Friday, 8 July 2016

Iraq War Inquiry: Tony Blair led UK into Iraq war based on flawed intel

Long-awaited report delivers damning verdict; ex-PM voices 'sorrow, regret and apology'
The Straits Times, 7 Jul 2016

LONDON • Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain went to war alongside the US in Iraq in 2003 on the basis of flawed intelligence that went unchallenged, a shaky legal rationale, inadequate preparation and exaggerated public statements, an independent inquiry into the war concluded in a report published yesterday.

The long-awaited report by the Iraq Inquiry Committee, led by Sir John Chilcot, takes up 12 volumes covering 2.6 million words, four times longer than War And Peace, and took seven years to complete, longer than Britain's combat operations in Iraq.

It concluded that Mr Blair and the British government underestimated the difficulties and consequences of the war and overestimated the influence he would have over then US President George W. Bush.

The result amounts to a broad indictment of Britain's involvement in the war that overthrew Saddam Hussein and its aftermath. It portrays Mr Blair as trying without success to restrain Mr Bush, push him to obtain full UN Security Council authorisation and warn him about the difficulties of the war - and deciding to go to war alongside Washington nonetheless.

Judging that Britain should stand by the US, he told Mr Bush in a private note as early as July 28, 2002, that "I will be with you, whatever".

In the same note made public along with the report, Mr Blair went on to tell Mr Bush: "If we win quickly, everyone will be our friend. If we don't... recriminations will start fast."

The report is likely to underline in Britain the sense that Mr Blair was "Washington's poodle", the phrase widely used by Mr Blair's critics at the time.

The report says the lessons from the government's conduct are that "all aspects" of military intervention "need to be calculated, debated and challenged with the utmost rigour", and decisions, once made, "need to be implemented fully".

Sir Chilcot, speaking for the inquiry as a whole, concluded that "sadly, neither was the case in relation to the UK government's actions in Iraq". And he emphasised that Britain's relationship with the US was a strong one. It is able "to bear the weight of honest disagreement", he said. "It does not require unconditional support where our interests or judgments differ."

In a statement to the House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron, who voted with his party in favour of the war, said that all the MPs who voted for the war must "take our fair share of the responsibility".

"We cannot turn the clock back but can ensure that lessons are learnt and acted on," he said.

Mr Cameron said new procedures to ensure "proper separation" between intelligence and the process for assessing it has already been put in place."Taking the country to war should always be a last resort," he said, adding, however, that "we should not conclude that intervention is always wrong".

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, the current head of Mr Blair's Labour party, said the war was "an act of military aggression launched on a false pretext" that "fuelled and spread terrorism across the region".

The inquiry, while revealing little that changes the understanding of the war, its preparation and aftermath, pulls no punches on a deeply flawed British governmental process.

"It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments," Sir Chilcot said. "They were not challenged, and they should have been."

The inquiry did not make any judgment on legal culpability.

Outside the convention centre where Sir Chilcot spoke, near Parliament, demonstrators chanted and held up a sign reading: "Blair must face war crimes trial."

The war killed about 200 Britons, including 179 British troops, almost 4,500 American personnel and more than 100,000 Iraqis.

Addressing a press conference after the report's release, Mr Blair voiced "sorrow, regret and apology", but said he did not mislead Parliament and did not regret toppling Saddam Hussein.

"I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe," said Mr Blair, his voice breaking.

The former premier said the decision to take Britain to war was the "most agonising" he had ever taken, adding: "I will never agree that those who died or were injured... made their sacrifice in vain."

"At least in Iraq, for all its challenges, we have today a government that is elected, is recognised as internationally legitimate," he added.


Fingings at a glance
The Straits Times, 7 Jul 2016

Some of the key findings of the inquiry into Britain's decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003:


Sir John Chilcot, the head of the inquiry, said in his statement: "We have concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory."

The report cited several shortcomings in the legal process, including the fact that the legal advice produced by the government's top lawyer was presented to a Cabinet meeting of senior ministers, but not discussed in detail.


The report criticised the way then Prime Minister Tony Blair presented intelligence information to the public. The intelligence itself was also criticised.

"At no stage was the proposition that Iraq might no longer have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or programmes identified and examined by either the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) or the policy community," the report said.


The report said that Britain chose to join the invasion of Iraq before peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. "At the time of the parliamentary vote of March, diplomatic options had not been exhausted. The point had not been reached where military action was the last resort," it said.


Mr Blair was warned about the threat of increased Al-Qaeda activity as a result of the invasion, the report said. "Mr Blair had been advised that an invasion of Iraq was expected to increase the threat to the UK and UK interests from Al-Qaeda and its affiliates."

It cited Mr Blair's response, made in a 2011 statement: "I took the view then and take the same view now that to have backed down because of the threat of terrorism would be completely wrong."


"The Iraq of 2009 certainly did not meet the UK's objectives as described in January 2003: it fell far short of strategic success. Although the borders of Iraq were the same as they had been in 2003, deep sectarian division threatened both stability and unity," the report said.


The report criticised the government's post-conflict planning for Iraq. "When the invasion began, the UK government was not in a position to conclude that satisfactory plans had been drawn up and preparations made to meet known post-conflict challenges and risks in Iraq and to mitigate the risk of strategic failure."


Our sons died in vain, say grieving families
The Straits Times, 7 Jul 2016

LONDON • As protesters outside bayed for Mr Tony Blair's prosecution, inside the building where Sir John Chilcot delivered his damning Iraq War Inquiry report, the father of a dead serviceman delivered his own verdict: "My son died in vain."

Having waited seven years for the former civil servant to deliver his verdict on Britain's role in the 2003 conflict, bereaved families and anti-war protesters were united in an outpouring of anger.

"There is one terrorist in this world that the world needs to be aware of, and his name is Tony Blair, the world's worst terrorist," Ms Sarah O'Connor, whose brother Bob was killed in Iraq in 2005, told a press conference.

Given the chance, Ms Rose Gentle said, she would ask Mr Blair: "Why did you kill my son?"

Outside the Queen Elizabeth II centre in London - where Sir Chilcot delivered a summary of his report - more than 100 protesters shouted: "Blair lied, thousands died!"

Although more restrained, the families were equally determined to see Mr Blair and other government officials face further action.

"If state officials are determined to have acted unlawfully or in excess of their powers, then the families will decide on whether to take any necessary and appropriate action," said Mr Matthew Jury, who is representing some of the relatives.

Legal action could "motivate government into making sure that they change the way they do business", said Mr Richard Bacon, whose 34-year-old son Matthew was killed in 2005.

He added that "never again must so many mistakes be allowed to sacrifice British lives".

With Iraq still consumed by violence, families doubted that the sacrifices had been worthwhile.

"I look at Iraq and on my TV screens today, with 200-plus deaths that took place the other day. I can only conclude... my son died in vain," said Mr Reg Keys, whose son Thomas died when a mob attacked a police station in 2003.


Iraqis happy to see Blair squirm over war report
13 years on, their country is wracked by terrorist attacks and many cities lie in ruins
The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2016

BAGHDAD • As Britain looked back on its decision to go to war in Iraq 13 years ago, Mr Thamir al-Shemmary went to the funeral of his brother and two nephews, killed over the weekend in Baghdad's deadliest terrorist attack since that war began.

Mr Shemmary had a question for Mr Tony Blair, the former British prime minister whose decision to join the invasion came under critique in the Chilcot Report, released in London on Wednesday after an exhaustive war inquiry.

"Who will compensate me for the loss of my brother and his children?" he said. "Trust me, I am bleeding from the inside."

With Britain consumed with relitigating the familiar history of the Iraq War - the false intelligence assessments, poor post-invasion planning - Iraq is consumed with the consequences of that history.

Wednesday should have been a joyous celebration of Aidilfitri, the holiday after the holy month of Ramadan that is normally filled with family gatherings, games, sweets and lavish meals.

But many Aidilfitri celebrations were cancelled, replaced by funerals, prayer services and candlelight vigils for the victims of Sunday morning's devastating car bombing in a busy central Baghdad district full of cafes and stores.

The Health Ministry yesterday said 281 people were killed.

Widen the lens more broadly over Iraq, and a panorama of suffering that most Iraqis attribute to bad decisions by the United States and Britain comes into view: More than three million people displaced from their homes because of fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS); cities in rubble; a barely functional government facing a severe financial crisis; Iranian-controlled militias that seem more powerful than the Iraqi army.

Many Iraqis took all that into account as they watched the debate and news reports over the Chilcot Report.

Some Iraqis took a modicum of satisfaction in seeing Mr Blair called to account for his decisions.

Mr Blair made a statement on Wednesday in which he said he took "full responsibility" for any mistakes related to the war.

"Today I feel so happy," said Mr Salim Hamid, 44. "It is like a wedding to me to see the person who destroyed my country being nervous because of being asked a lot of questions."

Mr Hamid said he wished he could throw a shoe at Mr Blair - a grievous insult in the Arab world - just as an Iraqi journalist did to President George W. Bush when he visited Baghdad in 2008.

Some noted that the number of British war deaths, 179, was distinctly fewer than the number of Iraqis killed on Sunday alone.

Mr Haidar Sumeri, an Iraqi analyst who made the comparison on Twitter, wrote in an e-mail: "It highlights the degree of irrelevance of Iraqi suffering in the West."

He continued: "People see another bombing in Baghdad, roll their eyes, make a comment about how bad it is there and move on. No one really likes to think about how we got here, how we can change the situation or learn from what happened so it doesn't happen again."

It is not that many Iraqis did not welcome the chance to be free of Saddam Hussein and his cruelty. Many reflect back, saying that before the war, they were hopeful and enthusiastic about the prospect of change.

But now, they feel betrayed by the mismanagement of the occupation, and the leaders who came after.

"We were expecting to be the best state in the world and now we have become the worst state in the world," said Mr Hussam Yohana, 30, who lost his cousin, Maher, a perfume shop owner, in Sunday's bombing.


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