The Chilcot Report and Blair’s Iraq War: In Context
The report of the Inquiry into the invasion of Iraq was presented by Sir John Chilcot on 6th July. The long-awaited Chilcot report outlines the Inquiry’s findings into the legality of the war. It also investigates key aspects of intelligence and military planning. The role of the then prime minister, Tony Blair, is also investigated.
In 2003, US, British and Australian troops launched Operation Iraqi Freedom. Lasting from 20th March to 1st May, the operation was intended
to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people. (George W Bush).
The war was a matter of much political debate in the build up to the attack; as it progressed and remains so to this day. The US and British led coalition had failed to get the full support of the UN Security Council. Many other nations were stating, at the time, that the intelligence simply was not sufficient to warrant invasion.
Even public opinion seemed to be against the invasion. Opinion polls suggested that whilst military action was approved of by the American public, they wanted the President to pursue diplomatic courses first.
The war itself was relatively quick. It featured ‘Shock and Awe’ tactics that involved massive airstrikes on key sites. The opening shots of the war included a series of cruise missiles being fired into the presidential palace compound.
The allied advance through Iraq utilised special forces to capture key positions. Air strikes made Iraqi resistance and organisation disjointed. Heavily armoured brigades led the allied assaults. In the south, British forces took and held Basra. In the north, US forces engaged Iraqi Republican guards as they advanced on and into Baghdad. Fighting in Baghdad ended on 12th April.
The claims that Saddam’s regime had Weapons of Mass Destruction were one main source of controversy at the time. The Chilcot report makes it quite clear that there was no tangible evidence of these weapons being in place.
Another source of major criticism of the Bush and Blair administrations is their failure to plan for post-war Iraq. Within days of the allied invasion ending, Iraq seemed doomed to a period of civil war. Years of pent up frustrations, old feuds and tribal rivalries boiled to the surface. The allies seemed ill-prepared for this. These had become violent even before George W Bush declared the Iraqi war officially over on 1st May.
To place the Iraqi conflict into its modern day context is not difficult. The outcome was predicted by some leading experts and politicians at the time, though they were not in the majority at that time. In the UK, former Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook spoke out in parliament against the potential invasion:
As telling was the assessment of Brent Scrowcroft. Scrowcroft had been a senior security advisor to President Bush. Writing in the Wall Street Journal he stated:
Don’t attack Saddam. Possibly the most dire consequences would be the effect in the region … there would be an explosion of outrage against us … the results could well destabilize Arab regimes and could even swell the ranks of the terrorists.
Others warned that the invasion was actually allowing the main target, Al-Qaeda, to build its strength.
It is perhaps easy to point at statements such as these and say ‘told you so’, but the evidence does seem rather damning.
The war in Iraq led to the destabilisation of the nation and region. Insurgency and extremism prospered within the borders of Iraq. This in turn led to supporters of radical or extremist groups moving into the region. Thirteen years later and we have seen the ‘Arab Spring’ across the region. The rise of the Islamic State group can be traced to the Iraqi conflict.
Today the aftermath is still being felt in Syria. There is still instability in large parts of the Arab world as a consequence, contributing to the current migration issues in Europe.