Chilcot report lays bare US and British policy failures

July 17, 2016
Iraqi civilian gesturing to British troops leaving Basra, in April 2003

On July 6th, the British investigation into the Iraq war, also referred to as the Chilcot inquiry, after its chairman, Sir John Chilcot, was released.
Chilcot was empowered by the British House of Commons in 2009 to investigate the decision to use force in the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq and the consequences of that decision.
The 6,000-page, 12-volume Chilcot report contains more than 2.6 million words — four times the length of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Its restrained legal language presents a devastating critique of both the George W. Bush administration’s determination to pursue a military option against the Iraqi government and the British government’s willingness under Tony Blair unequivocally to support that decision, both diplomatically and militarily.
The report confirms that the US and British governments were well aware that their casus belli — Iraqi weapons of mass destruction — was based on flimsy intelligence that was promoted to validate military operations rather than a diplomatic option involving the United Nations.
After the invasion, further disaster loomed when Paul Bremer, who administered the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), disbanded the Iraqi armed forces and pursued a policy of de-Ba’athification, creating a military and political vacuum in which extremism subsequently flourished.
Abolishing the Iraqi Army put 400,000 discontented former soldiers on the streets. The day of the Chilcot report’s release the Guardian newspaper published a column by Bremer with the headline I ran Iraq in 2003. Washington hadn’t prepared for the aftermath of war, tacitly agreeing with many of the inquiry’s findings even as spokesmen for Bush and Blair vehemently disagreed with the report’s findings.
The report was scathing in its assessment of how military operations affected Iraqis, finding that civilian casualties were deliberately downplayed, noting: “The government’s consideration of the issue of Iraqi civilian casualties was driven by its concern to rebut accusations that coalition forces were responsible for the deaths of large numbers of civilians and to sustain domestic support for operations in Iraq.”
The legal definition of war crimes under the Geneva Conventions includes unprovoked aggression, attacking civilians and subjecting prisoners to humiliating treatment, unlawful confinement and torture, all of which were present during the West’s ill-fated invasion of Iraq 14 years ago.
Legal action against the architects of the Iraqi invasion seems unlikely; all the Chilcot report has done is tarnish the reputations of high-ranking Bush and Blair administration officials.
The report was released as Iraq reeled from its deadliest attack since the 2003 invasion. On July 3rd, terrorists exploded a truck bomb in a Baghdad market, killing more than 290 people. While Britain and the United States have drawn down operations in Iraq, the continuing threat of the Islamic State (ISIS) there and in Syria and destabilisation throughout the Middle East have meant some British and US troops remain on the ground, with the United States planning to add more forces.
In the end, the Chilcot report changes nothing, as the findings do not carry any legal weight or compel criminal proceedings against Blair and his administration. The inescapable conclusion is that the Iraq inquiry was essentially a public relations exercise designed to give the impression of thoroughness, accountability and lessons learned without actually punishing those responsible for a profound violation of international law.
While the Blair and Bush administrations downplayed casualty figures, the families of the hundreds of thousands of victims who died as a result of the war may feel their calls for justice remain unanswered, a situation unchanged by the publication of the voluminous Iraq inquiry.
As former Bush and Blair administration officials escape accountability for their misbegotten military operations in Iraq, the civilians there continue to suffer from the consequences of their actions, as they have every day for the last 14 years, a reality that no amount of media spin by Washington and London is able to conceal.

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