Tony Blair’s decision to commit troops to the Iraq War was taken on the basis of flawed intelligence, before peaceful options had been exhausted and without any adequate plan for the future of the country and its millions of citizens, the Chilcot report has concluded, in a comprehensive and damning assessment of the former Prime Minister and the war that will define his place in history.
The report, 2.6 million words long and seven years in the making, concluded that the consequences of the invasion were underestimated, British troops were sent in unprepared, and that the planning and preparation for rebuilding a devastated country after the fall of Saddam Hussein were “wholly inadequate”.
But in a show of defiance, Mr Blair, visibly emotional, said that the decision to join George W Bush’s invasion had been the right one, that he had made it “in good faith” and that with the same information, he would do it again.
"The intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong, the aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than we ever imagined. The coalition planned for one set of ground facts and encountered another," he said.
"And a nation whose people we wanted to set free and secure from the evil of Saddam became instead victim of sectarian terrorism. For all of this I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe."
But asked to look the families of the 179 British servicemen who died in Iraq in the eye and say he did not mislead them he added: “I can look not just the families, but the nation in the eye and say I did not mislead this country, I made this decision in good faith on the information I had at the time, and I believe that it is better that we took that decision.
“I acknowledge all the problems that came with that decision, I acknowledge the mistakes and accept responsibility for them. What I cannot do and will not do is say we took the wrong decision.”
While Sir John Chilcot said that the report could make no judgement on the legality of the war, he concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided there was a legal basis for war were “far from satisfactory”.
There were calls for legal action against Mr Blair to be considered from some of the families, from Labour frontbencher Paul Flynn and from the Scottish National Party.
Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn issued an apology on the behalf of Labour, calling the war “a stain on our party and our country”, and urging Britain to back reform of the International Criminal Court so it could deal with such situations more effectively.
“That apology is owed first of all to the people of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost and the country is still living with the devastating consequences of the war and the forces it unleashed. They have paid the greatest price for the most serious foreign policy calamity of the last 60 years," the Labour leader said.
“The apology is also owed to the families of those soldiers who died in Iraq or who have returned home injured or incapacitated. They did their duty but it was in a conflict they should never have been sent to.”
The UK, he added, should now "join the 30 countries including Germany and Spain that already support giving the International Criminal Court (ICC) the power to prosecute those responsible for the crime of military aggression"
David Cameron, who voted in favour of the invasion in 2003, said that lessons must be learned from the findings of the Chilcot Report, and called on all MPs who voted for the war to bear their share of responsibility for the mistakes made in the conduct of the war and the subsequent occupation.
Previously classified memos published alongside the report reveal the extent of collaboration between Britain and the US in the run-up to war. Mr Blair pledged to Mr Bush in July 2002: “I will be with you, whatever.”
And as early as December 2001, the two men had discussed toppling Saddam Hussein.
"How we finish in Afghanistan is important to phase 2. If we leave it a better country, having supplied humanitarian aid and having given new hope to the people, we will not just have won militarily but morally; and the coalition will back us to do more elsewhere," says Mr Blair in the memo.
"We shall give regime change a good name which will help in our arguments over Iraq."
Sir David Manning and Jonathan Powell, advisors to Mr Blair, both urged him remove the “with you whatever” line from the July memo, concerned that that it would “close off options”, the report reveals. Mr Blair “had not discussed or agreed” the commitment with his colleagues, it says.
The report also makes clear that, far from Mr Blair’s assertion in his evidence to the inquiry that the full consequences of the invasion could not have been known, he had received explicit warnings that the intervention could plunge the country into sectarian violence that would fuel the rise of Islamist extremism.
A Foreign Office paper on Islamism in Iraq, shared with the Americans in December 2002, even foreshadowed the rise of extremist groups like Isis which went on to exploit the chaos of post-war Iraq.
It warned that it was likely groups would be looking for “identities and ideologies on which to base movements” and anticipated that a number of emergent extremist groups would use violence to pursue political ends.
Isis, which 11 years after the invasion declared a caliphate in Iraq, remains in control of vast swathes of the country, including its second city Mosul, and has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s bombing in Baghdad, the death toll of which has risen to 250 – the worst such attack since the invasion in 2003.
“Mr Blair told the Inquiry that the difficulties encountered in Iraq after the invasion could not have been known in advance,” Sir John said, as he released the report in London on Wednesday morning.
“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 explicitly identified before the invasion.”
By July 2009, the invasion had led to the deaths of “probably many more” than 150,000 Iraqis, with a million displaced, Sir John said.Reuse content