Today the Chilcot Report is expected to be published. It’s the official report into the involvement of the UK in the eight year long Iraq War that started in 2003, with UK troops leaving in 2011. In total 178 British troops, one MOD civilian and an estimated 100,000 Iraqis were killed during the conflict, it’s believed the cost to the UK was approximately £10bn.
What was the Iraq War?
The conflict is one of the most controversial in UK military history. As a coalition mission between the UK and the US, its aim was to, “disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Sadam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people”. Sadam Hussein was eventually captured and executed by hanging in 2006, it was another 5 years before UK troops left, staying on for peace keeping and military training.
The September 2002 dossier, which set out the case for war, was described by Major General Michael Laurie, who was the Director General of Intelligence Collection during the run up to the invasion of Iraq, as being, “to make a case for war, rather than setting out the available intelligence” when he spoke at the Iraq enquiry.
The House of Commons voted in favour of joining the US led coalition, although 217 MP’s voted against it, including 139 Labour MP’s who voted against their own government. Former Labour Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was one of several who resigned following the vote, unconvinced by the intelligence at the time. Many doubted Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction and whether it was capable of using them. Millions of people in Britain took part in protests against the war, fuelled by the fact the United Nations never authorised military action.
Why do we need the Chilcot report?
Questions of then Labour Prime Minster Tony Blair’s motives for joining a coalition with the US, the legality of the war, given that the UN refused to explicitly sanction military action against Iraq, and the credibility of the evidence that was used to support the decision to invade Iraq have long raged, the aim of the Chilcot Inquiry was to answer some of these questions.
It also looked at the preparedness of the UK troops in battle. Many of the families of the deceased have claimed troops killed in battle were under prepared and lacked the appropriate kit to protect them which led to deaths and horrific injuries for many others.
What’s taken so long?
Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced in 2009 that there would be a public enquiry into the war which was expected to take a year. However, the questioning of MP’s, including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, military commanders and diplomats was only concluded in 2011. The remainder of the delay has been caused by debate over which sensitive intelligence documents could be disclosed, including personal notes between former US President Bush and Tony Blair. The security services reviewed the report when it was finished to ensure no information that could breach national security had been included, but it is believed no information has been redacted from the report.
Sir John Chilcot who chaired the inquiry has said he would be apportioning blame where appropriate.
What’s the likely fallout?
There’s already been concern that prosecutors at the ICC, the International Criminal Court, will be examining the report for evidence of abuse and torture by British soldiers to prosecute them for war crimes but they will not be investigating Tony Blair, much to the anger of the families of the troops who died in the war. They blame him for sending their loved ones into a battle he engineered and that they were under prepared for. However, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC issued a statement on 4th July saying that it had, “not taken a position with respect to the Chilcot Report”. It further went on to say that it was conducting a preliminary examination of the situation in Iraq and the Chilcot report would form part of all materials “that could provide further context to allegations of war crimes by British troops in Iraq”.
With regard to the prosecution of Tony Blair, the ICC says it has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, but not over the crime of aggression, refuting, therefore, that they have the jurisdiction to prosecute him.
Politically, current Prime Minister David Cameron, who was an opposition back bencher at the time, voted in favour of the war. He will be expected to respond on behalf of the government.
The Labour Party will more than likely be thrown into deeper turmoil once the report is reviewed. Current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was a staunch opponent of the war. The extent to which any response he makes criticises Tony Blair, possibly even accusing him of war crimes, would do little to calm the current crisis.
Will it help?
This was one of the most contentious wars and political decisions in British history with a former British Prime Minister accused of misleading the House of Commons and war crimes. There have been accusations of cover ups and the fractures it caused within the Labour party are still not healed today.
Those whose loved ones died are still unconvinced by the justification for the war and the safety the government provided for troops. Many of the troops who have come back are still suffering severe post traumatic stress disorder and feel they’ve received little support from the military or government.
Many also feel the West’s intervention in the Middle East is what has led to the uprising of IS across the region, effectively creating a bigger problem than the one they went in to solve.
The report is likely to answer some questions, and apportion some blame, but it is unlikely to remove the long shadow the Iraq war has cast.
What do you think? Have your say in the comments below.