Damning Report on British Role in Iraq Invasion Falls Short, Critics Say

A stunning seven years after it was initiated, Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into Britain’s role in the invasion and occupation of Iraq was finally released to the public today. While the 12-volume, 2.6-million-word report is smattered with searing indictments of former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s poor judgment and deference to Washington, it ultimately failed to take a position on legal culpability for a war that killed up to one million people.

The omission provoked immediate rebuke from protesters who gathered outside the London convention center where the findings were unveiled holding signs that read, “Blair Must Face War Crimes Trial.”

“There is no way of bringing back the dead and only time will heal the wounds of Iraqis that have been impacted by the 2003 war,” the London branch of the Iraqi Transnational Collective told AlterNet by email. “Real justice is not a possibility, which is why it is all the more important that we hold those responsible accountable through the courts. Punishment might just lead to deterrence in the future."

The long-anticipated inquiry underscored information already widely known to the British public, which staged large-scale protests in the lead-up to and aftermath of the invasion. “We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted,” said Chilcot in a statement summarizing the report’s findings. “Military action at that time was not a last resort.”

In addition to that damning finding, Chilcot concluded that the “judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction—WMD—were presented with a certainty that was not justified” and “Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated.”

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

Perhaps most remarkably, the report exposes key conversations between Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Blair pressed Bush “not to take hasty action on Iraq.” But when the two heads of state met in April 2002 at Bush’s Texas ranch, “Mr. Blair offered President Bush a partnership in dealing urgently with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein,” the report states. “In the subsequent press conference on 6 April, Mr. Blair stated that ‘doing nothing’ was not an option: the threat of WMD was real and had to be dealt with.”

In a private letter written in July 2002, Blair said to Bush, "I will be with you whatever,” adding: "This is the moment to assess bluntly the difficulties. The planning on this and the strategy are the toughest yet. This is not Kosovo. This is not Afghanistan. It is not even the Gulf war."

The report ultimately concluded that Blair’s sole success was appeasing Washington, stating bluntly: “Mr. Blair eventually succeeded only in the narrow goal of securing President Bush’s agreement that there should be U.N. authorization of the post-conflict role.”

While the report concludes that the invasion was based on false justification and misleading assessments, it curiously fell short of condemning Blair for lying to the public. Blair, for his part, was well-prepared with a public relations response, stating today, “I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you can ever believe” yet ultimately claiming that the inquiry exonerates him of “rushing to war” or deliberately misleading.

Raed Jarrar, government relations manager for the American Friends Service Committee, told AlterNet that real accountability requires going beyond restatement of Blair’s well-established failures. “Many people around the world didn't need to wait for seven years and a huge report with millions of words to conclude that invading Iraq was wrong," Jarrar said. "But the Iraq war and occupation is more than a mistake or a teachable moment, it's a crime that destroyed a nation and continues to kill and displace Iraqis until today. Now that the Chilcot report is done, it's time for accountability.”

The shortcomings of the report are compounded by the years-long delay in its release. An exclusive report in the Independent published in 2003 found that the White House and U.S. State Department launched a fierce battle to block the release of the investigation, citing allegedly classified information.

Chilcot, who led the inquiry, brings an establishment pedigree, serving as a high-ranking civil servant at the Northern Ireland Office during the troubles. After retiring in 1997, he became councilor to the Intelligence Services and chair of the building and civil engineering group.

Chilcot’s report concluded, “The consequences of the invasion and of the conflict within Iraq which followed are still being felt in Iraq and the wider Middle East, as well as in the UK. It left families bereaved and many individuals wounded, mentally as well as physically. After harsh deprivation under Saddam Hussein’s regime, the Iraqi people suffered further years of violence.”

These clinical observations of the catastrophic outcome of invasion arrived in the wake of a July 3 a bombing of a busy shopping district in Baghdad that killed at least 200 people, with the Islamic state claiming responsibility for what was the deadliest single attack since the U.S. invaded in 2003.

“The 2003 invasion has had a profound impact on Iraqi society,” said the London branch of the Iraqi Transnational Collective. “Since the war Iraqis’ lives have been turned upside down. The security situation has been so bad that it is very difficult to live a 'normal' life and do the things that many of us take for granted and too much life has been lost... Despite this, Iraqis continue to resist and pressure their government for better conditions with weekly demonstrations across the country, and a host of civil society initiatives led by Iraqis fighting for progressive change."

Unless the findings of the inquiry lead to the impeachment of some or all of the guilty parties,” the organization continued, “the report will be of no real relevance to the Iraqi civilians, and the British soldiers, killed or impacted.”

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