Not since the Suez Crisis of 1956 have British forces been embroiled in such a controversial conflict as the 2003 invasion of Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein’s government. Even before troops went in to action there were questions hanging over the whole affair but when the euphoria of removing Saddam wore off and the result was a country torn apart by sectarian violence and the rise of Daesh-ISIS the people wanted answers. The report published this week by Sir John Chilcot was intended to give those answers after seven years of investigation. The result was a damning attack on Tony Blair’s leadership and government in the events leading up to and during the conflict.
Here are some of the key points the report made;
The Road To War
- The Chilcot report states that the US and UK had already made the decision to go to war even before the diplomatic options had been exhausted. It claims that both governments were not willing to settle for anything less than a total ousting of the government in Baghdad with American and British troops occupying key sites across the country.
- It has been revealed that even as the UN continued talks to try and establish a reaceful resolution, Tony Blair promised US President George W. Bush that he would “be with you, whatever.” So the question remains; why was Tony Blair so determined to support the US in undertaking an invasion? There has long been the view among opponents of the conflict that the UK was bullied in to supporting the invasion by the threat of losing the cherished “special relationship” the two countries have enjoyed since World War II. The Chilcot report points out that there is little evidence of any threat to Anglo-US relations especially given that the UK was already one of the leading partners in the War on Terror in Afghanistan.
- However, it does need to be pointed out that due to the UK’s support regarding Iraq, London and Washington enjoyed an excellent relationship with one another that brought both countries closer together politically and militarily than any other time in the post-World War II era. It can be argued that this relationship survived until the Obama administration which has made some questionable choices regarding its dealings with the UK and the UK’s interests.
- The report claims that Tony Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the period of 2002 to 2003 while at the same time ignoring what most analysts agreed was the even bigger threat from so-called “rogue states” such as North Korea. This is of course in reference to the claims made in the run-up to the conflict that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) namely biological and chemical based weaponry.
- One of the biggest justifications laid out by Blair was that removing Saddam would remove the threat of these weapons being unleashed on neighbouring Arab countries like Kuwait or Iran which would have had dire consequences for the region and beyond. The Chilcot report states that the belief that Iraq had either the capability or the will to use such weapons given their position in the world in 2003 was unjustified and lacking any tangible evidence. Had this evidence been available then the question of the legality of an invasion would have been largely quashed but the report states that precisely how the threat translated in to legal justification among Blair’s cabinet remains “unclear”.
- Given the current situation in Iraq with the rise of Daesh-ISIS, many have criticised the US and UK for not having a clear plan for establishing a government and internal infrastructure in post-invasion Iraq thus creating a breeding ground for the group and those like it. The Chilcot report not only repeats this claim but perhaps even more damning for the US at least, claims that the Bush Administration paid little attention to British efforts to plan on how to rebuild Iraq once Saddam had been removed. The report claims that George Bush was only really interested in how Britain could help achieve the immediate military goals while it would be the US and above-all US companies and administration that would control the “new Iraq”.
- The Bush administration appointed their ambassador Paul Bremer as the head of a provisional authority in Baghdad making him the effective head of Iraq. The UK was almost totally excluded from having any input in how this provisional government was run even though it required British forces to help secure its position.
The Military Campaign
- Regarding the military operation in Iraq, the Chilcot report repeated claims that the UK’s forces were ill-prepared for the conflict. This was by no means a secret to even the most casual observers of British military operations between 2003 and 2009 (and beyond if we consider the conflict in Afghanistan as well).
- The equipment problems facing British troops have been well-documented in the media given the high regard the British public has for its armed forces. British troops lacked the protection their US counterparts enjoyed in the fields of armoured/protective vehicles most notably the Land Rover Snatch (right) which was designed in the early 1990s for operations in Northern Ireland and offered inadequate protection for the Iraqi threat environment. The troops themselves often lacked adequate body armour while many had to buy some of their own equipment off the internet before being deployed to the combat zone using their own money.
- To make matters worse for those who lost loved ones during British operations between 2003 and 2009, Chilcot declares the entire affair a military failure for the UK. The goal of the invasion in 2003 to remove Saddam was a success but given that the region is far more unstable today than prior to 2003 then the aim was not therefore achieved.
The Civilian Cost
- Perhaps the report’s most damning criticism was that despite claims to the contrary made leading up to and during British operations in Iraq (and by association, the US) the Ministry of Defence and the UK government made little effort to record the number of civilian casualties during operations. The report claims that Tony Blair had little interest in establishing such figures for fear that their results could heavily sway world opinion against the coalition.