The Blog

Why the Chilcot Inquiry Won't Satisfy Us

Will 2015 finally see the publication of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war? Certainly not this side of the election it now seems. Why is it taking so long? ... Sadly there is no single truth, no burning dossier, no transcript that will allow closure on the Iraq war.

Will 2015 finally see the publication of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war? Certainly not this side of the election it now seems. Why is it taking so long? 100,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers were killed or wounded in the disastrous Dardanelles campaign in 1915 compared to 179 in Iraq. In 1916, a committee of inquiry was set up and reported after three years.

The Chilcot Inquiry was set up six years ago and has still not reported. It has been dogged by controversy. A retired ambassador, Oliver Miles, said the two Jewish members of the inquiry, the academics, Sir Martin Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman, should not sit on it. Mr Miles is a paid up member of what in the Foreign Office is called the "Camel Corps", the British trained specialists in Arab affairs who ever since Britain added various Arab regions, nations and peoples to its portfolio of imperial and economic interests, have been tasked with managing British interests in the Arab world.

If America has an Israel lobby, Britain has an Arab lobby. Compared to the non-stop criticism of Israel over human rights, the far worse assaults on human dignity, on women, on freedom of expression in Arab nations passes largely uncommented in London so effective is the Arab lobby and the FCO "Camel Corps" in protecting its clients and what are seen as core British financial interests.

The unpleasant remarks about Jews on the commission of inquiry by the Camel Corps representative was just one of many problems faced by Chilcot. The main one is that unlike the Dardanelles, which was a grotesque mistake by Winston Churchill for which he was never sanctioned but which fitted into a pattern of terrible loss of life in order to defeat German militarism and free France and the low countries from a hegemonic invader and occupier, there is no-one who can claim that Iraq was "won."

Last summer I heard a very senior US Republican foreign affairs representative tell a seminar that George W Bush's invasion of Iraq was the "biggest US foreign policy error since the decision to withdraw from Europe in 1919." The historical reference was fascinating (and correct) but this man was a top George W Bush official who had held high office in the US administration of the time. (The seminar was held under Chatham House rules so he cannot be named.)

He was right and the British decision to invade will be judged by history to have been a mistake. I am guilty along with 416 MPs in 2003 who voted to topple Saddam. We voted as we did for different reasons. I believed Robin Cook when he asserted that Saddam had played fast and loose with UN inspections and therefore probably did have weapons of mass destruction. It is impossible to prove a negative and the UN inspector, Hans Blix, could not say en clair that Saddam had no such weapons.

I believed that after the shame of non-intervention by Britain in Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda we could remove Saddam as we had stopped Slobodan Milosevic's genocidal and Katyn-style massacres and destroyed the Sierra Leone thugs who specialised in lopping off children's arms.

I was wrong. The last three decades of northern invasions of majority Muslim nations in the Arab world and Afghanistan have been disastrously counter-productive. Invading Iraq did not produce jihadism. Reagan-Thatcher foreign policy in supporting Islamist jihadis against Russia in Afghanistan in the 1980s set a pattern. The Cameron-Sarkozy intervention in Libya and murder of Gaddafi has turned Libya into a Jihad central and encouraged mass emigration from Africa via Libya to Italy and Malta.

Britain had been at war with Iraq since 1998 when the then foreign secretary, Robin Cook, told the House of Commons that Saddam had hidden stockpiles of weapons on mass destruction. The UK ramped up UN sanctions which cost of the lives of scores of thousands on children. The RAF dropped 318 bombs by the end of 2002. At the time William Hague told the Commons that Saddam had 400 hidden locations where weapons of mass destruction were stored. Sir Menzies Campbell for the Liberal Democrats insisted that force to sustain UN sanctions had to be applied.

So when the vote came in March 2003, there were enough MPs of all parties to vote for war. The idea they were all dupes of dodgy dossiers and fell under some spell cast by Tony Blair is childish drivel. No-one knew how the vote would go and Jack Straw was prepared to resign if the vote had gone the other way.

That is entirely to his credit and honour. But what is discreditable and barely honourable is the position of all the retired diplomats who now shake their grey locks and say the decision was a terrible thing and Saddam should have been left in peace with a few more year's useless UN inspection visits to deal with.

Other than a junior FCO lawyer no ambassador, diplomat or Whitehall official resigned or made any public protest. I do not recall any FCO official inside the building objecting to the invasion. After all the Camel Corps had been pretty keen on other invasions or toppling of Arab or Iranian leaders in past years when it conformed to their beliefs.

Now everyone has the wisdom of hindsight. I asked the senior American official if Mr Bush could ever come to admit that Iraq was in Talleyrand's words "worse then a crime, an error"?

"No", was the reply, "I don't think that President Bush can look the 4,500 families who lost a son or husband in Iraq in the face and tell them the sacrifice was wasted."

David Cameron has the same problem with the 450 British soldiers who have been killed pointlessly in Afghanistan since 2010. But there is no pressure on the Prime Minister to explain why he was unable to change strategy and stop British soldiers being used by generals as target practice for the Taliban.

But everyone want's Tony Blair's scalp over Iraq. The other 416 MPs who voted for war are apparently not responsible, only Blair. The Whitehall experts and Camel Corps FCO officials who raised no objections, did not resign in protest, are all blameless as only Tony Blair can be held to account.

That is Chilcott's dilemma. Of course he must worry about publishing confidential conversations between a British Prime Minister and a US president. No-one will ever trust a British leader in the future if the new norm is that all private talks might be published. And to allege and accuse without right of reply is not very British.

Sadly there is no single truth, no burning dossier, no transcript that will allow closure on the Iraq war. 417 men and women voted to invade Iraq and topple a monster of torture, murder and terror. Islamist jihadi terrorism has different roots and Whitehall and the FCO has refused over three decades to call Islamist ideology by its name because so much as Islamist terror is funded by our allies cosseted by the Camel Corps in Arab countries.

One can only wish Chilcott and his committee all the best as they struggle to produce a report that will satisfy anyone let alone everyone. There is one absolute certainty about the publication of their report. It will bring no closure and satisfy no-one.

Denis MacShane, the former MP for Rotherham, was a PPS and Minister of State at the FCO 1997-2005

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