The Iraq Inquiry Report (2009-2016) documents how Tony Blair committed Great Britain to war early in 2002, lying to the United Nations, to Parliament, and to the British people, in order to follow George Bush, who had planned an aggression on Iraq well before September 2001.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard conspired with both reckless adventurers, purported ‘to advise’ both buccaneers, sent troops to Iraq before the war started, then lied to Parliament and to the Australian people. He continues to do so.
Should he and his cabal be charged with war crimes? This, and more, is investigated by Dr George Venturini in this outstanding series.
The Iraq Inquiry (continued)
Philippe Sands, QC, a distinguished professor of laws and Director of the Centre on International Courts and Tribunals at the University College London, who had contributed upon request to the Inquiry and was present outside the Queen Elizabeth II Centre where Sir John was speaking, could not help but notice that “By the time [Sir John] had finished his 25-minute speech, the mood in and around the centre had changed: contrary to most expectations, the inquiry had delivered a report of devastating clarity.” Professor Sands is worth reproducing extensively. He remarked on the words used by Sir John at the opening of the statement: judgements on weapons of mass destruction had been “Not justified”, planning and preparations for post-war Iraq had been “wholly inadequate”, the government had “failed to achieve its stated objectives.”
And he continued: “Chilcot then turned to the timeline, the attacks of 11 September 2001 and the move by the US and the UK to a policy of regime change. In April 2002, at a meeting at George W. Bush’s ranch in Texas, Tony Blair ‘sought a partnership’ with Bush and argued for ‘an ultimatum calling on Iraq to permit the return of weapon inspectors or face the consequences’. In July Blair told the president: ‘I will be with you, whatever.’ In September he and the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, persuaded Bush to ‘take the issue of Iraq back to the UN’, and in November the Security Council adopted Resolution 1441, which gave Iraq a final opportunity to disarm or face ‘serious consequences’: further breaches would be reported to the Security Council ‘for assessment’. In December Bush concluded that since UN weapons inspections ‘would not achieve the desired result’, the US would ‘take military action in early 2003’. In January 2003 Blair concluded that war was likely, and ‘accepted the US timetable for military action by mid-March’. Bush agreed to seek a further Security Council resolution that would explicitly authorise war. By 12 March it was clear that there would be no second resolution: most Security Council members were not convinced that all peaceful options had been exhausted. The bombing began a week later, on 20 March.
Blair’s government struggled to deliver on the prime minister’s promised support. The inquiry found a litany of failings. On Iraq’s WMD capabilities, judgments were made ‘with a certainty that was not justified’. The intelligence did not establish ‘beyond doubt’ that Iraq was producing chemical or biological weapons. Iraq did not have the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon, and had not deployed long-range missiles. UK policy was based on ‘flawed intelligence and assessments’ which ‘should have been’ challenged but weren’t. Military planning was settled too late and preparation was inadequate, with ‘equipment shortfalls’ and risks ‘neither properly identified nor fully exposed to ministers’. Remarkably, the cabinet never discussed the military options or their implications. Contrary to Blair’s claim, post-invasion difficulties could have been anticipated, and the risk of internal strife, Iranian involvement and al-Qaida activity ‘were each explicitly identified before the invasion’. Although aware of the inadequacy of US planning, ministers couldn’t influence it. There was no ‘clear ministerial oversight of UK planning and preparation’, and no proper plan for postwar administration, security and reconstruction. Whitehall departments failed, ministers failed; there was no ‘collective ministerial discussion’. Delays in equipment supplies by the Ministry of Defence were intolerable. The army, lacking sufficient resources, cut a deal with a militia group which had been actively targeting its forces: a ‘humiliating’ position. The war ended ‘a very long way from success’, Chilcot concludes. The intervention ‘went badly wrong’, with consequences that are continuing still. It was not ‘calculated, debated and challenged with the utmost rigour’, and decisions taken were not ‘implemented fully’.
Chilcot didn’t mention a single positive outcome. When he finished speaking at the Queen Elizabeth Centre, the audience was stunned. Judging by his appearance when he gave a press conference a few hours later, so too was Blair. Chilcot portrayed the Iraq War as a total failure of government.  British troops had been killed and many more were injured; 150,000 Iraqis had been killed ‘and probably many more – most of them civilians’; and more than a million people had been displaced. Lives were ruined; Islamic State has emerged in the aftermath, and Britain has been diminished.
The report spreads the responsibility far and wide, covering politicians, civil servants, the military and lawyers. Yet, devastating as it is, the report does pull some punches. There is no allegation, explicitly at least, of lying, deceit or manipulation, even if the facts as presented make possible the inference.
The report’s treatment of the legality of the war – though it’s worth remembering that a lawful war is not necessarily right – and the steps that were taken in an attempt to find a legal justification, offers an opportunity to explore the inquiry’s self-restraint. In his introductory words Chilcot explains that the inquiry ‘has not expressed a view on whether military action was legal’. With no lawyer among its members, and no legal counsel to assist it, the inquiry chose to sidestep this delicate matter, claiming it was best ‘resolved by a properly constituted and internationally recognised court’ (a parallel inquiry in the Netherlands, the Davids Commission, which reported in January 2010, concluded that the war had no basis in international law). Even so, Chilcot devotes much of his opening statement to matters of legality. Distinguishing between substance and process, the inquiry concludes that ‘the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory.’ ‘Far from satisfactory’ is a career-ending phrase in mandarin-speak, a large boot put in with considerable force. As late as January 2003, Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, told Blair that lawful war required a further Security Council resolution, before later changing his mind – his written advice of 7 March found a second resolution ‘preferable’ (rather than indispensable) – and then changing it again, offering a final view on 17 March: since Iraq was in ‘material breach’ of the existing Security Council resolutions, ‘the authority to use force under Resolution 678 was, “as a result”, revived.’ Taking the documents of 7 and 17 March together, Chilcot notes that, on the legal view finally adopted, war would be lawful only if there was evidence that Iraq had committed ‘further material breaches as specified in Resolution 1441’.
He homes in on a key question: on what basis did Blair take the decision that Iraq was in further material breach? ‘Not clear’, Chilcot answers, somewhat generously, since the evidence before the inquiry showed that Blair consulted no one but himself – not the UN weapons inspectors, not the Joint Intelligence Committee, not anyone. Playing God and weapons inspector, Blair simply made up his mind that Iraq was in material breach. ‘Given the gravity of the decision,’ Chilcot adds, ‘Lord Goldsmith should have been asked to provide written advice explaining how, in the absence of a majority in the Security Council, Mr Blair could take that decision.’ Actually, Goldsmith should have told Blair that this was not a decision he could take himself, not without expert advice. The question of material breach ‘should have been considered by a cabinet committee’, Chilcot says, ‘and then discussed by cabinet itself’. It was not.
Tomorrow: The Iraq Inquiry (continued)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini – ‘George’ devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975, invited by Attorney-General Lionel Keith Murphy, Q.C., he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra – to serve the Whitlam Government. In time he witnessed the administration of a law of prohibition as a law of abuse, and documented it in Malpractice, antitrust as an Australian poshlost (Sydney 1980). He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.