FOLLOWING publication of the Chilcot Report into the Iraq War, the families of British soldiers who were killed during the war are preparing to launch legal action against Tony Blair, the prime minister who led the country to war illegally.
Below is an edited version of the statement delivered by Sir John Chilcot on Wednesday 6 July 2016, as he launched his report.
‘In 2003, for the first time since the Second World War, the United Kingdom took part in an invasion and full-scale occupation of a sovereign state. That was a decision of the utmost gravity. Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly a brutal dictator who had attacked Iraq’s neighbours, repressed and killed many of his own people, and was in violation of obligations imposed by the UN Security Council.
But the questions for the Inquiry were:
• whether it was right and necessary to invade Iraq in March 2003; and
• whether the UK could – and should – have been better prepared for what followed.
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.
We have also concluded that:
• The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.
• Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate.
• The Government failed to achieve its stated objectives.
I want now to set out some of the key points in the Report.
First, the formal decision to invade Iraq, if Saddam Hussein did not accept the US ultimatum to leave within 48 hours, was taken by Cabinet on 17 March 2003. Parliament voted the following day to support the decision.
The decision was, however, shaped by key choices made by Mr Blair’s Government over the previous 18 months – which I will briefly set out.
After the attacks on 11 September 2001, Mr Blair urged President Bush not to take hasty action on Iraq.
By early December, US policy had begun to shift and Mr Blair suggested that the US and the UK should work on what he described as a “clever strategy” for regime change in Iraq, which would build over time.
When Mr Blair met President Bush at Crawford, Texas, in early April 2002, the formal policy was still to contain Saddam Hussein. But, by then, there had been a profound change in the UK’s thinking:
• The Joint Intelligence Committee had concluded that Saddam Hussein could not be removed without an invasion.
• The Government was stating that Iraq was a threat that had to be dealt with. It had to disarm or be disarmed.
• That implied the use of force if Iraq did not comply – and internal contingency planning for a large contribution to a military invasion had begun.
At Crawford, Mr Blair sought a partnership as a way of influencing President Bush.
He proposed a UN ultimatum to Iraq to readmit inspectors or face the consequences.
On 28 July, Mr Blair wrote to President Bush with an assurance that he would be with him “whatever” – but, if the US wanted a coalition for military action, changes would be needed in three key areas. Those were:
• progress on the Middle East Peace Process;
• UN authority; and
• a shift in public opinion in the UK, Europe and the Arab world.
Mr Blair also pointed out that there would be a “need to commit to Iraq for the long term”.
Subsequently, Mr Blair and Mr Straw urged the US to take the issue of Iraq back to the UN. On 7 September, President Bush decided to do so.
On 8 November, resolution 1441 was adopted unanimously by the Security Council. It gave Iraq a final opportunity to disarm or face “serious consequences”, and it provided for any further breaches by Iraq to be reported to the Security Council “for assessment”. The weapons inspectors returned to Iraq later that month.
During December, however, President Bush decided that inspections would not achieve the desired result; the US would take military action in early 2003.
By early January, Mr Blair had also concluded that “the likelihood was war”…
In the House of Commons on 24 September 2002, Mr Blair presented Iraq’s past, current and future capabilities as evidence of the severity of the potential threat from Iraq’s WMD.
He said that, at some point in the future, that threat would become a reality.
The judgements about Iraq’s capabilities in that statement, and in the dossier published the same day, were presented with a certainty that was not justified …
The Joint Intelligence Committee should have made clear to Mr Blair that the assessed intelligence had not established “beyond doubt” either that Iraq had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons or that efforts to develop nuclear weapons continued.
The Committee had also judged that as long as sanctions remained effective, Iraq could not develop a nuclear weapon, and that it would take several years to develop and deploy long range missiles.
In the House of Commons on 18 March 2003, Mr Blair stated that he judged the possibility of terrorist groups in possession of WMD was ‘a real and present danger to Britain and its national security’ – and that the threat from Saddam Hussein’s arsenal could not be contained and posed a clear danger to British citizens.
Mr Blair had been warned, however, that military action would increase the threat from Al Qaida to the UK and to UK interests. He had also been warned that an invasion might lead to Iraq’s weapons and capabilities being transferred into the hands of terrorists.
The Government’s strategy reflected its confidence in the Joint Intelligence Committee’s Assessments. Those Assessments provided the benchmark against which Iraq’s conduct and denials, and the reports of the inspectors, were judged.
As late as 17 March, Mr Blair was being advised by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, the means to deliver them and the capacity to produce them. He was also told that the evidence pointed to Saddam Hussein’s view that the capability was militarily significant and to his determination – left to his own devices – to build it up further.
It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been …
Service personnel, civilians who deployed to Iraq and Iraqis who worked for the UK, showed great courage in the face of considerable risks. They deserve our gratitude and respect. More than 200 British citizens died as a result of the conflict in Iraq. Many more were injured. This has meant deep anguish for many families, including those who are here today.
The invasion and subsequent instability in Iraq had, by July 2009, also resulted in the deaths of at least one hundred and fifty thousand Iraqis – and probably many more – most of them civilians. More than a million people were displaced. The people of Iraq have suffered greatly…
After the invasion, the UK and the US became joint Occupying Powers. For the year that followed, Iraq was governed by the Coalition Provisional Authority. The UK was fully implicated in the Authority’s decisions, but struggled to have a decisive effect on its policies.
The Government’s preparations failed to take account of the magnitude of the task of stabilising, administering and reconstructing Iraq, and of the responsibilities which were likely to fall to the UK …
The UK took particular responsibility for four provinces in the South East. It did so without a formal Ministerial decision and without ensuring that it had the necessary military and civilian capabilities to discharge its obligations, including, crucially, to provide security.
The scale of the UK effort in post-conflict Iraq never matched the scale of the challenge. Whitehall departments and their Ministers failed to put collective weight behind the task.
In practice, the UK’s most consistent strategic objective in relation to Iraq was to reduce the level of its deployed forces.
The security situation in both Baghdad and the South East began to deteriorate soon after the invasion.
We have found that the Ministry of Defence was slow in responding to the threat from Improvised Explosive Devices and that delays in providing adequate medium weight protected patrol vehicles should not have been tolerated. It was not clear which person or department within the Ministry of Defence was responsible for identifying and articulating such capability gaps. But it should have been.
From 2006, the UK military was conducting two enduring campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. It did not have sufficient resources to do so. Decisions on resources for Iraq were affected by the demands of the operation in Afghanistan.
For example, the deployment to Afghanistan had a material impact on the availability of essential equipment in Iraq, particularly helicopters and equipment for surveillance and intelligence collection.
By 2007 militia dominance in Basra, which UK military commanders were unable to challenge, led to the UK exchanging detainee releases for an end to the targeting of its forces …
It was humiliating that the UK reached a position in which an agreement with a militia group which had been actively targeting UK forces was considered the best option available.
The UK military role in Iraq ended a very long way from success.
We have sought to set out the Government’s actions on Iraq fully and impartially.
The evidence is there for all to see. It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day. The Inquiry Report is the Committee’s unanimous view.’
• In the families’ press conference after the publication of the report, a journalist asked: ‘What are your feelings today?’
Sarah O’Connor, whose brother, 38-year-old Sergeant Bob O’Connor, was killed in 2005, said: ‘I’ve gone back to that time when I learnt that my brother had been killed and there is one terrorist in this world that the world needs to be aware of, and his name is Tony Blair, the world’s worst terrorist.’
Reg Keys, father of 20-year-old Lance Corporal Tom Keys, who was killed in 2003, said: ‘When I look at Iraq and what’s on the TV screens today, with the 200-plus deaths that it faced the other day, I can only conclude that unfortunately and sadly, my son died in vain.’
Asked if he thought Blair believed what he said to justify the war, Reg Keys replied: ‘I don’t think Mr Blair believed what he said, I think he was deliberately misleading and that becomes quite evident from the 150 page summary.’
Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son Fuselier Gordon Gentle was killed in 2004, said: ‘Everything we’ve said from the start has actually come out today. And I think he thought they are going to give up and walk away.’
Asked: ‘What would you say to him if he was here?’
Rose Gentle replied: ‘Why did you kill my son? Because I hold him responsible for killing my son.’
Matthew Jury, solicitor for the families, said: ‘Today is the day the families should be at the forefront of everybody’s minds, but so too should be the thousands of British soldiers wounded in Iraq, the tens of thousands of British veterans who served there and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who died during the conflict and since.’
A bereaved father asked Jury: ‘The CEO of all of this is Tony Blair. Is it possible that we can take this man to task?’
Jury replied: ‘We had the report today. Over the days and coming weeks the families will make their decisions on what is necessary and appropriate going forward.’