The long-awaited Chilcot report has finally been published today. It comes during a very tumultuous time in British politics - and while its publication was always going to be fractious, it remains to be seen how the Tories - and more interestingly, Labour, use it to their advantage.
The 12-volume report, which is 2.6 million words long and can be found here, will be dissected over the coming days, but here's a quick summary of some of the key statements from it:
Legality of Invasion
The report doesn't express view of legality of military action. That can only be resolved by a properly constituted court.
However, it concludes that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory.
WMDs, British intelligence and the threat from Saddam
The report presents an assessment of Iraq's WMDs and how they were presented to support the case for military intervention.
Formal decision to invade Iraq
Shortcomings in planning and preparation
Blair 'did not establish clear Ministerial oversight of US planning and preparation. He did not ensure that there was a flexible, realistic and fully resourced plan that integrated UK military and civilian contributions, and addressed the known risks.'
Between early 2002 and the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Blair received warnings about:
The significance of the post-conflict phase as the 'strategically decisive' phase of the engagement in Iraq […] and the risk that a badly handled aftermath would make intervention a 'net failure';
The likelihood of internal conflict in Iraq, the potential scale of the political, social, economic and security challenge;
The need for an analysis of whether the benefits of military action outweighed the risk of a protracted and costly nation-building exercise;
The absence of credible US plans for the immediate post-conflict period and the subsequent reconstruction of Iraq;
The need to agree with the US the nature of the UK contribution to those plans;
The importance of - UN authorisation for the military occupation of Iraq, without which there would be no legal cover for certain post-conflict tasks.
Yet when Blair set out the UK’s vision for the future of Iraq in the House of Commons on 18 March 2003, no assessment had been made of whether that vision was achievable, no agreement had been reached with the US on a workable post-conflict plan, UN authorisation had not yet been secured, and there had been no decision on the UN’s role in post-conflict Iraq.
Blair did not:
- Establish clear Ministerial oversight of post-conflict strategy, planning and preparation;
- Ensure that ministers took the decisions needed to prepare a flexible, realistic and fully resourced plan integrating UK military and civilian contributions;
- Seek adequate assurances that the UK was in a position to meet its likely obligations in Iraq;
- Insist that the UK’s strategic objectives for Iraq were tested against anything other than the best case: a well-planned and executed US-led and UN-authorised post-conflict operation in a relatively benign security environment;
- Press President Bush for definitive assurances about US post-conflict plans or set out clearly to him the strategic risk in underestimating the post-conflict challenge or failing adequately to prepare for the task;
- Consider, or seek advice on, whether the absence of a satisfactory plan was a sufficient threat to UK strategic objectives to require a reassessment of the terms of the UK engagement in Iraq. Despite concerns about the state of US planning, he did not make agreement on a satisfactory post-conflict plan a condition of UK participation in military action.
There were no instructions on how to establish a safe and secure environment if lawlessness broke out as anticipated.
The Blair-Bush relationship
The government’s preparations failed to take account of the magnitude of the task of stabilising, administering and reconstructing Iraq, and of the responsibilities which were likely to fall to the UK.
The scale of the UK effort in post-conflict Iraq never matched the scale of the challenge. Whitehall departments and their ministers failed to put collective weight behind the task.
Military intervention elsewhere may be required in the future. A vital purpose of the Inquiry is to identify what lessons should be learned from experience in Iraq.
The gap between the ambitious objectives with which the UK entered Iraq and the resources that the Government was prepared to commit to the task was substantial from the start. Even with more resources it would have been difficult to achieve those objectives, as a result of the circumstances of the invasion, the lack of international support, the inadequacy of planning and preparation, and the inability to deliver law and order. The lack of security hampered progress at every turn. It is therefore not surprising that, despite the considerable efforts made by UK civilian and military personnel over this period, the results were meagre.
The Inquiry has not been able to identify alternative approaches that would have guaranteed greater success in the circumstances of March 2003. What can be said if that a number of opportunities for the sort of candid reappraisal of policies that would have better aligned objectives and resources did not take place. There was no serious consideration of more radical options, such as an early withdrawal or else a substantial increase in effort. The Inquiry has identified a number of moments, especially during the first year of the Occupation, when it would have been possible to conduct a substantial reappraisal. None took place.
The UK failed to plan or prepare for the major reconstruction programme required in Iraq. Many of the failures which affected pre-invasion planning and preparation persisted throughout the post-conflict period. They included poor inter-departmental co-ordination, inadequate civilian military co-operation and a failure to use resources coherently.
Although the UK expected to be involved in Iraq for a lengthy period after the conflict, the Government was unprepared for the role in which the UK found itself from April 2003. Much of what went wrong stemmed from that lack of preparation.
Military action in Iraq might have been necessary at some point. But in March 2003:
The vital purpose of the report is to identify what lessons should be learnt from this experience. Lessons include: