Demonstrators outside the Queen Elizabeth II centre vent their anger about the Iraq War Announcing a two-day House of Commons debate on the report next week, Prime Minister David Cameron – who voted for war in 2003 – said it was important to “really learn the lessons for the future” and to improve the workings of government, the decisions it arrives at, and its reading of legal advice.
His report acknowledged that the initial campaign to overthrow Saddam was successful and praised the “great courage” of service personnel and civilians involved during and after the invasion, which led to the deaths of more than 200 UK nationals and at least 150,000 Iraqis.
But it found that Britain’s military role “ended a very long way from success” and it was “humiliating” that the UK was reduced to doing deals with a local militia group in Basra, releasing captured militants in return for an end to attacks on British forces.
The report found that Mr Blair urged Mr Bush in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks in 2001 not to take “hasty” action against Iraq.
But it said that, by the time of the Crawford meeting, there had been a “profound change” in his thinking, with the UK government stating openly that Iraq was a threat which had to be dealt with, and the JIC privately concluding that Saddam could not be removed without an invasion.
The government’s insistence that Iraq must disarm or be disarmed implied the readiness to use force if Baghdad did not comply, and contingency planning for an invasion had indeed begun, the report found.
In his July 28 letter, Mr Blair told Mr Bush that a coalition for military action would be dependent on the authority of the UN, and a resolution was passed by the Security Council in November 2002 giving Iraq a final opportunity to disarm to avert war.
But Sir John found that by December, Mr Bush had decided military action would take place anyway in early 2003 – a timetable which Mr Blair accepted at the end of January.
Although Mr Blair and Mr Straw subsequently blamed France for the failure to secure a resolution backing war and claimed to be acting to uphold the authority of the Security Council, the report found that “in the absence of a majority in support of military action, we consider that the UK was in fact undermining the Security Council’s authority”.
The circumstances under which Lord Goldsmith provided a legal justification for UK involvement were “far from satisfactory”, the report found.
Having initially advised Mr Blair in January 2003 that a second UN resolution was necessary, he later produced written advice that there was a “reasonable case” that the November resolution alone was sufficient.
On March 14, he asked Mr Blair to confirm that Iraq had breached the terms of the first resolution, which required Baghdad to provide access to UN weapons inspectors.
The confirmation came in a “perfunctory” note from a private secretary, with no details of how Mr Blair came to his conclusion, said the report, which added that the issue should have been discussed by Cabinet.
The report dismissed Mr Blair’s argument that the emergence following Saddam’s fall of a violent insurgency against occupying allied forces could not have been foreseen.
“We do not agree that hindsight is required,” stated Sir John. “The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability and al Qaida activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion.”
Mr Blair “did not establish clear ministerial oversight of UK planning and preparation, he did not ensure that there was a flexible, realistic and fully-resourced plan that integrated UK military and civilian contributions and addressed the known risks”.
Sir John acknowledged the “deep anguish” of the families of those killed and injured in Iraq, many of whom were present in London to read his report for themselves.
And he said the people of Iraq had “suffered greatly” from the failure to deliver on the vision of a peaceful, secure and democratic Iraq set out by the US and its allies in the eve-of-war summit in the Azores. At least 150,000 and probably many more had died, and one million had been forced from their homes.
The UK took responsibility for south-eastern Iraq 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”, he found.
“The scale of the UK effort in post-conflict Iraq never matched the scale of the challenge. Whitehall departments and their ministers failed to put collective weight behind the task. In practice, the UK’s most consistent strategic objective in relation to Iraq was to reduce the level of its deployed forces.”
The MoD was slow in responding to the threat from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used by insurgents to inflict multiple casualties on occupying forces.
And from 2006, when UK troops were deployed in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, armed forces were conducting two campaigns without “sufficient resources” to do so.
The inquiry panel agreed unanimously that, while military action in Iraq “might have been necessary at some point”, at the time the invasion was launched, there was “no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein”, “the strategy of containment could have been adapted and continued for some time” and “the majority of the Security Council supported continuing UN inspections and monitoring”.
Sir John urged the Government to learn lessons from the mistakes made over Iraq, including:
:: The importance of collective ministerial discussion with “frank and informed” debate;
:: The need to assess risks and set achievable and realistic strategy;
:: The vital role of ministerial leadership and co-ordination of action across government; and
:: The need to ensure that the military – and civilian officials – are properly equipped.
“Above all the lesson is that all aspects of any intervention need to be calculated, debated and challenged with the utmost rigour,” said Sir John.
“And when decisions have been made, they need to be implemented fully.
“Sadly, neither was the case in relation to the UK government’s actions in Iraq.”
In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Cameron said: “Members on all sides who voted for military action will have to take our fair share of the responsibility.
“We cannot turn the clock back but we can ensure that lessons are learned and acted on.”