Earlier this month, Sir John Chilcot outlined his findings on the UK’s involvement in the 2003 Iraq War and the lessons to be learned from it.
The newly released report spans almost a decade of UK government policy decisions that occurred between 2001 and 2009. It covers the background to the decision to go to war, whether troops were properly prepared, how the conflict was conducted and what planning there was for its aftermath.
The main points of the report are the following
- The UK chose to joint the invasion of Iraq before all peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. At the time, military action was not a last resort.
- The report states that military action might have been necessary later, however in March 2003, there was no imminent threat from the then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, noting that the strategy of containment could have been adapted and continued for some time and that the majority of the United Nations Security Council supported continuing UN inspections and monitoring.
- On 28 July 2002, then Prime Minister Tony Blair assured US President George W. Bush that he would be with him “whatever.” However in the letter, he pointed out that a US coalition for military action would need: Progress on the Middle East peace process, UN authority and a shift in public opinion in the UK, Europe and amongst Arab leaders.
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
- Judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD’s were presented with a certainty that was not justified.
- Intelligence had “not established beyond doubt” that Saddam Hussein had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.
- The Joint Intelligence Committee disclosed that Iraq had “continued to produce chemical and biological agents” and that there had ben “recent production.” It added that Iraq had the means to deliver chemical and biological weapons, however it did not state that Iraq had continued to produce weapons.
- Policy on the Iraq invasion was made on the basis of flawed intelligence assessment. The report notes that it was not challenged and should have been.
The Legal Case
- The report states that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were “far from satisfactory.”
- While the invasion began on 20 March 2003, it was not until 13 March that then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith advise there was, on balance, a secure legal basis for military action. Furthermore, apart from No 10’s response to his letter on 14 March, there was no formal record made of that decision and the precise grounds on which it was made remain unclear.
- The UK’s actions undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council: The UN’s Charter puts responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security in the Security Council. The UK government was claiming to act on behalf of the international community “to uphold the authority of the Security Council,” however it knew that it did not have a majority supporting its actions.
- In Cabinet, there was little questioning of Lord Goldsmith about his advice and no substantive discussion of the legal issues recorded.
- The report notes that there was “little time” to properly prepare three military bridges for deployment in Iraq, noting that the risks were neither “properly identified nor fully exposed” to ministers, which effectively resulted in “equipment shortfalls.”
- Between 2003 and 2009, UK forces in Iraq faced gaps in some key capability areas, which included armoured vehicles, reconnaissance and intelligence assets and helicopter support.
- It was not sufficiently clear which person in the department within the Ministry of Defense had responsibility for identifying and articulating such gaps.
- The report notes that delays in providing adequate medium weight protected patrol vehicles and the failure to meet the needs of UK forces for reconnaissance and intelligence equipment and helicopters should not have been tolerated.
- Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated, with the report noting that the planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were “wholly inadequate.”
- The government failed to achieve the stated objective, which it had set itself in Iraq. More than 200 British citizens died as a result of the conflict. Iraqi people also suffered greatly. By July 2009, at least 150,000 Iraqis had died, probably more, and more than one million were displaced.
- The report found that Mr Blair overestimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq, adding that the UK’s relationship with the US does not require unconditional support.
- It stated that ministerial discussion, which encourages frank and informed debate and challenge, is important. As is ensuring civilian and military arms of government of being properly equipped.
- In future, all aspects of any intervention need to be calculated, debated and challenged with rigour. Decisions need to be fully implemented.