Almost every aspect of the Tony Blair government’s actions and decisions related to the 2003 Iraq war came in for trenchant criticism from an independent inquiry, whose 2.6-million-word report compiled after seven years of forensic examination was published on Wednesday.
The report said military action in 2003 against Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein’s regime was not the last resort and that all peaceful options had not been exhausted. It further said Hussein posed “no imminent threat” at the time and the consequences of the invasion of Iraq were “under-estimated”.
It said Blair and his government led Britain into war based on flawed intelligence that should have been challenged, and that London failed to achieve its objectives in Iraq. Blair also “overestimated” his ability to influence the US, it added.
Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 and 2007, is likely to face impeachment in parliament and possible legal action by relatives of 179 British soldiers who died in the Iraq war. One family member of a slain soldier called Blair the “world’s biggest terrorist”.
Critics said the report was too late in coming and only confirmed what was already known, but its level of criticism based on the examination of thousands of documents from 2001 to 2009 was noted by those who earlier alleged the inquiry was an “establishment stitch-up”.
Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat from Hussein, the report said, adding the stated basis for going to war was flawed. It cited instances to justify the conclusion and added there was poor planning to deal with the post-invasion situation.
“It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been,” John Chilcot, chairman of the inquiry, said in a statement before the report’s release.
“In the House of Commons on September 24, 2002, Mr Blair presented Iraq’s past, current and future capabilities as evidence of the severity of the potential threat from Iraq’s WMD (weapons of mass destruction). He said that, at some point in the future, that threat would become a reality,” he said.
Chilcot added: “The judgments about Iraq’s capabilities in that statement, and in the dossier published the same day, were presented with a certainty that was not justified.”
Blair later said he would take full responsibility for any mistakes over British involvement in the 2003 US-led invasion in Iraq. Blair highlighted there was no “falsification of intelligence,” though the inquiry found the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons “were presented with a certainty that was not justified.”
Blair repeated his contention that it was “better to remove Saddam Hussein” than allow the Iraqi leader to stay in power. “I do not believe this (Saddam’s removal) is the cause of the terrorism we see today whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world,” he said.
Relatives of the 179 British soldiers who died in Iraq went on television, hoping for justice, while hundreds of anti-war activists congregated outside the Queen Elizabeth II Centre where the report was released, and outside Blair’s residence.
The five-member inquiry committee included Indian-origin Usha Prashar, a member of the House of Lords.
Blair, who has defended his Iraq-related actions, was scheduled to react to the report later on Wednesday, besides leading lights of the time such as former foreign secretary Jack Straw.
Opponents of Blair’s decision to join the war will pore over the report for its judgment on how the Labour leader, who quit in 2007, justified the military action. At the time, he said intelligence showed Hussein had weapons of mass destruction but after the invasion none was found.
“I was lied to. The media, the press, the families, parliament, everybody was lied to,” Reg Keys, whose son was among the British fatalities and who stood as a candidate for parliament against Blair in the 2005 election, told Reuters TV ahead of the report’s publication.
The inquiry looked at the reasons for the invasion, the war itself and the aftermath - and has taken longer to complete than the British military involvement itself.
Public hearings, including two appearances by Blair, ended in 2011 but since then the writing of the report has been dogged by rows over the release of secret government files and the contacts between London and Washington. It includes details of notes from Blair to Bush and quotes from more than 130 records of their conversations.
Critics believe Blair, who sent 45,000 British troops for the invasion, gave Bush an unconditional promise that Britain would join military action and that he then distorted intelligence to back this up and put pressure on government lawyers to give the invasion legal approval.
Keys noted that Chilcot had said the inquiry would not play the blame game. “But I certainly hope it points the finger of accountability in the direction of the former prime minister who was the key player with all of this deceit,” Keys said.
However, he said he feared the report might be watered down as those facing criticism have been allowed to respond prior to publication.
In an interview with CNN last October, Blair apologised that the pre-war intelligence had been wrong and for mistakes in planning, but not for getting rid of Hussein.
He also accepted the war had played a role in the rise of Islamic State but it was far from the only factor.
“I’ve said many times over these past years, I’ll wait for the report and then I will make my views known and express myself fully and properly,” Blair told Sky News on Sunday.
British media said lawmakers led by the Scottish National Party were considering invoking an ancient law, last used in 1806, to impeach Blair in parliament.
“You cannot have a situation where this country blunders into an illegal war with the appalling consequences and at the end of the day there isn’t a reckoning,” SNP lawmaker Alex Salmond told Sky News.
(With inputs from agencies)