Chilcot report: Sir John says UK chose invasion before peaceful options had been exhausted while Tony Blair defends decision

 
James Nickerson
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Iraq Service Of Commemoration Is Held Marking The End Of Combat In Iraq
Some 179 British servicemen and servicewomen died in Iraq during the war (Source: Getty)

Failures in the intelligence, planning and execution of the Iraq War were laid bare today when the Chilcot Inquiry was published.

The 2.6m word report found the government had failed to meet objectives, intelligence was flawed and post-conflict consequences were not properly considered.

While not making a legal judgement, Sir John Chilcot said: "We have concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory."

“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,” he added at the launch of the report.

Moreover, the inquiry found there was no evidence of “sexing-up” by the government in what became known as the “dodgy dossier”, but that the use of Joint Intelligence Committee material did not make clear enough the limitations of assessments.

Yet, evidence revealed that former Prime Minister Tony Blair had sent a memo to President George W. Bush in 2002 beginning “I will be with you, whatever”, sparking speculation that Blair was committed to following the US despite any consultations with ministers or parliament.

In response to the report, Blair said he accepts full responsibility without exception and without excuse, recognising the division felt by “many in our country over the war”, but the decision was made in good faith without lies or deceit. "I believe I made the right decision and the world is better and safer as a result of it," he said.

The former Prime Minister said that the 2002 note was not a "blank cheque", and an effort to try and get the US to go down the UN route, something which the report credits him with.

"The UK government sought to influence the decisions of the US Administration and avoid unilateral US military action on Iraq by offering partnership to the US and seeking to build international support for the position that Iraq was a threat with which it was necessary to deal," the report's executive summary read.

However, Blair did acknowledge failures, including the intelligence assessments at the time turning out to be wrong, the aftermath turning out more hostile and bloody than ever imagined and the coalition planning for one set of ground facts but encountered another

Family of those who were killed in Iraq were however unappeased. Rose Gentle, whose son was killed just three weeks after arriving in Iraq in 2004, said: “I'm just disgusted at [Blair] because if you look at Iraq just now, Iraq's actually worse than what it was before we even went in. And I don't think he has any remorse at all for anybody, I think he just had his heart set and his mind made up with George Bush to go in, doesn't matter what anybody was thinking or saying.”

But Blair disagreed that it would be better to not have intervened, as Saddam Hussein would have “threatened world peace” if left in power in 2003, and when the Arab revolutions in 2011 began he would have “clung to power” in the same deadly consequences observed in Syria today.

Meanwhile, former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said he still believes that military action was lawful.

Also responding the report, Prime Minister David Cameron echoed Blair’s statement that mistakes should be learnt from.

In a statement to the House of Commons, he said: "The most important thing we can do is really learn the lessons for the future."

However, the Prime Minister said that there were times when it was right to intervene in a foreign country, and the UK would "not shrink from the world stage", pointing to Kosovo and Srebrenica where action should have been taken.

Cameron also said that war should be a last resort, and that better planning should take place, statements welcomed by MPs on both sides of the house.

Katherine Dixon, director of Transparency International defence and security programme said that a lack of planning had led to endemic corruption: “Governments should not go to war without proper post-conflict planning, and that means working out how they will deal with corruption, which will inevitably threaten the legitimacy and stability of the state institutions that they leave in their wake.”

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