Chilcot Inquiry: stinging criticism as families still grieve
Back at the QE2 Conference Centre where the Iraq Inquiry public hearings happened, we wait for Sir John Chilcot’s statement. The families of the dead and wounded take up the front 7 rows of seats – around 150 of them here. An anxious silence hangs over them.
Sir John Chilcot’s statement, just delivered, was starker than the report itself in its criticism of the Iraq War.
He blasts Tony Blair for taking the country to war “before peaceful options…had been exhausted.” The WMD case presented to the public was “not justified” by the evidence. Explicit warnings about the consequences of invasion were underestimated and planning was “wholly inadequate.”
In the report itself you find damning references to a culture of deference towards the US, lack of risk assessment for UK forces, lack of planning for occupying Southern Iraq, groupthink and lack of challenge in the intelligence community and much more besides.
The authors clearly believe that then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was talking up the idea of Second UN Resolution when he knew all too well that there were only 4 out of 15 votes guaranteed to back it on the Security Council.
The Inquiry Team decided they couldn’t with certainty say Tony Blair signed in blood a deal to go side by side into Iraq with the US but he reveals – for the first time, fully and accurately quoted though alluded to and loosely quoted before – the letter sent to George W Bush in which Tony Blair said in July 2002 that he was with the US “whatever.”
And in a phrase the Inquiry Team clearly feels is loaded and revealing, they report Mr Blair referring in December 2001 to a “clever strategy” for regime change. The formal position disguised a private and profound shift towards a very different policy.
True to his word, the Inquiry chairman does not pronounce on the legality of war. But he is clearly very unhappy with the process that ended up with Lord Goldsmith’s legal note and in his statement just now he said the invasion was “undermining [of] the Security Council’s authority.”
The military come out of this report very badly – senior commanders seem unwilling to challenge a political leadership which they no doubt thought would be around a long time, key to their services’ fortunes and maybe even to individual careers.
Sir John Chilcot opened his remarks with a reference to the latest atrocity in Iraq and the civilian deaths that still haunt that country. There is no doubt that he and his Inquiry team regard the Iraq war a calamitous, unprofessional, reputationally disastrous military failure. The only consistently followed military objective Sir John could discern after the initial invasion was as desperate desire to reduce the number of British forces in Iraq.
Sir John is now 77. He’s served in MI5, MI6, at the most senior level in Northern Ireland in the Troubles. He is a quintessential part of the establishment today giving a damning judgement on political, military and intelligence elites.
As he finished, journalists rushed off to deadlines and newsdesks and to see politicians’ reactions in the Commons and elsewhere. The still mourning relatives of the service personnel killed in action briefly applauded before walking out more slowly, lips pursed, patting each other for comfort, saying little as they gathered their thoughts.