Tony Blair was told invading Iraq would increase the terror threat against the UK, relied on intelligence that was flawed, and decided to take military action before all other peaceful options had been carried out.
Those are just some of the damning conclusions reached by Sir John Chilcot, who today publishes his 12-volume report into the 2003 Iraq War.
After more than seven years work, Sir John concludes there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein in 2003 and Blair had promised US President Bush he would be with him “whatever” eight months before the invasion.
The report also states the UK was undermining the UN Security Council in the run up to the invasion, in which more than 150,000 Iraqis died, and a million more were displaced.
Armed forces did not have sufficient resources to carry out a military operation in Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously, and it wasn’t clear who in the Ministry of Defence was responsible for ensuring soldiers had the right equipment.
Speaking today, Sir John said: “Mr Blair had been warned, however, that military action would increase the threat from Al Qaida to the UK and to UK interests.
“He had also been warned that an invasion might lead to Iraq’s weapons and capabilities being transferred into the hands of terrorists.”
In a statement released after Sir John had finished speaking, Blair was unrepentant for taking the UK to war in Iraq.
The former Prime Minister, who had advanced sight of the full document, said: “The report should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit. Whether people agree or disagree with my decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein; I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country.
“I note that the report finds clearly:
- That there was no falsification or improper use of Intelligence (para 876 vol 4)
- No deception of Cabinet (para 953 vol 5)
- No secret commitment to war whether at Crawford Texas in April 2002 or elsewhere (para 572 onwards vol 1)”
The circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory.
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.
The judgments about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.
Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussain were wholly inadequate.
On 28 July , Mr Blair wrote to President Bush with an assurance that he would be with him “whatever”
In the absence of a majority in support of military action, we consider that the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council’s authority.
On 14 March, [Lord Goldsmith - Attorney General] asked Mr Blair to confirm that Iraq had committed further material breaches as specified in resolution 1441. Mr Blair did so the next day. However, the precise basis on which Mr Blair made that decision is not clear.
Lord Goldsmith should have been asked to provide written advice explaining how, in the absence of a majority in the Security Council, Mr Blair could take that decision.
[Blair’s] judgments about Iraq’s capabilities in that statement, and in the dossier published the same day, were presented with a certainty that was not justified.
Mr Blair had been warned, however, that military action would increase the threat from Al Qaida to the UK and to UK interests. He had also been warned that an invasion might lead to Iraq’s weapons and capabilities being transferred into the hands of terrorists.
It is now clear that the policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been.
The findings on Iraq’s WMD capabilities set out he in the report of the Iraq Survey Group in October 2004 were significant. But they did not support pre-invasion statements by the UK Government.
There was little time to prepare three brigades and the risks were neither properly identified nor fully exposed to Ministers.
We do not agree that hindsight is required. 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.
Ministers were aware of the inadequacy of US plans, and concerned about the inability to exert significant influence on US planning.
The Government’s preparations failed to take account of the magnitude of the task of stabilising, administering and reconstructing Iraq, and of the responsibilities which were likely to fall in to the UK.
The scale of the UK effort in post-conflict Iraq never matched the scale of the challenge. Whitehall departments and their Ministers failed to put collective weight behind the task.
In practice, the UK’s most consistent strategic objective in relation to Iraq was to reduce the level of its deployed forces.
The Ministry of Defence was slow in responding to the threat from Improvised Explosive Devices and that delays in providing adequate medium weight protected patrol vehicles should not have been tolerated. It was not clear which person or department with the Ministry of Defence was responsible for identifying and articulating such capability gaps. But it should have been.
It was humiliating that the UK reached a position in which an agreement with a militia group which had been actively targeting UK forces was considered the best option.
Military action in Iraq might have been necessary at some point. But in March 2003, there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein; the strategy of containment could have been adapted and continued for some time; the majority of the Security Council supported continuing UN inspections and monitoring.