawn programme. They greatly expanded its scope to settle political quarrels,” he acknowledged in an article written for Britain’s Guardian newspaper after publication of the Chilcot report.
Dismantling the army introduced thousands of trained and armed former Iraqi soldiers into the insurgency. Many former Ba’athists, including senior army officers, joined ISIS. It is their military expertise that is credited with the group’s rapid growth.
Wholesale changes had already been made in the way the British government makes decisions on going to war following the 2003 Iraq invasion, with more expected following the publication of the Chilcot report.
“We cannot turn the clock back but we can ensure that lessons are learnt and acted on,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament.
One of the criticisms in the Chilcot report was the lack of joined-up thinking between various government departments before the war and the dangerous politicisation of the intelligence services.
Cameron acknowledged that “there needs to be a proper separation between the process of assessing intelligence and the policy making which flows from it”, adding that this is something that has been in place since the 2010 Butler report on intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
“The machinery of government does matter. That is why, on my first day in office, I established the National Security Council (NSC), to ensure proper coordinated decision-making across the whole of government, including those responsible for our domestic security,” Cameron said.
The NSC brings together security, military and intelligence experts with ministers, fixing blind spots that allowed Blair to rush to war.
Cameron, who called for military intervention in Libya and Syria, also said that the one lesson that must not be learnt from the Chilcot report is that intervention is always wrong.
Yes, Britain has and will continue to learn the lessons of this report but, as with our intervention against [ISIS] in Iraq and Syria today, Britain must not and will not shrink from its role on the world stage or fail to protect its people,” the prime minister concluded.