'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
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Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Chilcot delivers crushing verdict on Blair and the Iraq war
Sir John Chilcot has
delivered a devastating critique of Tony Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, with his
long-awaited report concluding that Britain chose to join the US invasion
before “peaceful options for disarmament” had been exhausted. The head of the Iraq war inquiry said
the UK’s decision to attack and occupy a sovereign state for the first time
since the second world war was a decision of “utmost gravity”. He described
Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein, as “undoubtedly a brutal dictator” who had
repressed his own people and attacked his neighbours.
But Chilcot – whom Gordon
Brown asked seven years ago to head an inquiry into the conflict – was
withering about Blair’s choice to join the US invasion. Chilcot said: “We have
concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful
options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was
not a last resort.”
The report suggests
that Blair’s self-belief was a major factor in the decision to go to war. In a
section headed Lessons, Chilcot writes: “When the potential for military action
arises, the government should not commit to a firm political objective before
it is clear it can be achieved. Regular reassessment is essential.” The report also
bitterly criticises the way in which Blair made the case for Britain to go to
war. It says the notorious dossier presented
in September 2002 by Blair to the House of Commons did not support his
claim that Iraq had a growing programme of chemical and biological weapons.
The then Labour
government also failed to anticipate the war’s disastrous consequences, the
report says. They included the deaths of “at least 150,000 Iraqis – and
probably many more – most of them civilians” and “more than a million people
displaced”. “The people of Iraq have suffered greatly,” Chilcot says.
Chilcot does not pass
judgment on whether the war was legal. But it says the way the legal basis was
dealt with before the 20 March invasion was far from satisfactory. The attorney
general, Lord Goldsmith, should have given written advice. Goldsmith told Blair
that war without a second UN resolution would be illegal, only to change his
mind after a trip to Washington in March 2003 and meetings with Bush
administration legal officials.
Chilcot’s report is
more damning than expected and amounts to arguably the most scathing official
verdict given on any modern British prime minister. His 2.6m-word, 12-volume
report was released on Wednesday morning, together with a 145-page executive
• The government
failed to achieve its stated objectives.
It report also sheds
fresh light on the private discussions between Blair and the US president,
George W Bush, in the run-up to war. The report says that after the 9/11
attacks Blair urged Bush “not to take hasty action on Iraq”. The UK’s formal
policy was to contain Saddam’s regime.
But by the time the
two leaders met in April 2002 at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, the UK’s
thinking had undergone “a profound change”. The joint intelligence committee
had concluded that Saddam could not be removed “without an invasion”, with the
government saying Iraq was a threat “that had to be dealt with”.
‘I will be with you
Blair sent Bush a
series of private notes setting out his thinking. One written on 28 July 2002,
and released for the first time on Wednesday, in the face of opposition from
the Cabinet Office, said: “I will be with you [Bush] whatever.” It added: “This is the
moment to assess bluntly the difficulties. The planning on this and the
strategy are the toughest yet. This is not Kosovo. This is not Afghanistan. It
is not even the Gulf war.”
At times, Blair’s
notes read more like stream of consciousness than considered policy documents.
The note continued: “He [Saddam] is a potential threat. He could be contained.
But containment … is always risky.” According to Chilcot,
Blair shaped his diplomatic strategy around the need to get rid of Saddam which
– he told Bush – was the “right thing to do”. Blair suggested that the simplest
way to come up with a casus belli was to give an ultimatum to
Iraq to disarm, preferably backed by UN authority.
Blair’s view that spurning the US-led military alliance against Iraq would have
done major damage to London’s relations with Washington. “It’s questionable it
would have broken the partnership,” he writes, noting that the two sides had
taken different views on other major issues including the Suez crisis, the
Vietnam war and the Falklands....