The Chilcot Report is not even published – release date: 6th July 2016 – and already the speculators and the spin doctors are out in force.
The latest reports claim that the Chilcot Report is not accusing the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair of war crimes⁽¹⁾. Blair has already launched himself onto the publicity trail with pre-emptive apologies⁽²⁾ and forewarnings of the Middle Eastern crisis⁽³⁾, shifting the public mind-set in his favour and advancing a defence against criticisms of his administration⁴⁾.
Thus let us be clear as to the purpose of the Chilcot Report:
The Chilcot “Iraq Inquiry” is not a court of law, nor claims to be so⁽⁵⁾: it does not have the power to adjudicate over any criminal or civil offences. Rather, the Iraq Inquiry is a fact finding exercise intended to establish who did what, when, where, and why⁽⁶⁾.
The key question: What lessons have we learned?
The Iraq Inquiry is not charged with assessing criminal responsibility; this is a question for another day and will be based – in part – upon the findings of the Chilcot Report. Chilcot has been careful to not pass judgment against senior ministers, and rightly so. The accusing of any administration of war crimes⁽⁷⁾ is grave indeed and with grave consequences, not only for the individual ministers concerned, but for the Nation as a whole. As was the case in the Third Reich, responsibility for war crimes does not fall merely on the key antagonists; long shadows are also cast upon those who stood by and did nothing⁽⁸⁾.
The Chilcot Report promises to be a damning indictment of the UK’s actions in Iraq, the contents of which are as RELEVANT TODAY as they were then.
As Britain considers yet further military actions in the Middle East, and as Tony Blair continues to forward the need for ground troop action against ISIS⁽⁹⁾ – a faction whose very existence as a leading global threat is one of the many direct consequences of the decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq⁽¹º⁾:
It is imperative that we, as a nation, use the Chilcot Report for its proper purpose: a well-timed pause for thought about the way we, as a nation, conduct ourselves on the international stage.
The aftermath of the Iraq war has witnessed the violent deaths – let alone the injury – of 242,000 people, of whom in excess of 150, 000 were civilians⁽¹¹⁾ – and counting … ⁽¹²⁾. Some sources estimate the death toll of civilian and combatants to be in excess of 500,000⁽¹³⁾. This is aside from: the irreparable damage to Iraq’s civilian infrastructures; the fracturing of the Iraqi nation into opposing forces, and through which lacuna, ISIS established its foothold; and significantly, the loss of international confidence in both the UK and the USA, and the disengagement of key players in the Middle East peace processes⁽¹⁴⁾.
The Iraq war raised a number of controversial issues. The focus of the Chilcot Report lies in the domestic arena. But the international implications of the Report are equally significant.
We should recall that at the time, the legality of the war in Iraq was of grave concern. Further, that for all the Treaties and Conventions in existence, ultimately, International Law exists because the signatory states choose it to be so, built upon trust and good faith. Such agreements allow us a measure of peace and certainty in an uncertain world: the knowledge that our neighbours will not come calling in the night; that they will stand by us in our darkest hours. If such agreements were to crumble through the failure of one or more nations to ‘play by the rules’ – then we revert to a world in which it is every man for himself.
It is imperative that the world’s leading nations not only abide by, but are seen to abide by accepted Rules of War, particularly so in these times of growing global insecurity and potential conflict. Whether in response to economic crises, or the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction [WMD] – and to include our own pursuit of nuclear weapons contrary to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty⁽¹⁵⁾ – in addition to the threats of both global terrorist organisations, such as ISIS and impending environmental disasters affecting global resources.
Resolution will ultimately depend – not upon individual nations taking unilateral
action whether with ground troops or threats of WMD – but rather upon a global
cooperation. No such cooperation is possible if we do not trust one another to
‘play by the rules’.
In a letter to Mr Blair on 30 July 2002, marked “Secret and Strictly personal – UK Eyes only”, Lord Goldsmith, the then Attorney General stated⁽¹⁶⁾:
“In the absence of a fresh resolution by the Security Council which would at least involve a new determination of a material and flagrant breach [by Iraq] military action would be unlawful. Even if there were such a resolution, but one which did not explicitly authorise the use of force, it would remain highly debatable whether it legitimised military action – but without it the position is, in my view, clear …
“The development of WMD is not in itself sufficient to indicate such imminence. On the basis of the material which I have been shown … there would not be any grounds for regarding an Iraqi use of WMD as imminent.”
International Law is clear⁽¹⁷⁾: War is only acceptable on the grounds of “Just Cause”:
- Self-defence: invasion; assassination of a prominent person; attack on national honour; attack on state religion; economic attack; attack on a neighbour or ally.
- Assisting an Invaded Friendly nation.
- Human Rights Violations
- To punish an act of aggression (not universally accepted as a Just Cause)
The “pre-emptive strike” – attacking an enemy in anticipation of their attack upon you – is NOT accepted as Just Cause by UN members. Rather, short of actual attack, “all Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means” (Article 2:3).
Tony Blair is now keen to distance himself from his motivations for war with Iraq. He claims that he himself had been misled by the Intelligence on WMD, and the imminence of the threat. Asked by Andrew Marr if he would accept Chilcot’s conclusions, Tony Blair stated⁽¹⁸⁾:
“It is hard to say that when I haven’t seen it. But I think when you go back and you look at what was said [at the time, 2003], I don’t think anyone can seriously dispute that I was making it very clear what my position was.”
I recall much outcry in response to the lack of hard evidence of WMD, both within Parliament, and without. I recall that on 15 February 2003, there were protests in 600 cities across the world, and covering all 7 continents. In the UK alone, in excess of 1 million people took to the streets of London in the “Stop the War Coalition” protest, the largest protest in British history. I recall the then “Dodgy Dossier”, the validity of which was questioned even at the time.
Yet the Blair administration blundered on.
The Blair administration considered a variety of grounds in its pursuit of War against Iraq, the most obvious being Human Rights which at that time, remained a grey area. However, the anticipation of attack – a pre-emptive strike – did not, and does not fall within the remit. Likewise, regime change has long been accepted as not a Just Cause.
Were it to be so, then we will be placing ourselves at risk of a ‘regime change’ attack by any nation who disagrees with our politics, or from those who view the fact of our having WMD, namely Trident, as being excuse enough to take unilateral, military action against us.
In short, Britain must practice that which it preaches, or face global isolation.
This practice must include recognition of past mistakes and of wrongdoing.
The Chilcot Report is likely to confirm that the UK’s interference in Iraq was an unmitigated disaster with grave consequences both for the people of Iraq, and for global security⁽¹⁸⁾.
In his comments to Andrew Marr, Tony Blair commented that in response to the Chilcot Report, 6th July 2016, he would be taking to the airwaves to defend himself. He stated⁽¹⁹⁾:
“The thing that will be important when it does happen is that we have then a full debate, and I look forward to participating in that. Make no mistake about that. It is really important we do debate these issues.”
No, Mr. Blair, this is not a time for “debate”.
Rather, this is a time for sombre reflection, and for accountability.
This is a time for Britain as a whole to learn from its mistakes.
Source & References:
⁽⁷⁾Rule 156. Definition of War Crimes, International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC]
⁽⁸⁾E.g. “Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, will also face criticism for failing to prevent Downing Street from putting “gloss” on intelligence …”, 22 May 2016; The Chilcot report shouldn’t be used to pin the blame ⁽⁹⁾Tony Blair: west must be ready to deploy ground troops against Isis, 24 May 2016
⁽¹º⁾Tony Blair Apologises For Iraq War ‘Mistakes’, Concedes Invasion Played Part In Rise Of Islamic State, 25 October 2015; Tony Blair Bears ‘Total Responsibility’ For Isis, Says Academic Who Advised Him On Iraq, 17 June 2014
⁽¹¹⁾The Iraq [Post War] Body Count, updated 19 March 2016
⁽¹²⁾The Iraq War Body Count, May 2016
⁽¹³⁾Iraq study estimates war-related deaths at 461, 000, BBC 16 October 2013; Casualties of the Iraq War, Wiki
⁽¹⁴⁾Egypt Stages Walkout Over Failure to Convene Mideast WMD Summit, 30 April 2013
⁽¹⁵⁾Does the Rest of the World Need the UK to Give Up Trident, April 2016
for Iraq on one man, 11 May 2016
⁽¹⁸⁾E.g. Iraq inquiry reveals chaos that led Britain to war, 23 December 2009; The Aftermath of the Iraq War Revisited, The Gatestone Institute, 28 February 2011; Chilcot report: Tony Blair set to be savaged in ‘absolutely brutal’ Iraq war inquiry verdict, 22 May 2016; Most British people say they ‘will never forgive’ Tony Blair, 26 May 2016
Tony Blair, Photo Credit: The Guardian
Protesters in Hyde Park, London 2003. Photo Credit: The Huffington Post
American soldier carries wounded Iraqi child, 2007. Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. James F. Cline II