Chilcot Inquiry slams UK's preperations for Iraq invasion
The official inquiry into the UK's role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq released its long-awaited findings on Wednesday, more than seven years after hearings began and 13 years from the start of the war.
Retired civil servant John Chilcot published a 2.6-million-word report on a divisive conflict that - by the time British combat forces left in 2009 - had killed 179 British troops, almost 4,500 American personnel and more than 100,000 Iraqis.
Among the findings was that the UK went along with US war plans and failed to pursue efforts to find a peaceful settlement to Iraq's refusal to admit UN weapons inspectors to suspected chemical weapons' sites.
"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 report said.
"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".
The report also slammed UK intelligence into bogus reports that Iraq could launch a chemical attack within 45 minutes and its alleged weapons programme in general.
"It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been.
"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."
Disarmed and dismembered
Although the war was supposed to disarm Iraq of its alleged chemical weapons, none were found.
Following the 2003 invasion, Iraq descended into sectarian strife after the occupiers dismantled Saddam Hussein's government and military apparatus. The chaos helped give rise to the Islamic State group, through it's predecessor al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The war has overshadowed the legacy of UK's then-leader, Prime Minister Tony Blair, who - along with former US President George Bush - took a leading role in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
The Labour government has been accused of exaggerating intelligence about Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction in order to build support for invasion, which had catastrophic results for Iraqis.
In an interview with CNN last October, Blair apologised that the pre-war intelligence had been wrong and for mistakes in planning, but not for getting rid of Saddam.
He also accepted the war had played a role in the rise of Islamic State group, but it was far from the only factor.
"I've said many times over these past years, I'll wait for the report and then I will make my views known and express myself fully and properly," Blair told Sky News on Sunday.
Senior politicians, diplomats, intelligence officials and military officers are prepared for criticism over the invasion and its aftermath.
Chilcot said on Tuesday that he'd "made very clear right at the start of the inquiry that if we came across decisions or behavior which deserved criticism then we wouldn't shy away from making it".
"And indeed, there have been more than a few instances where we are bound to do that," he said.
|I've said many times over these past years, I'll wait for the report and then I will make my views known and express myself fully and properly.
- Former Prime Minister Tony Blair
Chilcot's inquiry held public hearings between 2009 and 2011, taking evidence from more than 150 witnesses and analysing 150,000 documents.
Its report has been repeatedly delayed, in part by wrangling over the inclusion of classified material, including conversations between Blair and former US President George W. Bush. Some of Blair's pre-war letters to the president are expected to be published by Chilcot.
Anti-war activists and relatives of some dead British troops hope the report will find the conflict illegal, opening the way for Blair to be prosecuted for war crimes.
"That man has been the puppet master, and it's about time that we came along and we cut his strings," said Sarah O'Connor, whose brother, Sgt. Bob O'Connor, died in a plane crash in Iraq in 2005.
Chilcot has stressed that his inquiry is not a court of law, and the International Criminal Court has said that the "decision by the UK to go to war in Iraq falls outside the court's jurisdiction".
In addition, Chilcot said he wanted the report to be "a really reliable account of all that happened that really matters" over Iraq, with lessons for the future.
Peter Brierley, whose son Lance Cpl. Shaun Brierley was killed in 2003, said he hoped the report "comes somewhere close to what I expect, which is to say that Tony Blair did go to war illegally".
"Scrape away the whitewash and I feel the truth will be actually there," he said.