Review Chilcot Report, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, Executive Summary, London: House of Commons, 2016
The Chilcot Report was created to investigate the decisions that led England into the Iraq War. It was the result of public hearings that lasted from 2009 to 2011, and was given the right to call on any official and documents. The Chilcot Inquiry found the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair failed at nearly every turn in Iraq. The premier decided that the most important issue was to maintain the special relationship with the United States. Blair hoped that would make him a co-partner with President Bush, but instead he found that he was routinely ignored by Washington both before and after the 2003 invasion. London also fell into many of the same problems as its ally such as believing Iraq had WMD, not planning for the postwar situation, and wanting to withdraw its forces no matter what. Just like for the United States the Iraq war proved to be a huge strategic mistake for England.
The Chilcot Report started with England’s Iraq policy before 9/11. Before 2001 the British were following the same policy as the United States, which was containment of Saddam via sanctions, and wanting Baghdad to comply with United Nations’ resolutions to disarm. Just like Washington, London was concerned that international support was faltering for this strategy, so it was pushing smarter sanctions that would focus solely upon military imports, which might lesson criticism of the humanitarian situation caused by the limits on trade. The problem was even with the tough U.N. restrictions Saddam was not feeling pressured to change his attitude. That was especially true after the Oil for Food program started, which opened up huge opportunities to illegally make money. Blair’s main concern was Iraq’s WMD and its apparent refusal to get rid of them. He realized the international situation was changing so many years after the sanctions had originally been imposed, and was attempting to revise them. At the same time, since he’d been in office since 1997 he was not looking for any major policy change. Then 9/11 happened.
The September 2001 terrorist attacks would lead England to war as a very junior partner to the United States. After 9/11 Blair said that England would stand with America in the war against terrorism. There were problems with that right from the start. First, British intelligence found no evidence Iraq was involved in 9/11, cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaeda was unlikely, and that Iraq was not giving WMD to terrorists. In comparison Bush and others in the U.S. immediately thought Saddam was involved, and after intelligence and counterterrorism agencies said there was no connection, administration officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly claimed there was pushing American public opinion in that direction. The White House’s main argument also became Iraq posed a threat because it could give WMD to Al Qaeda. As a result, London was immediately concerned that Bush wanted to invade Iraq, and it was right. Blair’s opinion was that London had to temper Washington’s impulses. In December 2001 for instance, the PM sent a paper to Bush arguing for building up pressure upon Iraq to eliminate its WMD via the United Nations and weapons inspectors with military action as the last resort. It also argued for maintaining international support and not acting alone. For England disarmament was the issue. It didn't know that Bush had already asked for war planning to begin, that he wanted to act unilaterally, and was completely opposed to a role for the United Nations. Even when London became aware of all that Blair held onto the idea that his relationship with the president meant he could influence U.S. policy. He was completely wrong. This came to exemplify the US-UK relationship from 2001-2003. Blair and his staff were in constant contact with the White House making suggestions and giving ideas only to be ignored. England wanted disarmament, while the U.S. wanted regime change. In the end, Iraq was to be an American war, and while it appreciated the British support Washington was going to call the shots. England was just along for the ride. The Inquiry didn’t think the London-Washington alliance would have changed much if Blair had taken a different approach and not joined in the war, but that was the path not taken.
During the entire Iraq affair there was only one thing Blair was able to influence the U.S. to do and even that didn’t work out right, which was to go to the United Nations. Right from the start London argued that the United Nations needed to be involved. That included getting a new resolution demanding Iraq disarm, restarting weapons inspections, and ultimately authorizing the use of force if Baghdad didn’t comply. The U.S. was initially opposed to this, but Blair eventually got Bush to agree at the end of 2002. That was the premier’s one and only victory from 2001-2009. After that nothing went right for London. First, it believed in the new inspection regime, and that they could find proof of Iraq’s WMD programs, which would help justify the war, and wanted to give them as much time as necessary. Washington held the exact opposite view. It wanted such tough requirements that Iraq could never comply. When Baghdad sent its weapons declaration to the U.N. before the inspections started and said it had no WMD, the White House thought that was a breach and wanted war. When the U.N. found no nuclear and WMD programs, but there were still questions of leftover chemical and biological stocks, England argued for more time, while the U.S. said the inspectors were wrong. The UK then convinced the U.S. to submit a second resolution calling for force against Iraq. China, France, and Russia immediately opposed the idea and London and Washington failed in winning over enough votes to get the resolution passed. Most importantly Washington was also pushing ahead with its invasion plans regardless of the United Nations. That was the most important timetable for the U.S. Blair repeatedly told Bush that without the United Nations he could not garner domestic support for any war against Iraq. That won Bush over, but he wasn’t willing to listen to anything else. He thought one resolution against Saddam was enough, and did not believe the inspectors when they found no WMD. The decision to go to war had already been made, and this was simply a formality.
The Chilcot Inquiry found that there was never any serious debate within the cabinet on Iraq policy or the decision to join in on the U.S. war, and the legal justification came on shaky ground. Blair made many decisions on Iraq unilaterally. The cabinet was kept up to date on matters, but there was very little discussion on policy. The Inquiry believed the ministers should have been much more involved when it came to war, but were largely cut out by the prime minister. Just as important the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith actually changed his mind at the very last minute about whether the invasion of Iraq was legal or not. Starting in the winter of 2002 the AG told the government that the first U.N. resolution did not allow military action, and a second one explicitly saying so was necessary. He repeated this again in February 2003. Then in March, just days before the invasion was to begin he talked with some of Blair’s officials and changed his mind. Even then he said a second U.N. resolution would have been better. That was not presented to the cabinet or parliament when they voted to go to war. Issues of life and death are some of the most important for any democracy. A lively debate is necessary to make such decisions. This was sorely lacking within London, and in Washington as well. Lord Goldsmith’s flip flop might have even resulted in a no vote if it had been revealed, but it wasn’t. Ultimately Blair was intent on backing the U.S. and he got what he wanted.
There were many other parallels with the United States such as the intelligence failure about Iraq’s WMD. Just like the Americans, British intelligence had an ingrained belief that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction. It didn’t believe Iraq had destroyed its stockpiles, there were still unaccounted for agents, missiles that violated U.N. restrictions, and the know how to perpetuate the programs into the future. That led to the infamous 2002 dossier on Iraq which claimed it could be launched WMD in just 45 minutes. In fact, these assessments were mostly based upon the past rather than current intelligence. There was no consideration that Baghdad might have taken a different position. After the war when no WMD was found the intelligence community and Blair government were reluctant to admit that it was wrong. It was only after the U.S. Iraq Study Group report came out that said definitively that Iraq had destroyed its WMD after the Gulf War and had no programs that London changed its stance. That led to the Butler Report, which went through all the mistakes England had. Just like the Americans the UK believed Iraq had WMD based upon assumptions rather than hard evidence. It thought Saddam would never give them up, so the intelligence agencies never dropped the idea that Iraq possessed them. WMD rather than getting rid of Saddam was Blair’s number one concern, and his government proved completely wrong on that matter.
Another similarity with the Americans was that London failed to prepare for postwar Iraq. The UK was aware of how important governing Iraq would be. The Defense Ministry warned that the postwar phase would be “decisive.” What the Blair government ended up doing was to assume that Washington would do all the planning and the United Nations would eventually take over. This meant the UK had to convince the U.S. how important the postwar situation would be, but again never succeeded in anything. Blair was constantly warned about these problems but he never took any actions to deal with it. That meant England was stuck with a huge commitment it hadn’t planned for, and lacked the necessary staff and resources to be successful. The U.S. didn’t take postwar planning serious because it was more focused upon the war phase. It thought Iraqis would welcome the invasion, the government would be up and running, and the U.S. could simply leave. The idea that developing a democracy, which Bush said was one of the main goals of the war would actually take hard work and planning never occurred to Washington.
The end of the Executive Summary is full of ironies as England quickly realized that security was the major problem in post-Saddam Iraq, yet still couldn't get the Bush White House to do anything about it, and only thought of withdrawing its own forces. The British immediately caught on after the invasion that Iraq was deteriorating because of violence and constantly tried to warn the Americans about it to no avail. One problem was that the U.S. and U.K. were co-occupiers of Iraq, but the latter had little say within the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Again, like the invasion, the Americans were intent on running things, and the English were also more focused upon Basra than Baghdad. The other problem was that it took President Bush four years to realize that the U.S. was not winning in Iraq. That meant all the warnings by the UK about the insurgency went nowhere as Bush didn’t want to hear bad news. England’s own response to militants in southern Iraq failed just like the Americans because it refused to commit the troops and resources to be successful. That was because ever since the invasion ended, London was set on pulling out its forces. It got its own warnings that Basra was insecure and unstable and that a major change was necessary to correct that, but never changed its policy. That meant when Washington finally changed in 2007 with the Surge and sent in more troops London was still intent on pulling out its forces. Then in 2008 Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched the Charge of Knights campaign against the Mahdi Army in Basra showing that the British strategy of dealing with the militia had failed. By 2009 the British were finally out. England’s occupation of Iraq went no better than the leadup to the war. It couldn’t get the Bush White House to take the security situation in Iraq seriously, while not wanting to commit the resources to at least improve the situation in Basra which it was responsible for. It knew that immediately improving the living conditions for Iraqis after the overthrow of Saddam was crucial, but was largely cut out of the CPA. It therefore left Iraq with another long list of failures behind it.
The Chilcot Report concludes that the Iraq was a strategic mistake for England. It didn’t know if things could have turned out differently, but believed there were several opportunities where a real assessment could have happened but didn’t. If there had been a serious debate within the cabinet for example, the UK might not have given such a blank check to the United States and might not have even decided to join the war. Likewise, there was no real discussion of alternatives to withdrawing British troops even though more not less were needed to secure Basra. The real cause of the problems was Blair’s decision to constantly defer to Bush rather than demanding to be a real partner. Even when London quickly found out Washington was following its own agenda and would not listen to London’s suggestions nothing changed. England got nothing in return for Blair’s stance on Iraq.
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