Chilcot report damns UK’s role in Iraq war

2.6 million word-long Chilcot report examining UK’s role in the Iraq war has been released. It contains harsh criticism of senior government officials, military leaders and politicians – first among them former prime minister Tony Blair.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A view of The Iraq Inquiry Report presented by Sir John Chilcot at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain July 6, 2016.

Updated Jul 8, 2016

A much anticipated report by former high-ranking civil servant John Chilcot into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war has been released.

The report is 2.6 million words long and has taken over seven years to be compiled and published. It examines policy decisions at the highest levels of the UK government relating to the war and the how they were made.

A view of The Iraq Inquiry Report presented by Sir John Chilcot at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain July 6, 2016. (Reuters)

The government of the UK at the time justified its support of regime change in Iraq by claiming the country's leader, Saddam Hussein, had access to weapons of mass destruction along with the will to use them. No such weapons were found in the years after the invasion and occupation of the country.

Estimates of the number of deaths resulting from the war range from 150,000 to over 1 million. 

Although the full ramifications of the report will only emerge in the coming days as it is read in detail, it's already clear from its executive summary and Chilcot’s comments following its release that it contains heavy criticism of the actions of British politicians and security services in the lead-up to the war and its aftermath.

Demonstrators protest before the release of the Chilcot report into the Iraq war at the Queen Elizabeth II centre in London, Britain. July 6, 2016. (Reuters)

One person in particular who comes under fire in the report is former UK prime minister Tony Blair.  

A striking assertion in the report is that, prior to the invasion, "diplomatic options had not at that stage been exhausted. Military action was therefore not a last resort," going against comments made by Blair at the time.

In a statement he gave as the report was released, Chilcot also demolished Blair’s argument that the UK couldn’t have anticipated the practical difficulties it would face in Iraq.

Chilcot said, "The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and al Qaida activity in Iraq, were each explicitly identified before the invasion."

But in a speech he gave in response to the release of the report, Blair reasserted there was "no rush to war" and the difficulties the UK faced in Iraq were greater than "we ever imagined."

Former US president George W Bush (L) and former British prime minister Tony Blair, who led his country into the Iraq war, walk together from their meeting at the US Embassy in Brussels, February 22, 2005. (Reuters)

The wording of the report suggests that the administration of former US president George Bush was adamant in pursuing regime change, while the government of the UK went along out of loyalty to the country’s most important ally and in order to exercise greater control on events as they unfolded.

Blair sent a memo to Bush on July 28, 2002, saying "I will be with you, whatever." 

Chilcot said Blair had "overestimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq."

Following the release of the report, relatives of servicemen killed in Iraq expressed fury with Blair, with the sister of one dead soldier calling him the "world's worst terrorist."

Political reaction

UK Prime Minister David Cameron's comments in response to the report were subdued, probably because the majority of his fellow Conservative members of parliament voted in support of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

When asked to condemn the war during a session of parliament, Cameron avoided doing so outright, saying instead, "I think people should read the report and come to their own conclusion."

However, the embattled leader of  the UK's opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, took the opportunity to criticise the war as "an act of military aggression launched on a false pretext."

The leader of Britain's opposition Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, speaks at an event into antisemitism within the Labour party, in London, Britain June 30, 2016. (Reuters)

It was a Labour government under Tony Blair which led UK into the war.

Corbyn is unpopular with the majority of Labour MPs, who say they are unhappy with his recent performance in the run-up to the EU referendum last month. They believe his persona and left-wing political views will fail to attract voters at the next general election.

However, some onlookers have suggested recent calls for Corbyn’s resignation were also partly being made with the intention of ousting him from the leadership before the release of the Chilcot report. 

Corbyn – who voted against the Iraq war and has said he wouldn’t have a problem with Blair being tried for war crimes – is emphasising the findings of the report, likely with the intention gaining a victory over his opponents in the party.

This was the view of former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, who in a video interview said, "Most of the people that are currently gunning for Corbyn were among Blair’s keenest supporters – so I’m wondering whether this [the pressure on Corbyn to resign as Labour leader] is a pre-emptive strike."

Whether this speculation is accurate or not, the report certainly presents political difficulties for supporters of the war and Tony Blair.


TRTWorld and agencies