Chilcot report: Tony Blair made fully aware of post-Saddam chaos risk in Iraq but went to war anyway

'The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and al Qaeda activity in Iraq, were explicitly identified before the invasion,' report concludes

Charlie Cooper
Whitehall Correspondent
Wednesday 06 July 2016 10:47
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Chilcot report: Tony Blair made fully aware of post-Saddam chaos risk in Iraq but went to war anyway

Tony Blair and George W Bush were made fully aware that Iraq could descend into sectarian violence after the fall of Saddam Hussein - fuelling the rise of Islamist extremists - but went to war regardless, the Chilcot report has concluded.

Directly contradicting Mr Blair’s assertion to the Iraq Inquiry that the fall-out from the conflict could not have been known in advance, Sir John Chilcot said that risks of internal strife, regional instability and the burgeoning of al Qaeda in Iraq “were each explicitly identified”.

Planning and preparations for Iraq after Hussein were “wholly inadequate”, the long-awaited report concludes.

From September 2002, six months before the invasion, Foreign Office (FCO) and intelligence reports raised the alarm that the war would create an “easier environment for terrorists” and the destabilisation of the country.

An FCO 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. The group claimed responsibility for Sunday’s bombing in Baghdad, the death toll of which has now 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 Qaeda activity in Iraq, were explicitly identified before the invasion.”

His report concludes that, despite being aware of the dangers, Mr Blair failed to press the US President for a clearer plan for the post-conflict stage, and placed too much reliance on an assumption that the UN would lead efforts to stabilise the country – a strategy Washington rejected.

At no point did Mr Blair make adequate post-conflict planning a condition of Britain’s involvement in the war, the inquiry panel found.

British preparations for the country's role in securing and stabilising southern Iraq were also severely lacking. Mr Blair “did not ensure that there was a flexible, realistic and fully-resourced plan”, Sir John said.

While not concluding that better preparations “would necessarily have prevented the events that unfolded in Iraq between 2003 and 2009” [the reference period for the inquiry] the report does state that better planning could have “mitigated some of the risks to which the UK and Iraq were exposed.”

Sir John said the invasion had, by July 2009, resulted in the deaths of 150,000 Iraqis “and probably many more” – most of them civilians. More than a million people were displaced.

“The people of Iraq have suffered greatly,” he said.

The Chilcot Inquiry - A timeline of the Iraq War

The report is also scathing about the government's preparations for the UK’s military role. The scope of Britain’s contribution was only settled in mid-January 2003, weeks before the invasion.

“There was little time to prepare three brigades and the risks were neither properly identified nor fully exposed to ministers,” Sir John said.

Whitehall departments “failed to put their collective weight behind the task” of post-conflict stabilisation, he added, and the Ministry of Defence was slow to respond to threat to British soldiers operating in Basra after the war, particularly from “improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

More than 179 British service personnel died as a result of the conflict. Sir John also noted that Tony Blair was made aware that the invasion would increase the Britain's vulnerability to terrorism.

“The Government’s preparations failed to to take account of the magnitude of the task of stabilising, administering and reconstructing Iraq, and of the responsibilities which were likely to fall to the UK,” Sir John said.

“The UK took particular responsibility for four provinces in the south east. It did so without a formal ministerial decision and without ensuring that it had the necessary military and civilian capabilities to discharge its obligations, including, crucially, to provide security."

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