UK Investigation Concludes: Blair and Bush Lied their Nations into an Unjustified Act of Aggression
July 7, 2016 Steven Erlanger and David E. Sanger / The New York Times & Esther Addley / The Guardian
Sir John Chilcot delivered a devastating critique of Tony Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, concluding there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein. Blair was harshly criticized for offering a blanket promise of British support if the US went to war to topple Saddam Hussein. Families who lost sons, brothers and fathers as a result of the unnecessary Bush/Blair war have called the former PM "the worst terrorist in the world" and demanded that he "face consequences."
Sir John Chilcot delivered a devastating critique of Tony Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, concluding that Britain chose to join the US invasion before "peaceful options for disarmament" had been exhausted. His report, which amounts to arguably the most scathing official verdict given on any modern British prime minister, concludes:
* Tony Blair exaggerated the case for war in Iraq
* There was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein
* Britain's intelligence agencies produced "flawed information"
* George Bush largely ignored UK advice on postwar planning
* The UK military were ill-equipped for the task
* UK-US relations would not have been harmed had the UK stayed out of the war
Chilcot Report on Iraq War Offers Devastating Critique of Tony Blair Steven Erlanger and David E. Sanger / The New York Times
LONDON (July 6, 2016) -- On July 28, 2002, roughly eight months before the American-led invasion of Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain sent President George W. Bush a personal note that alarmed some of Mr. Blair's top national security aides -- and was greeted with relief in Washington.
"I will be with you, whatever," Mr. Blair wrote, in what appeared to be a blanket promise of British support if the United States went to war to topple Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader. Getting rid of Mr. Hussein was "the right thing to do," Mr. Blair wrote, predicting that "his departure would free up the region."
Fourteen years later, Mr. Blair's pledge was revealed publicly on Wednesday as part of a voluminous, seven-year official investigation into how and why Britain went to war in Iraq.
The main conclusions in the report, by the independent Iraq Inquiry Committee, were familiar: that Britain, like the United States, used flawed intelligence to justify the invasion, that Iraq posed no immediate national security threat, that the allies acted militarily before all diplomatic options had been exhausted and that there was a lack of planning for what would happen once Mr. Hussein was removed.
Yet the report still had enormous resonance in Britain, in part because it came at a moment when Britons are engaged in a debate over their country's place in the world after their vote last month to leave the European Union.
The report also amounted to a moment of searing public accountability for Mr. Blair, whose legacy has been defined in Britain almost entirely, and almost entirely negatively, for his decision to go into Iraq alongside the United States.
Mr. Blair's note to Mr. Bush was part of what the report showed to be a campaign to back the United States before the war and to steer the White House toward building diplomatic support for efforts to address the perceived threat from Iraq.
The report's 2.6 million words describe a prime minister who wanted stronger evidence of the need for military action and a more solid plan for occupying Iraq and reconstituting a government there. Beyond its pledge of fealty to Mr. Bush, the July 28, 2002, note warned broadly of the risks of "unintended consequences'' from an invasion and presciently forecast that other European nations would be reluctant to back the war.
But by the time the invasion was launched, most of Mr. Blair's warnings and conditions had been swept aside, the report concluded. The chairman of the committee, John Chilcot, said on Wednesday morning that Mr. Blair had been advised by his diplomats and ministers of "the inadequacy of U.S. plans" and their concern "about the inability to exert significant influence on U.S. planning."
Mr. Blair chose to override their objections.
Within hours of the report's release, Mr. Blair appeared at a nearly two-hour news conference in which he acknowledged missteps and intelligence failures, but defended his decision to go to war. Now rejected by his own Labour Party, his place in British history defined by those crucial days in 2002 and 2003, he looked humbled, even haunted, saying that not a day went by when he did not think about decisions he made more than a decade ago.
"There will not be a day of my life where I do not relive and rethink what happened," Mr. Blair said. "People ask me why I spend so much time in the Middle East today. This is why. This is why I work on Middle East peace."
A decisive moment seemed to come when Mr. Blair's draft of the 2002 note to Mr. Bush, classified "Secret-Personal," circulated to two senior aides, David Manning and Jonathan Powell. The report disclosed that they urged Mr. Blair to soften or delete the "I will be with you, whatever" declaration, and not to tie his political fate too tightly to Mr. Bush's judgments.
Mr. Manning, a former ambassador to Washington and Mr. Blair's chief foreign policy adviser, testified that he had told Mr. Blair the sentence was "too sweeping," that it seemed to "close off options" and that there was "a risk it would be taken at face value."
Mr. Blair later said he thought he had amended the sentence, but he had not.
Mr. Blair insisted that he had provided no "blank check" to Washington, and the note quickly moved to an assessment of the many difficulties of such a war, including building a political coalition to back it and the "need to commit to Iraq for the long term."
He warned of "unintended consequences," like large numbers of Iraqi civilian casualties or an eruption "of the Arab street."
The report concluded that Mr. Blair and the British government both underestimated the difficulties and consequences of the war and significantly overestimated the influence he would have over Mr. Bush.
The results have haunted the Iraq, the United States and Britain ever since: more than 200 British dead, including 179 soldiers, at least 4,500 American dead and more than 150,000 Iraqi dead, most of them civilians, as sectarian warfare, terrorist groups and actors like Iran have filled the vacuum left by Mr. Hussein.
Just this week, at least 250 Iraqi civilians died from a car bomb in Baghdad as they celebrated the final days of the holy month of Ramadan.
As Mr. Chilcot's committee delved back into what seems to many young Britons like ancient history -- students entering college this year were 4 years old when the critical decisions were being made -- they found something of an echo chamber between London and Washington.
An intelligence official, Tim Dowse, told the committee that British officials were nervous enough about United States suspicions that aluminum tubes acquired by Mr. Hussein could be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium that they had initially kept the subject out of a British summary of Iraq's weapons projects published in 2002.
After Vice President Dick Cheney had talked about the tubes on American television, "we felt that it would look odd if we said nothing on the subject," Mr. Towse said. "It would open us up to questions."
So the report mentioned the tubes but noted "we couldn't confirm that they were intended for a nuclear program."
Such questions about the prewar intelligence were left unresolved, despite Mr. Blair's oft-repeated desire for a "smoking gun."
Mr. Blair stressed on Wednesday that the report concluded that he had not invented or distorted intelligence. But he won little sympathy: The current leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, apologized for the party's having led Britain into the war, and the governing Conservatives were happy to let the Labour Party eat itself up over Mr. Blair and Iraq.
The sense that Britain was led into carnage by a foolish devotion to the United States has had lasting consequences and made members of Parliament reluctant to authorize further military action alongside Washington.
The legacy of Iraq kept Britain from joining the United States in bombing Syria over its use of chemical weapons. It was also a factor in President Obama's decision to back away from a military strike on Syria's chemical weapons facilities, and to delay military activity there against the Islamic State.
But having been a forceful ally of President Bill Clinton in the Kosovo war and having intervened successfully in Sierra Leone in 2000, Mr. Blair was a believer in using force to impose a more rational world order, and after the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, he was quick to align himself with Mr. Bush.
The inquiry's verdict on the planning and conduct of British military involvement in Iraq was withering, rejecting Mr. Blair's contention that the difficulties encountered after the invasion could not have been foreseen.
"We do not agree that hindsight is required," Mr. Chilcot said. "The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability and Al Qaeda activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion."
Mr. Blair's concern before the invasion of Iraq, the report makes clear, was less about the need to overthrow Mr. Hussein than about how to justify doing so.
The intelligence that Mr. Blair presented in public had a great deal more certainty than his officials presented in private, the report said.
The report says: "At no stage was the hypothesis that Iraq might not have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or programs identified and examined" by Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee.
"The U.K. chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted," the report said. "Military action at that time was not a last resort."
Stephen Castle contributed reporting. Follow Steven Erlanger @StevenErlanger and David Sanger @SangerNYT on Twitter.
LONDON (July 6, 2016) -- Tony Blair was described as "the worst terrorist in the world" by a woman whose brother was killed in the Iraq war, as the family members of British soldiers gave their response to the Chilcot report.
Sarah O'Connor broke down in tears as she addressed an emotional press conference shortly after the long-awaited report was published.
"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," she said, to cheers from some of the other relatives.
O'Connor, whose brother, Sgt Bob O'Connor, was killed with nine other airmen when his plane was shot down near Baghdad in 2005, said her overriding emotion having read some of the report was anger. "That healing that for 11 and a half years I have worked for . . . I have gone back to that time when I learned that my brother had been killed."
About 25 bereaved family members were at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in central London, where they were given a few hours to read the report before it was published. Several of those present carried pictures of their loved ones, or wore T-shirts or badges with their images.
Most welcomed the report, with a number of family members standing to applaud as Sir John Chilcot left the stage after giving a statement, but there was also widespread anger, while several relatives wept openly.
"Everything he said today, we have been saying for all these years," said Rose Gentle, mother of Fusilier Gordon Gentle, who was killed by a roadside bomb in 2004 aged 19. An inquest later found that his death was unlawful and that logistics failures had contributed to it.
"Now we can turn and say we have got the proof, we've got it in our hands," said Gentle. "Twelve years of fighting for my son have been worth it. I'd do it again if I had to."
Pauline Graham, Rose Gentle's mother, said: "Now we know where we stand and what we can do. Tony Blair should be taken to court for trial for murder. He can't get away with this any more."
Reg Keys, the father of L/Cpl Tom Keys who died in 2003 aged 20, told reporters that when he considered the ongoing terrorist deaths in Iraq, "I can only conclude that unfortunately, and sadly, my son died in vain".
That sentiment was echoed by Theresa Thompson, the mother of Pte Kevin Thompson, who was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Basra in 2007, at the age of 21. "It was an illegal war. He died in vain. He died for no purpose," she said.
"I won't stop until Tony Blair is held responsible for this," said her husband, Mark Thompson. "He should come forward to the families and prove himself, instead of being a coward [and giving a statement] behind a camera. Be a man, stand up for what he has done.
"Just look at the parents, look at what he has destroyed. We have lost grandchildren, we have lost a daughter-in-law. He's still got his family, he's got everything."
The date of their son's death, 6 May, was also Blair's birthday, Thompson said. "He'll be opening his presents and cards, we take flowers to my son's garden."
"Chilcot's report . . . he's done exactly as he said he would – it wasn't a whitewash by any means," said Eddie Hancock, from Wigan, whose 19-year-old son Jamie was a Kingsman with the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment when he was killed in Basra in 2006.
"Obviously, some people will never be happy unless there's a rope there. But what he has actually said is that Blair undermined the United Nations. Now, if somebody does that, you would think that the act was illegal. He's also misled parliament, he's fabricated facts and misrepresented them.
"I hope, and I would like to call on all politicians in this country, that for the grievous damage this man has inflicted on this nation, on its armed forces, he be banned from any form of public office for life. At the very least."
Tony Fisher, whose brother Sgt Simon Hamilton-Jewell was killed alongside five other military police officers in Majar al-Kabir in 2003, fought back tears as he described the report as "very powerful".
Fisher said: "It's 13 years, and it still hurts, you never get rid of it. And you don't want to see other people going through the same thing, for the sake of one man's arrogance. Mr Blair keeps apologising for everybody else around him, but he is the man responsible. The arrogant man hasn't got the ability to apologise for his own mistakes."
Fisher is one of many family members who hope the report could lead to prosecutions of Blair and others. Matthew Jury, of the legal firm McCue & Partners, who represents the families of 29 victims, said it was too early to judge whether prosecutions might be possible.
"The next steps are to spend the next days and weeks giving this full and proper consideration as to what happens next. Legal proceedings may be possible, but we need to do a full and forensic analysis of the report to determine what is next."
As he left the conference centre surrounded by other family members, Peter Brierley, the father of 28-year-old L/Cpl Shaun Brierley who was killed when his Land Rover crashed in Kuwait in 2003, said he was satisfied with the report.
"When I came here this morning, if you had asked me, 'What do you want out of it?', it wouldn't be too far away from what I have already read." As such, he said, rather than sharing the anger of some of the other families, he felt "relief . . . that we've finally got what we wanted".
He added: "One day in the future, I want to be able to go home, sit in my chair and turn my telly on and say, 'I have done the best I can. No matter the final outcome, I've done everything I possibly can.' With this today, that seems to be a lot closer now."
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