Responding to the Chilcot Report on the Iraq War

UK troops in action in Iraq

It had been a long time coming, and the Parliamentarians in both Lords and Commons had complained about the time taken by Sir John Chilcot to produce his report on the decision to go to war in Iraq. When it did arrive, seven years after he started work, his two million word verdict provoked cross-party soul-searching and recrimination.

Sir John concluded that the UK went to war before the peace process was exhausted, that the intelligence on which the decision was based was flawed and that the planning for the aftermath was inadequate. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, responded with a Commons statement – he began by addressing the families of the 179 British servicemen and women and 23 British civilians who died in the conflict. ‘In their grief and anger, I hope they can draw at least some solace from the depth and rigour of this report and, above all, some comfort from knowing that we will never forget the incredible service and sacrifice of their sons, daughters, husbands and wives.’

He turned to the keystone of the argument for war in 2003. ‘Central to the Government’s case was the issue of weapons of mass destruction. Sir John finds that there was an “ingrained belief” genuinely held in both the UK and US Governments that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological capabilities.’ The evidence for that belief, he found, was not properly examined.

Mr Cameron voted for military action as a Conservative backbencher, in 2003. He said lessons needed to be learned – and the first was that ‘taking the country to war should always be a last resort and should only be done if all credible alternatives have been exhausted’. He then added that the British people should not, in future, recoil from any military intervention. ‘There are unquestionably times when it is right to intervene, as this country did successfully in Sierra Leone and Kosovo… there have been times in the recent past when we should have intervened but did not, such as in failing to prevent the genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica.’

The Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who voted against military action in 2003, was heckled by some of his MPs when he condemned the invasion. ‘Frankly, it was an act of military aggression launched on a false pretext, as the inquiry accepts, and has long been regarded as illegal by the overwhelming weight of international legal opinion. It led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of millions of refugees… By any measure, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have been, for many, a catastrophe.’

In what many took to be a veiled reference to Tony Blair he added. ‘We now know that the House was misled in the run-up to the war and the House must now decide how to deal with it 13 years later.’

The Chilcot inquiry published more than 200 memos from Tony Blair to President George Bush. The Leader of the SNP at Westminster, Angus Robertson, pointed to one which he thought was particularly telling. ‘On 28 July 2002, Tony Blair wrote to President Bush saying I will be with you, whatever.’

His point about the real reason for the invasion was picked up by the senior Conservative, David Davis. ‘The aim was regime change, not WMDs. That fact, and the fact that, as Sir John Chilcot says, Blair’s commitment made it very difficult for the UK to withdraw support for military action, amount to a deception and a misleading of this House of Commons. It is not the only one. Sir John has been very careful about avoiding accusing the former Prime Minister of lying to the House but a lot of the evidence suggests that he did. What action can this House take to deal with that?’