Sir John Chilcot delivers damning verdict on Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq
Sir John Chilcot has delivered a damning verdict on Tony Blair’s decision to take the UK to war in Iraq, saying the former prime minister had promised George W Bush he would back US-led action “whatever”.
Introducing the findings of the long-awaited Iraq Inquiry, the former civil servant said Mr Blair had made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein “before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted”.
He was also scathing about the intelligence and legal advice given before the war, along with what he called “wholly inadequate” planning for the post-conflict situation.
While Sir John issued a raft of criticisms of Mr Blair’s government, the most controversial arguably concerns a memo to Mr Bush in July 2002 containing an assurance that “I will be with you, whatever”.
In another memo between the two men in December 2001, Mr Blair suggested they should embark on a “clever strategy” for regime change in Iraq, which would build over time.
‘UNDERMINING UN SECURITY COUNCIL’
Speaking in central London this morning, Sir John made a number of controversial criticisms of Mr Blair’s administration, including that in March 2003 he and then foreign secretary Jack Straw had undermined the United Nations Security Council by pushing for an invasion.
“Mr Blair and Mr Straw blamed France for the ‘impasse’ in the UN and claimed that the UK Government was acting on behalf of the international community ‘to uphold the authority of the Security Council’,” Sir John said.
“In the absence of a majority in support of military action, we consider that the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council’s authority.”
He was also highly critical of the advice given to the government about the legality of the invasion.
Although Sir John did not express a view himself on whether the action had been legal, he said:
“We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory.”
He pointed to the fact that then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith had originally told Mr Blair in January 2003 that he would need a second UN Security Council resolution to justify an invasion.
He then reneged on that assessment, telling Mr Blair in February of the same year that a “reasonable case” could be made that the UN resolution 1441 was sufficient.
Sir John said it was not clear on what basis Mr Blair had claimed the Iraqi government was in “material breach” of that resolution.
The inquiry also concluded that the Government had made “wholly inadequate” provision for the post-conflict planning in Iraq and that the only consistent strategic goal had been the staged withdrawal of British troops.
Sir John rejected Mr Blair’s contention that he could not have foreseen the chaos that followed the invasion, saying:
“Mr Blair told the Inquiry that the difficulties encountered in Iraq after the invasion could not have been known in advance. We do not agree that hindsight is required.
“The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and Al Qaeda activity in Iraq, were each explicitly identified before the invasion.
“Ministers were aware of the inadequacy of US plans, and concerned about the inability to exert significant influence on US planning.
“Mr Blair eventually succeeded only in the narrow goal of securing President Bush’s agreement that there should be UN authorisation of the post-conflict role.”
The Iraq Inquiry was set up by Gordon Brown in 2009 to look into the lead-up to the 2003 invasion, but Sir John was not tasked with assigning any potential civil or criminal liability for the decisions made at the time.
The inquiry heard from over 100 witnesses, including Mr Blair, Mr Brown, former Downing St communications director Alastair Campbell and a host of former ministers, military officials and intelligence chiefs.
Earlier Sir John said he hoped the main lesson to be drawn from his inquiry would be that more care would be taken over future diplomatic and military decisions.
"The main expectation I have is that in future it will not be possible to engage in a military or, indeed, a diplomatic endeavour on such a sale and with such gravity without really careful challenge and analysis and assessment and collective political judgment being applied to it - there are many lessons in the report, but that probably is the central one for the future."
The inquiry itself has been dogged by complaints about the length of time Sir John has taken to publish the report.
Having said back in 2011 that the report would take “some months” to be completed, he was then forced to delay publication on several occasions, citing factors such as needing to give witnesses time to respond fully to his findings.
Read a timeline of the inquiry here.