"I will be with you, whatever," former British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to U.S. President George Bush on July 28, 2002. That vow was made public Tuesday in the damning Chilcot Inquiry, underscoring the investigation's conclusion: The invasion of Iraq was decided on well before all peaceful resolutions were exhausted, proving—as critics have long-contended—that the disastrous intervention was a war of choice.
"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," said Sir John Chilcot, in a statement Tuesday presenting the findings of the 7-year inquiry, which was established in 2009 by then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown to address the failures of the Iraq War.
"We have concluded," Chilcot continued, "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."
Lindsey German, convenor of the UK-based Stop the War Coalition, which led the popular movement against the Iraq invasion, said the group "welcome[s] the fact that this report is so damning but for us this is not the end but the beginning. There must be legal sanctions against Tony Blair and he should no longer be considered fit for any office."
A War of Choice
Among the report's findings is that Blair ignored warnings over the gross consequences of such action and deliberately overstated the "severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD)," which was largely used to justify the intervention.
The investigation outlines the key moments in the lead-up to the invasion, beginning with the attacks on September 11, 2001, after which both Blair and Bush sought to contain Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, with the ideal result being regime change.
"We now know that the House was misled in the run-up to the war and the House must now decide how to deal with it 13 years later, just as all those who took the decisions laid bare in the Chilcot report must face up to the consequences of their actions, whatever they may be."
Blair initially pushed for public support and UN backing for a military intervention. In November 2002, the UN Security Council agreed to Resolution 1441, which gave Iraq a final opportunity to disarm or face "serious consequences." But, Chilcot said, "President Bush decided that inspections would not achieve the desired result; the U.S. would take military action in early 2003."
By early January, Blair had also concluded that "the likelihood was war," though the parties failed to obtain a second resolution from the Security Council or convince the other world powers "that peaceful options to disarm Iraq had been exhausted and that military action was therefore justified"—which led the investigation to determine that "the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council’s authority" by taking action.
As for the claims regarding Iraq's WMD's and how they were presented to support the case for action, Chilcot notes that in March 2003, Blair declared before the House of Commons 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."
These claims were based on advisement by the Joint Intelligence Committee. "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," Chilcot stated.
A Very Special Relationship
The report goes on to blast UK complicity and the "inadequacy of the U.S.' plans" for military engagement, failures which "continued to have an effect after the invasion." He noted that "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."
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Not only did over 200 British citizens die as a result of the conflict, "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," Chilcot stated.
"The UK military role in Iraq ended a very long way from success," he added. "It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day."
Among the lessons Chilcot offered, is the importance of managing "relations with allies, especially the U.S."
He said: "Mr. Blair overestimated his ability to influence U.S. decisions on Iraq. The UK’s relationship with the U.S. has proved strong enough over time to bear the weight of honest disagreement. It does not require unconditional support where our interests or judgements differ."
Above all, he concluded, "the lesson is that all aspects of any intervention need to be calculated, debated and challenged with the utmost rigour."
Chilcot's damning indictment of the former UK Prime Minister has been met with outrage and calls for justice for the untold number of victims of this "tragedy." At the same time, many are doubting that the inquiry, dismissed as an"establishment" exercise, is unlikely to produce any lasting consequences.
Indeed, as the Guardian's Vikram Dodd reported Tuesday, the inquiry has "not referred any matters to police for criminal investigation at any stage in their work," according to a statement from Scotland Yard, despite evidence that the invasion may have amounted to a war crime.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, embattled Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who at the time voted against the war, blasted Blair for launching an "illegal" military aggression based on "a false pretext."
"We now know that the House was misled in the run-up to the war and the House must now decide how to deal with it 13 years later, just as all those who took the decisions laid bare in the Chilcot report must face up to the consequences of their actions, whatever they may be," Corbyn declared.
"Going to war with Iraq required careful planning and deep forethought. I would call that premeditated murder."
—Joe Glenton, former British soldier
Amnesty International’s UK director Kate Allen said that the inquiry confirmed what the rights group had long asserted. "In the lead-up to the Iraq invasion we warned that there could be terrible consequences and tragically we were proved right, with thousands of civilians killed and injured, millions of people forced from their homes and the whole country thrown into chaos," Allen said. "At the time we had a clear sense that politicians were intent on invading Iraq at any cost and that they’d set out to use the appalling human rights record of Saddam Hussein’s rule to help justify the decision to invade."
"It’s a tragedy that politicians and their advisers failed to properly assess the human rights consequences of such a massive military operation (including the horrible sectarian violence it helped unleash)," she added, "and it’s also a tragedy that the horrors of Abu Ghraib and cases like Baha Mousa all followed."
Former British soldier and war reporter Joe Glenton wrote Tuesday that he has "little faith in an establishment inquiry delivering the actionable legal charges against senior politicians