Iraq has been one constant in British politics for the last decade. Never has a foreign military adventure caused so much outrage as did the decision to involve British troops in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Iraq war has come to define the legacy of Tony Blair, one of the most successful of Labour prime ministers.
The circumstances which led to the fatal decision to lend voice and troops to the US war on Iraq has been a sore point with the public and politicians ever since. No wonder the Iraq war has been the subject of Butler and Hutton inquiries. Both the inquires, though limited in scope, did manage to shed some light on the decision-making process that led Britain to commit to the US plans of a regime change in Iraq.
Both inquiries, useful in their exposition of the circumstances, stopped short of holding Blair responsible for the fiasco which Iraq became later on. The most recent inquiry in the series is the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry.
The Inquiry, at 2.7 million words and 12 volumes, is the most comprehensive analysis and critique of the path to the British involvement in Iraq. When I recall the run-up to the war, there was a clear sense among the critics, which ran into millions, that the case for going into Iraq was weak and it was being deliberately sexed up.
The dossier that formed the basis of going to war in Iraq attracted duly appropriate epithets, such as dodgy dossier. Allied to this was the sense that British were rushing into war which could well be delayed, thus giving the UN inspectors chance to complete their task.
The parliamentary vote in the House of Commons was one of the most controversial in British history and remains so today. Though Tony Blair won the vote with the opposition Conservative Party’s support, 140 members of the parliamentary Labour Party, along with some Conservative MPs, Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats voted against the military action in Iraq.
Of all speeches made in the House of Commons during the Iraq debate, the resignation speech of Robin Cook, a cabinet minister at the time, stands out for its clarity and clinical decimation of the case for war.
The Chilcot Inquiry confirms what Robin Cook said in his speech, and what a large bulk of the public felt at the time. The report concludes that there was an unnecessary rush to the war, before all peace options could be explored. This haste grew from Blair’s prior commitment to join the war effort according to the US timetable. The report finds that Tony Blair’s commitment to stand by Bush in all circumstances left little room for giving peace negotiation a chance. Even at the time of the historic vote there was a wide sense that the British move was being engineered to toe the US objectives in Iraq.
The report also alludes to the fact that Tony Blair exaggerated extent of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. This finding provides backing for dodgy dossier and presentation of flawed evidence. There were also concerns that intelligence reports are being sexed up to build up case for the war.
Even after the war, defense experts had cast doubt on the quality of evidence which formed the basis for the war. Dr David Kelly, the government scientist, was the first one to air his doubts publically. This led to untold pressure on him that might have tipped him into suicide.
The report also makes it plain that Saddam posed no major threat, that intelligence was flawed and went unchallenged, that the UK did not achieve its objective, that the military suffered from lack of equipment and there was no post-invasion strategy in place. This is as damning as a British inquiry can get within the limits of officials. The report roundly rubbishes Blair’s justification for the war and comes very close to portraying him as devious, without saying it in as many words. But the chain of events assembled by the report adds to the impression that people and parliament might have been deliberately misled.
The Chilcot Inquiry is the most detailed account of decision-making process that led to the fatal intervention in Iraq. There is a consensus that Tony Blair lied to the parliament and the people. There are already suggestions of bringing war crimes and parliamentary impeachment proceedings against him.
The International Court of Justice has already washed its hand of the possibility of trying Tony Blair on the charges of war, yet a cross-party parliamentary censure motion is in work. Prepared by Alex Salmond, the leader of the SNP, and David Davis, ex conservative minister, the motion is most likely to be taken up for debate and a parliamentary vote.
In the event of the motion being passed, Tony Blair may be stripped of his life-long membership of the Privacy Council and will be brought before the parliament to answer the charge of misleading the house over the Iraq war.
At the other end of the spectrum, families of the soldiers killed in Iraq are mulling over initiating lawsuits against Tony Blair.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has already apologised to the families and added his voice to calls for bringing Tony Blair and his associates to justice.
In another significant development, the ex-deputy prime minister under Blair, John Prescott, has termed the Iraq war as illegal.
Although Chilcot Inquiry did not delve deep into the issue of legality, the report clearly points to insufficient consultation between Prime Minister Tony Blair and his cabinet on the legal advice sanctioning military action in Iraq. The legal opinion of Lord Goldsmith, Attorney General under Tony Blair, was contradictory. His revised second opinion, giving a legal cover to the military action in Iraq, was not shared fully with the cabinet despite cabinet members’ insistence on seeing it, according to Clare Short, ex-secretary of state for international development, at the time.
With the Chilcot Inquiry clearing the fog hanging over the Iraq war, Tony Blair’s epitaph is permanently engraved in infamy as one of the newspaper headlined.