Chilcot Inquiry: Why did Britain go to war in Iraq?

On July 6, 2016 Sir John Chilcot published his findings into the circumstances of the U.K.’s decision to go to War in Iraq. Commissioned by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009, the report investigates one of the most controversial decisions made by a British government in recent years.

To say the report is comprehensive would be an understatement. The 12-volume document seeks to clarify Britain’s basis for going to war in 2003 and, in the words of its chief architect, ”get to the heart of what happened”. At 2.6 million words, it covers UK strategy in Iraq from 1990 up until the post conflict period after 2009. The Executive Summary, which is also available online, stands at 151 pages and provides an overview of the report’s findings.

A key finding of the report is that the government did not exhaust all peaceful and diplomatic options in pursuit of Iraqi disarmament. At the time, Tony Blair claimed war was the last resort and cited Saddam’s repeated failure to comply with UN inspectors. Blair also told parliamentary MPs in 2002 that Saddam had the capability to launch nuclear attacks ‘’within 45 minutes’’. Contrary to this, Chilcot finds that the strategy of containment could have been adopted and continued for some time with UN Security Council backing.

In addition, the report states the U.S. led coalition underestimated the consequences of intervention. Despite summoning a committee of experts on Iraq, no clear-cut strategy was put in place by the Labour government to deal with a volatile transition period.

“They had no plan for what would happen after the invasion. The approach was, ‘The Americans are heading this up. They will have a detailed plan. We need to follow them.” – Professor George Joffe.

The Inquiry called upon 150 witnesses during the seven-year research period. Noteworthy among those were Sir Christopher Meyer, former ambassador to the United States; Admiral Lord Boyce, former Chief of the Defence Staff; Sir John Scarlett, Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service; and Major General Tim Cross, the most senior British officer on the ground in the aftermath of the invasion.

In the wake of Sir John’s findings there have been calls for Blair to face prosecution and be stripped of his Privy Councillorship (a formal body of advisors to the U.K. government consisting of senior politicians). The former PM’s ‘I’ll be with you, whatever’ assurance to George W. Bush has led to severe criticism that Blair acted in the interests of U.S. officials rather than the interests of the British people. The road to war was influenced by neo conservative foreign policy discourse in Washington, which meshed well with the interventionist approach adopted by Blair in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

”For all the procedural lessons in Chilcot, unless Britain and its allies learnt to understand and respect this area of the world [the Middle East], they will be condemned to continue to make such mistakes in the future” – Chris Doyle.

It is estimated that more than one million Iraqis are internally displaced and approximately 251,000 have been killed in violent incidents. Political violence, Islamic extremism and sectarianism have been heavily prevalent in Iraq since 2003. Whilst not the primary cause of instability, the invasion is cited as a catalyst in the destabilisation of the country.

Click here for a handy overview of the report by The Telegraph.