Tony Blair said he felt “more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know” for the grief of those who lost loved ones in the Iraq War today after a long-awaited official report delivered a damning verdict on his government’s role in the 2003 conflict.
Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry report said the war was launched on the basis of “flawed” intelligence at a time when dictator Saddam Hussein presented “no imminent threat” and diplomatic options for containing him had not been exhausted. The intervention ended six years later “a very long way from success”, with the “humiliating” spectacle of UK troops in Basra making deals with local militia who had been attacking them.
Families of some of the 179 military personnel killed in Iraq branded the former prime minister a “terrorist”, while Jeremy Corbyn offered an apology on Labour’s behalf for what he described as “a stain on our party and our country”.
Mr Blair said he took responsibility for shortcomings identified by Sir John’s report but that he still believed he was right to remove Saddam and insisted the inquiry’s findings should “lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit”.
Unveiling his report into the UK’s most controversial military engagement since the end of the Second World War, inquiry chairman Sir John said the intervention “went badly wrong, with consequences to this day”.
He made no judgment on whether military action was legal, but found that then attorney general Lord Goldsmith’s decision that there was a legal basis for UK involvement in the US-led invasion was taken in a way which was “far from satisfactory”.
Key findings in the 2.6 million-word report included:
• The case for war was presented with “a certainty which was not justified”;
• It was based on “flawed” intelligence about the country’s supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which was not challenged as it should have been;
• The US-led coalition resorted to force to remove Saddam before peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted and in a way which undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council;
• Planning for post-conflict Iraq was “wholly inadequate”, with shortfalls in armoured vehicles to protect UK troops which “should not have been tolerated”;
• The risks of military action were “neither properly identified nor fully exposed to ministers” and the UK took on responsibility for four provinces of southern Iraq “without ensuring that it had the necessary military and civilian capabilities to discharge its obligations”.
The report did not support claims that Mr Blair agreed a deal “signed in blood” to topple Saddam at a key meeting with George Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in 2002.
But it revealed that in July that year – eight months before parliament approved military action – the prime minister committed himself in writing to backing the US president over Iraq, telling him: “I will be with you whatever.”
READ MORE: Chilcot report: Main points at a glance
And Sir John rejected Mr Blair’s claims that the bloody insurgency and terrorism which erupted following Saddam’s fall could not have been foreseen.
“We do not agree that hindsight is required,” said Sir John. “The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability and al-Qaeda activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion.”
In a statement summarising his findings, Sir John said: “We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.
“We have also concluded that the judgments about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction –WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.
“Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were under-estimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate. The government failed to achieve its stated objectives.”
The report was critical of intelligence agencies, which were working with an “ingrained belief” that Saddam retained chemical and biological warfare capabilities which he was hiding from UN inspectors and that he was determined to acquire nuclear weapons.
Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman Sir John Scarlett should have made clear to Mr Blair that suspicions about WMD had not been established “beyond doubt” prior to his publication in September 2002 of a dossier setting out the supposed threat from Saddam, the Chilcot Report found.
In a lengthy press conference in London, Mr Blair said he would never agree that those who died and were injured in Iraq “made their sacrifice in vain”.