Today in Iraq millions of people are marking the end of the holy Month of Ramadan. On what is usually a day of celebration the country is instead in mourning after suffering a deadly terror attack which killed 250 people.
It is widely acknowledged that Britain played a major part in causing Iraq to go from being ruled a by a repressive dictator to becoming a failed state and a fertile breeding ground for terror. At least 160,000 people died as a result of our war: the equivalent of every woman, man and child in a city the size of Cambridge having their lives cut short. The horrific bomb attack in Baghdad last weekend shows the extent to which brutality continues to rule over the country well over a decade after Bush claimed our invasion would 'free its people'.
This morning Sir John Chilcot released the damning findings of his seven-year long inquiry into the war. His report is clear: British troops were dragged into a war under false pretences by a Prime Minister disregarding many facts and a pliant Parliament which failed the see the evidence in front of their eyes.
Among the most alarming pieces of evidence gathered by Chilcot is Blair's note to the US president, George W. Bush, eight months before the 2003 invasion, promising him: "I will be with you, whatever." The consequences of that moment of clarity in a sea of deception are still being played out to this day.
While much of the blame for Iraq is justifiably being aimed at Tony Blair I believe that to only focus on the ex-Prime Minister is a mistake. 411 other MPs went through the voting lobbies alongside Blair and each has responsibility for what happened since. They were there when Robin Cook made his famous and forensic speech against the war and they were presented with clear evidence from multiple sources which undermined the Government's case for war. Some MPs said today in the House of Commons that they 'acted in good faith'. But our job as MPs is to act with good judgement, not simply 'faith' and that means seriously looking the evidence ourselves.
That's why today, as a step towards restoring public trust in politicians, I demanded that David Cameron - the only current party leader to have supporter the war - to apologize. Sadly he wouldn't do so.
But apologies, and possible legal action, aren't enough of a response to the revelations in this report. Instead we need to look carefully at the systematic failures in our democracy and constitution which allowed the rush to war to succeed.
For a start that must mean a close look at the legal advice given to Ministers. Chilcot reveals an utterly dysfunctional relationship between Blair and his Attorney General Lord Goldsmith. At present the Attorney General is a political appointee made by the Prime Minister - usually an MP or peer with legal experience. It's my view that such a crucial role should not be played by someone handpicked by the Prime Minister but instead should be carried out by an independent legal expert appointed by Parliament.
We also need to have more oversight over our intelligence services. Moves such as ending the blanket ban on Freedom of Information requests on intelligence and security matters would help, as would reforming the Official Secrets act so that whistle-blowers are able to use a public interest argument as an absolute defence.
We must also look again at the way that we vote on foreign interventions, and in particular at the power of the whips. It's my belief that decisions on whether to commit British troops to military action should be 'free' votes so MPs follow only their conscience and the evidence in front of them, rather than bow to party political pressure.
Over the coming weeks and months MPs and experts will be poring over the detail of what is in John Chilcot's report. I have all twelve volumes sitting on my desk right now and I aim to read as much as possible. It's crucial that this report doesn't 'put to bed' the Iraq War. The families of the British troops and Iraqi civilians who died deserve better than that. Instead this moment should be a springboard for making the changes needed to ensure that there is never another unjustified and bloody intervention like the one we embarked upon in Iraq thirteen years ago.
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