UK’s Iraq war inquiry delivers damning verdict on Tony Blair

Former British prime minister Tony Blair took his country into a badly planned, woefully executed and legally questionable war in Iraq in 2003, according to the findings of a long-delayed inquiry into Britain’s role in the conflict.

The Chilcot report found the decision to join the US-led invasion was taken before all other options had been exhausted and on the basis of false intelligence.

“We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort,” inquiry chairman John Chilcot said.

“In 2003 Saddam Hussein posed no immediate threat,” Chiclot added.

The war was justified on the basis that the Iraq leader had weapons of mass destruction, although no such weapons were never found.

The 2.6 million word report, launched in 2009 as the bulk of British troops withdrew from Iraq, was tasked with investigating the run-up to the 2003 US-led invasion and the subsequent occupation.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis died during the conflict and the sectarian war that followed. The country remains plagued by violence, seen most recently in Sunday’s car bomb in Baghdad that killed more than 200 people.

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Furthermore, Chiclot said that Britain’s plans for managing the occupation of Iraq following the 2003 invasion were “wholly inadequate.”

“Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam were wholly inadequate,” he said.

Blair faced particular criticism after pledging to support US president George W. Bush the year before the invasion “whatever” happened and failing to ensure “there was a flexible, realistic and fully resourced plan”.

The US-led invasion was deeply controversial at the time as it did not have explicit approval from the UN Security Council, while claims that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction proved unfounded.

The report also said Blair had “overestimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq”.

During the invasion 179 British soldiers also lost their lives. Relatives of some of the dead soldiers attended the report’s publication.

Blair voiced “sorrow, regret and apology” after the damning report was released, but said he did not mislead parliament and did not regret toppling Saddam Hussein.

“I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe,” said Blair, his voice breaking with emotion in a speech before the press in central London.

However, he added: “As the report makes clear there were no lies, parliament and cabinet were not misled, there was no secret commitment to war.

“The intelligence was not falsified and the decision was made in good faith.”

The former premier said the decision to take Britain to war was the “most agonizing” he had ever taken, adding: “I will never agree that those who died or were injured… made their sacrifice in vain”.

“I knew it was not a popular decision… I did it because I thought it was right and because I thought the human cost of inaction… would be greater for us and for the world in the longer term,” he said.

If Iraqi dictator Saddam had been allowed to remain in power in 2003 “he’d have once again threatened world peace,” Blair said, rejecting claims that the war itself increased the terror threat.

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“Saddam was himself a wellspring of terror,” he said.

“At least in Iraq, for all its challenges, we have today a government that is elected, is recognized as internationally legitimate,” he added.

Blair insisted he had acted in Britain’s “best interests”.

“The report should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit,” he said in a statement issued by his office.

“Whether people agree or disagree with my decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein, I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country.”

The inquiry was called under pressure from relatives, concerned about the justification for the war as well as poor military equipment, over which the Ministry of Defense was strongly criticized in the Chilcot report.

The families are not the only ones considering legal action against Blair — a cross-party group of MPs is also looking into the possibility, including of taking a case to the International Criminal Court.

The war, which at one point saw 46,000 British troops deployed, mostly in southern Iraq around the strategic oil hub of Basra, still looms large over British politics.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron said that all the MPs who voted for the war must “take our fair share of the responsibility.

“We cannot turn the clock back but can ensure that lessons are learned and acted on,” he said.

Cameron said new procedures to ensure “proper separation” between intelligence and the process for assessing has already been put in place.

“Taking the country to war should always be a last resort,” he said, adding however that “we should not conclude that intervention is always wrong”.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, the current head of Blair’s Labour party, said the war was “an act of military aggression launched on a false pretext” that “fuelled and spread terrorism across the region”.

More than 100 anti-war protesters gathered outside the conference center where the report was published, with many shouting: “Blair lied, thousands died” and “war criminal Tony Blair”.

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“Tony Blair and those who supported the war should be brought to a court of law and be prosecuted,” said John Loyd, a 70-year-old protester outside the venue where Chilcot spoke.

“If we call us a civilized country then people should be accountable for the results of what they did,” he added, holding up a sign saying: “Justice for Iraq. The Hague for Blair”.

“They prosecuted an illegal war and the result was the destruction of a country,” he added.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has said it will consider the report but has no investigation open. The legality of the war is outside its jurisdiction.

The war, which at one point saw 46,000 British troops deployed, mostly in southern Iraq around the strategic oil hub of Basra, still looms large over British politics.

Jeremy Corbyn, current leader of the party Blair once headed, Britain’s Labour party, is hoping to use the Chilcot report to see off a rebellion by his own MPs over what they see as his lacklustre campaigning against Britain leaving the EU.

The veteran socialist, who was only picked as leader last year, strongly opposed the war in Iraq, while many of his critics had supported it.