The Chilcot report into the 2003 Iraq war and how Britain was dragged into it has finally been published after a delay of seven years. It fell like a bombshell on the British political scene that was already reeling from the effects of the EU referendum.
The long delay in the publication of the report was mainly due to the dispute over which documents could be seen by the inquiry and which could be declassified. The truth is that politicians like Tony Blair did their best to sabotage the enquiry and delay its publication with all kinds of legalistic pretexts. In the end, however, it had to be published.
The report’s conclusions could not be more damning, however. It states that pre-war intelligence was misrepresented, that legal advice was ignored, that military strategies were impractical and that planning for the occupation was “wholly inadequate”. The report also casts doubt on Blair’s statement to Peter Goldsmith, the Attorney-General that Iraq was in breach of its UN obligations shortly before war began.
The report tells us what most people already knew: that Tony Blair was already firmly committed to an invasion of Iraq almost eight months before receiving parliamentary and legal backing. In a memo to President George Bush, Blair says: “I will be with you whatever.” This little detail reveals just how far Blair was a puppet of the White House. Bush wanted to overthrow Saddam, and Blair was fully committed to backing Bush. End of story.
The serious bourgeois have belatedly understood that the invasion of Iraq was an almighty blunder. But they are doing their best to cover the tracks and limit the damage that undoubtedly will be caused by this report. They tried to maintain that Blair’s decision was not a crime but only a “mistake”. But for the great majority of people in Britain it was a crime for which millions of people have had to pay the price.
The ruling class can sense the feeling of anger within a wide layer of the population on this issue. The great majority of the people of Britain were opposed to the war and demonstrated on the streets against it. But their opinions were ignored. Many British soldiers lost their lives and for what? The main victims, however, were the people of Iraq themselves.
Since the invasion, Iraq has been reduced to rubble and hundreds of thousands have been killed or maimed in the subsequent carnage. There is neither peace, nor stability in Iraq. That was shown by the latest bomb blast in Baghdad that killed 250 innocent people three days before the report was released.
The Chilcot report is a crushing verdict not only on Blair for his central role in the affair, but also on Britain’s political, military and intelligence establishments, all of which were heavily implicated in the debacle. Blair’s commitment to support Bush come what may, sealed the fate of Britain’s involvement. The Cabinet and Parliament were completely side-lined as Blair sheepishly trailed after George Bush.
“Military action at that time was not a last resort,” said Sir John Chilcot. In fact it was the biggest British foreign policy disaster since the Suez crisis in 1956. Furthermore, the direct cost of the conflict to Britain came to “at least £9.2bn”.
The author of the report, Sir John Chilcot has exposed the cynical way in which Blair deliberately rushed to push the British people into a war that nobody wanted. He also shows clearly that Blair deceived Parliament with mendacious reports to the effect that Iraq represented a real and present threat. The report states clearly that “in March 2003 there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein”.
Bush and Blair deliberately lied and invented information that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Blair described the intelligence on Iraq as “extensive, detailed and authoritative.” It was not. “Regime change alone could not be and was not our justification for war. Our primary purpose was to enforce UN resolutions over Iraq and WMDs”, he said. But there were no weapons of mass destruction.
Unsurprisingly, Sir David Omand, a former member of the JIC, told the Chilcot inquiry: “I think I have lost count of the number of occasions on which I have seen governments of all persuasions receive carefully calibrated, measured, ‘on the one hand . . . on the other’ advice from officials, and then gone the next day to the House of Commons and stated with complete certainty that the option they have chosen is, of course, fully backed by the facts and is the one that should be supported.”
The “dodgy dossier”, which was at the heart of Blair’s case for the Iraq war, claimed that Saddam had chemical weapons that could be deployed within 45 minutes. It claimed that Iraq was one or two years away from making a nuclear bomb. With the connivance of the intelligence services who issued misleading reports based on information that at best was flimsy and at worst downright false, Blair lied through his teeth from start to finish, repeating the blatant falsehoods that were issued by the Pentagon and the White House to prepare public opinion for a disastrous military adventure.
Despite all this, Chilcot studiously avoids accusing Blair of lying to Parliament. But the facts of the report tell a different story. As we have seen, he wrongly said in September 2002 that the intelligence picture of Iraq was “extensive, detailed and authoritative”. Instead, it blames the Joint Intelligence Committee, then chaired by Sir John Scarlett, for not making it clear to Blair that sources had not established beyond doubt that Saddam continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.
This has allowed Blair to wriggle out of direct blame for misleading the British public by saying the findings “should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit”. He went on: “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.”
Such arguments would not fool an unintelligent six-year-old. So Mr Blair believed that what he was doing was right. The same thing could be said of every villain in history. No doubt Adolf Hitler also sincerely believed that he was doing the right thing. Does that absolve him from the crimes he committed?
Saddam was certainly a tyrant and murderer. But when it suited the West, they supported him. He was their man in their fight with Iran. But then he got too big for his boots. Therefore, the invasion of Iraq was part of a plan to impose a regime change more in line with US interests. It had nothing whatsoever to do with humanitarian help or anything of that sort. In fact, Bush justified his actions with the legal argument that the US was entitled to “pre-emptive self-defence”, namely the right to invade any country that he “sincerely believed” to be in the national interest.
Blair’s Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, rejected this US right to impose “regime change”, but instead came up with an obscure point that UN Resolution 1441 might allow “all necessary means” to remove Saddam without the need for any further resolution from the UN Security Council. He was not confident that any court would agree, but no matter. The strong can do what they wish and the weak will suffer the consequences.
The experience shows how ruthless and cynical Tony Blair, the former foreign secretary Jack Straw, and the former heads of the intelligence services were in misrepresenting the facts. For them, the end justified the means. Lying was a necessary means to convince public opinion and Parliament of the justness of their cause to invade and overthrow the Saddam regime.
To this day the criminal Tony Blair persists in maintaining that the invasion was both necessary and correct. Even after this damning report has exposed the cruel reality, he has the brazen insolence to say that whereas under Saddam Hussein Iraq was in a hopeless condition, now it has a promising future.
Blair promised the people of Iraq democracy, peace and prosperity. But the people can see from experience that the invasion brought no improvement to the lives of ordinary Iraqis. On the contrary, Iraq is rapidly descending into barbarism. In fact, they are far worse off than that what they were at any time in their history.
Most of Iraq’s wealth has disappeared into the pockets of corrupt politicians who now rule a country torn apart by bloody sectarian tensions and political conflict. Last weekend, a massive bomb ripped through the Karrada district of Baghdad, killing more than 150 people, one of the deadliest to hit the capital for years. It was carried out by the Islamic State, which has put down strong roots in Iraq, another consequence of the 2003 western intervention. When Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi visited the scene of the Baghdad bombing, his convoy was pelted with stones, reflecting the deep anger many feel towards their government.
Life in Iraq has become a living hell, with death and destruction a part of daily existence. How different from the promise of peace and prosperity offered by George W Bush and Tony Blair, in order to justify their murderous adventure.
In a transparent attempt to cover his bare backside Blair says the report has raised “serious questions” and “lessons should be learned”. How often have we heard these smug phrases from the mouths of cynical politicians who wish to throw dust in our eyes? All this man wants is to shift the blame from himself and onto others.
But there is no getting away from it. Blair was the prime minister and he was responsible, together with the small coterie of supporters around him. Many of those supporters still remain in the Parliamentary Labour Party and are the main organisers of the attempted coup against Jeremy Corbyn. Their removal by deselection is the most urgent task facing the Labour movement today.
The Iraq war has always been a very weak link in the armour of the Blairites in the Labour Party. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader last year was – at least in part a reflection of the deep anger over the invasion of Iraq and its consequences. Corbyn, who consistently opposed the war, has correctly stated that the report shows the Iraq war was “an act of military aggression launched on a false pretext”. So it was.
But Corbyn’s attempt to tell the truth has aroused the fury of the Blairites in Parliament who are desperate to remove him as Leader. Their hatred for Corbyn turned into a blind rage as he exposed the treachery of Tony Blair and by implication the men and women sitting behind him on the Labour benches. This provoked one of the Blairite gangsters to take the unprecedented step of heckling his own leader in the Commons. In the middle of the Labour leader’s statement on the Chilcot report,, Labour MP Ian Austin, shouted: “Sit down and shut up. You’re a disgrace.”
This little incident reveals the poisonous atmosphere and hooligan tactics of the right-wing Labour MPs. An unbridgeable divide has opened up between the pro-war Blairites and Corbyn. And the gulf separating the Blairite gang in Westminster from Labour’s rank and file has become an absolute abyss. The real disgrace is the fact that a gang of right-wing careerists have hijacked the Parliamentary Labour Party and is acting in defiance of the express will of the Labour rank-and-file. This is what needs to be resolved, and the sooner the better.
How Cameron learns lessons
David Cameron has attempted to undermine the report in his usual cynical manner by saying – yes, you have guessed it – “lessons had already been learned”. But what lessons might that be? Does it mean that Britain will stop being a pet poodle for the White House that slavishly carries out orders from the Pentagon? Quite the contrary!
The lame-duck Prime Minister went out of his way to stress that Britain should not shy away from standing with the US, adding that we were still its most faithful and loyal allies (read: lackeys), nor would we shrink in the future from intervening abroad if that were in our interests (read: the interests of the bankers and capitalists).
“Britain has no greater friend in the world than America,” he added. “We should not conclude that intervention was always wrong.” This means that whatever the report says, we, the British establishment will do as we see fit and intervene where necessary. They already did this in Libya with disastrous effects and are now meddling in Iraq and Syria.
One feels entitled to ask precisely what lessons have been learned here? Cameron’s main fear – and that of the British ruling class – is that it will hinder the ability of British imperialism’ to go to war whenever it feels like it.
The Prime Minister went on to praise those courageous and reliable patriotic men and women of the British intelligence services whose ability is well known to all, as illustrated by the Chilcot report which appears to demonstrate that these ladies and gentlemen have difficulty in reading and writing, let alone doing efficient intelligence gathering.
Whatever the conclusions of the report, it will not allow the British establishment to shake off the bloody legacy of Iraq. Ever since then, the UK has been less ready to intervene alongside its major allies. Both Brown and Cameron were forced to grant Parliament a veto on military action.
In August 2013, the US and the UK stood ready to intervene in Syria, after stories had emerged that President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons on his own people. But the mission was aborted. Cameron became the first prime minister in more than two centuries to lose a vote on military action, and this placed a certain check on interventionism. Nevertheless, the British ruling class is still struggling to maintain its diminished world role. Defence spending, after falling, is set to rise once more and the UK is investing £6bn in two aircraft carriers that would allow it to carry out missions at a distance.
Iraq casts a long shadow over the British establishment’s desires to play a leading military role in world affairs. Blair’s gung-ho adventure has created a public backlash against foreign adventures and the consequences will be long lasting.
The decisions to intervene militarily in foreign countries are not taken for humanitarian reasons, but in the cold pursuit of power, profit and spheres of influence. Describing their escapades as “humanitarian” missions has always been a cover for imperialist intervention. In fact, any reason will be invented to justify their actions, and if one does not exist, they will make one up, as Blair did with the “dodgy dossier”.
Following in the footsteps of Tony Blair, Cameron persuaded Parliament to agree to intervene in Libya on “humanitarian grounds”, using airpower to help overthrow Gaddafi. This pushed that country also into chaos, presided over by mafia-type militia gangs and warlords. As a result, ISIS now also has a base in Libya, where they had nothing before. Obama later said Cameron had become “distracted” soon after the intervention. In other words, he had made a mess of things. And yet he has learned all the lessons!
From Iraq to Afghanistan
In the report British military strategy also has come in for some severe criticism. This is not criticism of war as such, but a criticism of the priorities they had and how they went about them. From 2003 to 2009, “the UK’s most consistent strategic objective in relation to Iraq was to reduce the level of its deployed forces”, the report found. In particular, generals wished to focus on Afghanistan where they saw a better chance of success.
“The UK spent time and energy on rewriting strategies, which tended to describe a desired end state without setting out how it would be reached,” the report says. Britain ended combat operations in 2009, leaving “a very long way from success”. In fact, it was an unmitigated disaster. They turned Iraq into rubble, and in the bargain spawning the menace of Islamic fundamentalism and ISIS. But they were not concerned with the consequences.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain took responsibility for particular areas — such as Basra and Helmand provinces. A large chunk of the report also deals with the disastrous attempts to keep the peace in southern Iraq. In early 2003, British forces boasted of their counter-insurgency experience and of how they, unlike the Americans, were able to wander around without helmets while maintaining security. Quickly, things went very wrong and the UK found itself in major combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Senior military figures were “completely a-strategic”, said Frank Ledwidge.
The report adds that by 2007, the rebel militia dominance in Basra, which British military commanders were unable to defeat, led to Britain exchanging detainee releases for an end to the targeting of its forces. “It was humiliating that the UK reached a position in which an agreement with a militia group which had been actively targeting UK forces was considered the best option available,” it says.
A botched attempt at whitewash
In many ways, as was to be expected, the Chilcot report let the establishment of the hook. That is why many relatives of dead soldiers have refused to read the report, saying in advance that it is a whitewash. They personally blame Tony Blair, who they say has blood on his hands for his actions.
After US troops entered Baghdad and Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown in March 2003, public opinion, already much opposed to the war before it began – as the two million people on the streets of London protesting against the war amply showed – changed as casualties mounted, pre-war evidence was discredited and photographs of tortured Iraqi prisoners were leaked.
One of those who lost their lives in Iraq was Bilal Dhafer’s 10-year old sister, who was killed by a US air strike, a victim of what has become known as “collateral damage”. Two years later, his father died when a bomb exploded outside his car-repair shop in Baghdad. The family’s future is now in ruins, along with the country, dashed by the violence and chaos left by the invasion. “Saddam Hussein should have been removed from power in the 1990s [during the first Gulf war], that’s what I was taught,” Dhafer says. “But now I think it would have been better if he had stayed. Anyone who joined the war in Iraq helped destroy us.”
The final report says there is no apparent basis for criminal prosecutions, allowing Blair, Straw and the others the embarrassment of appearing in the dock. They are to blame for this criminal fiasco, but they will not be prosecuted.
By all accounts, Blair was committed to backing the invasion as early as April 2002, long before any legal, public and parliamentary support. Thus the “attempts” to obtain a UN Security Council resolution backing military action was a complete charade. The truth of the matter is still being withheld from public scrutiny. While the inquiry has published some of Tony Blair’s memos to George W Bush, it does not furnish Bush’s replies, which have been kept firmly under wraps.
The earlier Butler Review in 2004 had white-washed the role of officials and politicians, implying they had acted in good faith. In particular, it backed Sir John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and supported his promotion to become head of MI6. The Butler Review, of which Sir John was a member, cloaked its criticism in opaque language and focused on institutional problems. The establishment was simply covering for the establishment. But everyone knew the war had been a disaster. The Chilcot inquiry was an attempt to contain this impression. But few will be fooled by this.
As a result of the invasion of Iraq, the country has been reduced to ruins. Electricity is supplied only a few hours a day. Most of the population is destitute. Iraq is threatened with disintegration. To add to all the other horrors there is the spread of ISIS and the Jihadi madness, which never existed in Iraq before the invasion. It was the meddling of the imperialist powers in the region which has produced all these horrors.
Nothing fundamental will change as a result of the Chilcot report. Although it provides much useful information, it is fundamentally an attempt at a whitewash. The intention is to bury the whole affair and move on in the hope that people will forget. But people will not forget so easily.
In the end Chilcot could not avoid mentioning the whole series of scandalous actions, lies, manoeuvres, and a wholesale disregard for democratic procedure that will have far-reaching repercussions once all this sinks into the popular consciousness.
Blair may not be put on trial for war crimes, but whatever was left of his reputation has been torn to shreds. He will enter the history books as the prototype of a lying, cynical, duplicitous politician. However, every cloud has a silver lining – and sometimes even a gold one. Blair is now a very rich man, having made millions touring the globe and rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful. He is accompanied by a squad of police bodyguards, flying on private jets and staying in five-star hotels. What is a little bad publicity compared to this?
Despite his well-known aversion to dictatorship, Tony is a well-paid “adviser” to a whole number of unsavoury regimes, such as Saudi Arabia and to Nursultan Nazarbayev, the autocratic president of Kazakhstan. If Saddam had not fallen out with the Americans, he would no doubt be advising him too.
At the end of the day this is not about just one individual – despicable as he may be – but about the whole rotten system that he represents. Foreign policy is the continuation of home policy. Blair’s anti-working class policies abroad were simply a continuation of his pro-market, pro-privatisation policies at home. Labour’s right-wing Blairite tendency merely represents one wing of the ruling class and faithfully carries out policies in the interests of that class at home and abroad. There can be no place for such people in the Labour movement.
This catalogue of crimes of the ruling class and its right-wing Labour stooges add up to a crushing condemnation of a system that is sick, with all its corruption scandals, economic crises and draconian austerity. All this will lead to a growing consciousness that what is required is an end to dictatorship of the banks and monopolies and the reconstruction of society from top to bottom.
London 6th July, 2016