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UK: The Chilcot Report – a cover-up of how the invasion of Iraq triggered today’s horrors
8 August 2016. A World to Win News Service. The Chilcot report on Britain’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the result of an enquiry started in 2009 under the chairmanship of the high-level retired civil servant John Chilcot, was finally published in July this year. Given the extent of opposition to the Iraq war among the ruling class and the people, and also the disaster that followed that invasion, many people were keen to see what the inquiry had to say.
In 2003, the US imperialists under the George W. Bush administration, with the full cooperation of the British imperialists under the regime of Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, attacked, invaded and occupied Iraq. This unjust war was launched under the false accusation – the lie – that the Iraqi regime possessed “weapons of mass destruction” and that it posed a threat to life and safety in Western countries.
The aggressors succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein in a matter of a month. They occupied the whole country by using their own weapon of mass destruction: pitting Shia Moslems against Sunnis, so that the resistance against the occupation was largely diverted into a civil war. The outcome of the war has been catastrophic – it was the seedbed from which Daesh (ISIS) sprouted. The killing of an estimated half a million Iraqis during the occupation, the displacement of five million more, the invaders’ infamous policy that all homes, all families and all Iraqis were fair targets for its soldiers and air power, their indiscriminate roundups to fill camps characterized by barbarous conditions and systematic torture, such as the infamous torture centre Abu Ghraib (the initial nucleus of Daesh came together in such prisons) – and their installation of a Shia sectarian government that carried out systematic violent ethnic cleansing – all set the tone and triggered the violent spiral that followed.
While the rise of Islamic fundamentalism is a complex phenomenon and did not begin with that war, the extent and intensity of the horrors felt by the peoples of the Middle East are a direct result of that invasion, in the way that it shattered existing social, political and moral structures and turned what was in some cases religious coexistence and in others sectarian tensions into genocidal warfare. Few human actions have had as disastrous an impact as the decision taken by Bush and Blair, with the complicity of many leading politicians (including US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton) and other authorities and opinion-makers in both countries. The war unleashed hell in Iraq in hopes of reasserting the domination of the region by the US and its British partners, that in turn is a key element in their top-dog place in the imperialist world system.
This act of aggression outraged the people of the world and in particular the people in the region, and the results even more so. The Chi;cot inquiry was undertaken with the explicit mission of “healing the wounds” – not the real wounds and enormous suffering of millions of Iraqis but the fracture in British people’s trust of their state and its representatives, especially because the British ruling class itself was deeply divided over if and how to join the American imperialists in a war against Iraq.
The contents of the report do not even get close to the reality about the war, its true purpose and the crimes committed by the British government and troops. It does slap some of the UK’s most hated ruling class figures, such as the then Labour Prime Minster Blair. Some people expected this and were satisfied with it. Two earlier parliamentary investigations justified everyone and everything about the war, so they could not help unite the ruling class and win back some of the trust they lost among the people.
What was said in the report?
The report is 2.6 million words long, totalling 12 volumes. The overwhelming bulk of it consists of thousands of supporting documents and references, but it also features a 145-page summary that includes the overall report’s key elements and conclusions.
The enquiry concluded that the UK joined the invasion before “peaceful” options to force Saddam into an agreement with the Western powers had been exhausted. The military option was not the last resort at the time. It goes on to say, “There was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein and he should have been contained” for some time. However, it doesn’t rule out military action at that time and in fact suggests that an attack on Iraq might have been necessary and better grounded in law at a later time, possibly after obtaining the consent of the UN Security Council. In fact, the enquiry concludes that it was wrong to go to war under the particular circumstance of that time, but could have been right if the US and UK had waited a little longer.
The enquiry also debunks Blair’s claim that the Iraqi regime represented an imminent danger internationally. It accuses Blair of having “deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein”. What is the most revealing about Blair in the Chilcot report is the note he sent to Bush in September 2002, six months before the invasion of Iraq, in which he promised the US president, “I will be with you, whatever.” This might seem to confirm the popular wisdom that Blair was Bush’s poodle. More basically, however, the note not only served as a blank cheque to the Bush administration but also revealed that Blair and British imperialism’s main political leaders had already decided to go to war, regardless of any Security Council resolution or any intelligence gathering or other evidence about Iraqi weapons, including the expected report of the UN chief inspector. This revelation is a slap in the face to Blair and his cronies and those who were determined to start a war.
The report also slaps the heads of Britain’s intelligence agencies, especially John Scarlett, the chair of the Joint Committee of MI5 (the British domestic intelligence service) and MI6 (foreign intelligence), and MI6 head Richard Dearlove. It blames them for producing and defending “flawed information” about Saddam’s weapons. The report states that Iraq’s possession of what were called “weapons of mass destruction” (a deliberately ambiguous term) was presented with a “certainty that was not justified”, and that intelligence had “not established beyond doubt” that Hussein had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons. The report concludes that the Iraq invasion was made on “the basis of flawed intelligence” that was not challenged and “should have been”.
Since the invasion was opposed not only by many UN member countries but also France, Russia and China, all permanent members of the UN Security Council with the right to veto any resolution that could provide a legal basis for the war, the US and UK needed to find some other legal justification for their unprovoked invasion. Bush and Blair had to concoct a legal basis based on the opinion of their own appointed officials. But even so, the report says, the Britain attorney general at the time thought this war had no legal basis until seven days before the invasion, when he was sent to the US to be convinced by American legal advisers. The report concludes that while the Blair government was claiming to act on behalf of “the international community”, the UK’s action “undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council.”
Analysing the aftermath of the attack on Iraq, the report says that the British military were ill-equipped for the task and that Blair had ignored explicit warnings by various experts on what would happen in Iraq after an invasion. This included a warning by the head of MI5 at the time, Eliza Manningham-Buller. The report also refers to the casualties and mass displacement produced by the invasion as an indication that the government failed to achieve the stated objectives.
One reason Blair and others gave for the UK’s participation in the Iraq invasion was the “special relationship” between the US and UK, and the necessity to keep in step with the US. The Chilcot report says, “The UK-US relation would not have been harmed if the UK had stayed out of the war” and “The UK’s relationship with the US does not require unconditional support”. This is an objection to the Blair approach during his premiership and especially during the Iraq war. Clearly there were sharp disagreements among the UK ruling class about how to handle their relations with the other imperialist powers, including the US, as it still seems to be the case with Brexit, but the Chilcot report casts little light on the real issues involved or the depth of the splits.
Even regarding the Iraq war itself, there are many important facts that the report very carefully avoids.
What the report doesn’t say
The report doesn’t say that Blair was a liar, only that he exaggerated the threat from Saddam. This amounts to mollycoddling the man many people called “B-liar”. The report refers to “flawed intelligence”, which itself is a deliberately misleading term for claims fabricated to justify going to war. The report also clears Blair of lying to parliament. These formulations are extremely important. The report was carefully crafted to say that Blair did not commit any crimes under British or international law. Since everyone knows today that Blair lied, the real political question is whether he can be brought to justice. Many people, including families of British soldiers killed in Iraq, have demanded that he be brought before an international court to be tried for war crimes. Sarah O’Conner, the sister of one of those soldiers, said in response to the Chilcot report, “There is one terrorist in this world that the world needs to be aware of, and his name is Tony Blair, the world’s worst terrorist,” as other relatives cheered.
This report confirms that while Blair’s opponents among the country’s rulers and politicians want to discredit him once and for all, justice is the last thing on their minds. As for the international courts, they are not intended to try Western imperialist rulers and representratives, but to punish those who refuse to obey them or present problems for them.
Those who wanted a war in Iraq were not limited to Blair and a few individuals in the intelligence services who supported him by fabricating evidence to provide political cover for the invasion. The majority of the Labour government cabinet at the time, including senior members such as Jack Straw (the foreign minister), chancellor Gordon Brown and many others went along with the war. Only one senior Labour cabinet member, Robin Cook, and a few other ministers resigned in protested. The majority of Parliament members voted for the war. Overwhelmingly, the Conservative party also enthusiastically supported the war. That includes the last Prime Minister, David Cameron, the new PM Theresa May, Duncan Smith, William Hague and other Conservative luminaries.
The military as a whole not only did not object to the war, they went ahead and invaded Iraq, murdered massive numbers of people and demolished the country’s infrastructure. The head of MI5 warned Blair that the war would significantly swell the ranks of Islamist jihadi groups in the UK, US and the Middle East, but did nothing to oppose the war. Blair is certainly one of the UK and the world’s most hated imperialist figures, but he was not alone. He was supported by the majority of the British imperialist political establishment because they thought his actions were in the UK’s interests – that by invading Iraq at the side of the US, the UK could improve its position among the colluding and often contending imperialist gangs who dominate the world economically and whose politics and military are in the service of that domination.
Unlike Blair and the intelligence chiefs named in the report, some people who wanted to stop the impending war suffered the consequences. Dr David Kelly, a weapons expert at the Ministry of Defence, was found dead two days after giving testimony to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and expressing his doubts about the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
There is another important point the report is very careful not to get into: neither the US nor Britain nor any other imperialist power has the right to invade and occupy another country. Earlier, when the Western powers thought Saddam’s rule suited their regional geopolitical interests, they armed his regime – including with the chemical weapons Saddam used against the Kurds and Iran. That fact alone should shed light on the utterly reactionary imperialist interests behind the US/UK invasion. The report doesn’t mention that. It also fails to mention that Western imperialist intervention and other crimes and domination of other nations were feeding the rise of Islamic fundamentalism even before this war.
On the contrary, the report justifies the war itself, if not its timing. What the report objects to most is that the Blair government went to war when the UK military was “ill-equipped for the task”. In fact, if it had been better equipped and had more helicopters and more sophisticated weapons, they would have been able to kill more people. The Chilcot report has no legal or moral objection to this murder. If Bush and Blair had waited until the exhaustion of “peaceful options” (which means more deadly austerity in Iraq, where as many as a half a million children had already died as a result of economic sanctions), then, the report implies, the war would have been justified. The Chilcot report is very careful not to say explicitly or implicitly that the war against Iraq was a war of aggression, a crime that shouldn’t have been allowed under any circumstances.
Why the British imperialists saw it necessary to hold this enquiry
While the British ruling class as a whole made it possible to carry out this war of aggression, that doesn’t mean that the ruling class was united around it. In fact, the issue severely divided the British ruling class and the parties representing it. It is true that the Conservative party was overwhelmingly in favour of the war, but there were some prominent party members such as ex-Home Secretary Ken Clark who voted against it. Liberal Democrats, the third biggest party in the UK, unanimously voted against the war. The then governing Labour Party was so deeply divided that it has still not been able to get over it since then. The political damage of those divisions that brought millions of people into the streets against the war and damaged the legitimacy of the UK’s whole political set-up is still haunting the British ruling class 13 years later. This is especially the case because the war did not go well for their interests and the consequences have been a nightmare for the imperialists, although not nearly the nightmare they have been for the people of the region and the world.
Despite now cloaking their objections to the war in legal questions, and even worse, disapproving of the timing of the war rather than the war itself, an important section of the British ruling class was against the war because they had partly anticipated the outcome and did not see it in their interests. So the report was partly meant to help settle the issue among the UK’s rulers, as well as to fool the people.
The division and debate among the ruling class helped draw millions of people into political life and opposition. Between one and two million people from all walks of life took part in protests on the eve of the invasion, bringing central London to a halt. Similar protests were held in other major and medium-sized cities in England and Scotland. But they could not prevent the war, not only because Blair had promised Bush “I will be with you, whatever”, but more fundamentally because the bulk of the political representatives of the UK capitalist ruling class were determined to go ahead no matter what the people thought, and even those who thought the war was a bad idea for British imperialist interests, feared the further mobilisation of the people as even more dangerous to those interests, and united behind the war once it was launched.
The report’s purpose is not to prevent a continuation of such war crimes, but to draw political lessons for how to better handle the kind of complicated and difficult situation that Blair and other British leaders in charge handled so badly: how to deploy the military force necessary to ensure the UK’s position in the world with less political cost.
The war in Iraq was only one in a continuing chain of military actions and wars in the interests of British and other imperialists. While they may seek to adjust tactics, they simply cannot do without such wars because war is one of the most important paths to imposing their interests on a global scale. The current wars in Libya and Syria are further examples that no matter how many Chilcot reports come out and no matter how many politicians like Blair might be damned or even prosecuted, such wars continue until the imperialist system whose interests they serve is overthrown and dismantled.
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