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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 11    Issue 05   16-31 July 2016

Chilcot Inquiry’s Devastating Verdict on Britain’s Role in Iraq Invasion

Professor A. R. MOMIN

On 20 March 2003 the US, actively backed by the UK, launched a pre-meditated invasion of Iraq, The invasion, which lasted from 20 March to 1 May, led to the toppling of the government of Saddam Hussein and brought about unprecedented destruction and violence across the country. Over 461,000 Iraqis were killed during the invasion in 2003 and in its bloody aftermath that engulfed the country through mid-2011.

The US-led invasion of Iraq was carried out without the authorisation of the United Nations Security Council and in brazen violation of international law. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan categorically stated that the invasion was illegal.

Tony Blair, the then British prime minister, was the most vocal and ardent supporter of the Iraq invasion. The UK, as the main ally of the US, sent 28,000 troops to fight in Iraq. Nearly half of the tanks in the invasion were supplied by the UK. Gordon Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair as Britain’s prime minister, announced an inquiry under the chairmanship of Sir John Chilcot, a retired civil servant and diplomat, on 15 June 2009 to investigate the circumstances that led to Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war. The committee, known as the Chilcot Inquiry, submitted its voluminous report on 6 July 2016.

The purported objective of the Iraq invasion was “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam’s support for terrorism and to free the Iraqi people.” In his 2.6 million-word report, Chilcot has clearly and unequivocally stated that there was no credible justification for the invasion, that the legal case for the war was “far from satisfactory” and that there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein. The Chilcot report presents a damning indictment of the British government, including Tony Blair, for exaggerating and excessively relying on intelligence on Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction (WMD), for failure to exhaust diplomatic options before resorting to military action, and for undermining the authority of the United Nations Security Council.

Tony Blair: Lies and Deception

Declassified documents, media reports and testimonies before the Chilcot Inquiry have laid bare the sordid details of the conspiracy hatched by the US and its closet political ally the UK to invade Iraq almost a year before the actual invasion. On 6 April 2002 Blair met George Bush at his private ranch at Crawford, Texas, where he secretly agreed to join the US in invading Iraq and in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Blair wrote a secret letter to the US President, eight months before the war and before the United Nations weapons inspectors had finished their assignment in Iraq, saying, “I’ll be with you, whatever.”

On 24 September 2002, British government published a dossier about the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It carried a foreword by Tony Blair, which stated that Saddam Hussein’s “military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them”. It was later revealed that the dossier was “sexed-up” for political reasons.

Before the Iraq invasion, the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked Hans Blix, a Swedish diplomat and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to lead the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in charge of monitoring Iraq. The United Nations weapons inspectors’ team, led by Hans Blix, carried out about 700 inspections over a period of several months in Iraq, but found no evidence of WMD. In 2004 Blix stated, “There were about 700 inspections, and in no case did we find weapons of mass destruction.” On 2 October 2003, the report of Iraq Survey Group revealed the absence of evidence of WMD in Iraq.

Blair was explicitly warned, before the launch of military action in Iraq, that the invasion of the country would be fraught with grave risks and that it would lead to an unprecedented upsurge in terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere. Chilcot noted, “Blair had been warned….that military action would increase the threat from Al Qaeda to the UK and to UK interests. He had also been warned that an invasion might lead to Iraq’s weapons and capabilities being transferred into the hands of terrorists.”

The Joint Intelligence Committee specifically told Blair the intelligence services believed that combat operations against Iraq would trigger Al Qaeda attacks against Western nations. In fact M16 suspected Al Qaeda sleeper cells already in Iraq were ready to strike. In a top secret memo entitled 'INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM: WAR WITH IRAQ' the Joint Intelligence Committee concludes: “Al Qaida and associated groups will continue to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat will be heightened by military action against Iraq. The broader threat from Islamist terrorists will also increase in the event of war, reflecting intensified anti-US/anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world, including among Muslim communities in the West. And there is a risk that the transfer of CB (chemical and biological) material or expertise, during or in the aftermath of conflict, will enhance Al Qaida’s capabilities.”

Lord Michael Williams, who was the former adviser to the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, had absolutely no doubts about the consequences of disregarding this piece of crucial intelligence. Speaking to an Australian television station he said: “The dangers posed today in Iraq and in Syria by Isis to Britain and Australia and the US are far, far greater than anything ever posed by Saddam Hussein. These people would like to kill on a large scale in London, New York and in Sydney. That was never the case with Saddam Hussein, despite the many abhorrent aspects of his government.”

Strange as it may seem, failure to find any evidence of WMD did not change Blair’s mind. He felt no sense of remorse or guilt for the invasion. He later said, “The problem is that I can apologise for the information that turned out to be wrong, but I can’t, sincerely at least, apologise for removing Saddam. The world is a better place with Saddam in prison.” Even in the face of the Chilcot Inquiry’s damning indictment of his complicity in the illegal invasion, Blair refused to accept responsibility. Instead he has insisted that he had done the right thing and that he acted in good faith. Following the publication of the Chilcot report, he told the media that, “there were no lies, Parliament and Cabinet were not misled, intelligence was not falsified and the decision was made in good faith.” However, he admitted some mistakes, saying it would have been far better if he had challenged the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war.

On 29 July 2002, eight months before the Iraq invasion, Britain’s Attorney General Lord Goldsmith sent a letter to Blair, in which he stated that deposing Saddam Hussein would be a blatant breach of international law, that war could not be justified purely on grounds of ‘regime change,’ and that although United Nations rules permitt military intervention on the basis of self-defence, they did not apply in this case because Britain was not under threat from Iraq. The letter caused pandemonium in Downing Street, but Blair ignored it and issued instructions to gag Lord Goldsmith and banned him from attending cabinet meetings.

The Chilcot report notes, “In his draft advice of 14 January 2003, Lord Goldsmith wrote that: "In ruling out the use of force without a further decision of the Council, I am not saying that other circumstances may not arise in which the use of force may be justified on other legal grounds, eg if the conditions for self-defence or humanitarian intervention were met. However, at present, I have seen nothing to suggest there would be a legal justification on either of these bases." The report says that Blair decided not to show his cabinet colleagues legal advice that presented conflicting opinions on whether going to war against Iraq was legal or not in January 2003.

On 13 March, 2003 Lord Goldsmith was allegedly ‘pinned against wall’ by Blair cronies Charlie Falconer and Sally Morgan. On 17 March, three days before the invasion, Lord Goldsmith, who had always been a close ally of Tony Blair, took a U-turn and stated in a revised legal advice to the effect that United Nations resolution 1441 provides sufficient legal justification for military action in Iraq.

Many prominent people in the UK, including political leaders and MPs, legal luminaries and human rights activists, were bitterly opposed to the war. Shortly before the invasion, over a million people held protest marches against the imminent invasion in London. Labour leader Jeremy Orbyn, who had opposed the Iraq war, condemned the invasion as “an act of military aggression, launched on a false pretext.” Sir Michael Wood, legal advisor at the Foreign Office, wrote to Jack Straw, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, to warn that “to use force without Security Council authority would amount to the crime of aggression.” However, his warning was ignored by Jack Straw. Lord Prescott, the then deputy prime minister who supported Blair’s decision to take part in the 2003 Iraq war, said after the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry that he now agreed “with great sadness and anger” with Kofi Annan that the invasion of Iraq was illegal and that he would live with “the catastrophic decision” for the rest of his life. He said the report was a “damning indictment of how the Blair government handled the war – and I take my fair share of blame.”

A group of senior British MPs is calling for a vote to decide whether Tony Blair was guilty of contempt of Parliament over his decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Conservative David Davis, a former Shadow Home Secretary, said, “I am going to put down a contempt motion, which says that Tony Blair has held the House in contempt. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would back the motion.

Iraq Invasion and Oil

There is hardly anything in the Chilcot report that amounts to an absolutely startling revelation about Britain’s involvement in the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq or about Tony Blair’s duplicity and craftiness during the crisis. The report undoubtedly confirms what has been brought to light over the past decade. What is important is that the damning conclusions of the report are duly corroborated and substantiated by the contents of declassified documents, private and secret letters and memos and testimonies before the Inquiry.

Considering that the terms of reference of the Chilcot Inquiry were extremely restrictive, the committee could not possibly have covered every relevant aspect of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq invasion. However, there are two or three crucial issues, which are not touched upon by Chilcot, which need to be recounted in order to provide a larger, nuanced picture of the Iraq invasion. One of these is Iraq’s enormous oil and gas reserves, which provided one of the motivating factors in the Iraq invasion.

Iraq has some of the world’s largest unexploited and under-exploited oil fields, including 9 “super giants” around Basra, each with 5 billion barrels of exploitable oil. According to conservative estimates, Iraqi deserts have about 115 billion barrels of oil – the fourth largest reserves after Saudi Arabia, Canada and Iran. Geologists, however, believe that the reserves could be as high as 215 billion barrels.

British government documents show that, a year before the invasion, government ministers and British and other energy companies such as British Petroleum (BP) and Shell held secret and extensive discussions about exploiting Iraq’s oil reserves in the event of a war or invasion. The Foreign Office in its November 2002 memo said, “Iraq is the big oil prospect.” The Foreign Office invited BP on 6 November 2002 to discuss “opportunities in Iraq post regime-change.” Five months before the invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the British government was of the view that British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq’s enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Blair’s support for the Iraq invasion.

Greg Muttitt, a campaigner on the social and environmental impact of the oil industry, who obtained over 1000 documents under Freedom of Information over five years, revealed in his book Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq (2011), that at least five meetings were held between government ministers, civil servants and BP and Shell in late 2002.

Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the US-led occupation forces in Iraq signed a 20-year contract with a consortium of the world’s major oil companies, which covered half of Iraq’s proven oil reserves – 60 million barrels. The consortium hoped to make a $658 million profit from oil sales from the Rumaila oil field in southern Iraq. Early oil contracts awarded by the US-dominated administration in Iraq went to American oil companies.

The British oil giant BP feared that it might be “locked out” of the deals. Baroness Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on behalf of BP and other British oil companies. Minutes of a meeting between Lady Symons and BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: “Baroness Symons agreed that it would be justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis.”

Mr Muttitt says that before the invasion, British government, including Tony Blair, went to great lengths to deny it had any interests in Iraq’s oil. The documents accessed by him give a lie to such claims. “Oil was the most important strategic interest behind the war and it shaped the decisions of the occupying powers……We see that oil was in fact one of the (British) Government’s most important strategic considerations and it secretly colluded with oil companies to give them access to that huge prize,” Muttitt says.

It appears certain that one of the major motives in the invasion of Iraq was to secure a cheap and plentiful source of oil. If Iraq produced only cabbages and potatoes, and not oil, it would not have been the target of the invasion.

Iraq Invasion and the Jewish Lobby

The Chilcot Inquiry fails to address the linkage between Britain’s involvement in the Iraq invasion and the Jewish lobby and Israel. Britain’s Jewish lobby actively supported Tony Blair’s decision to take part in the US-led invasion of Iraq. Lord Levy, a Jewish member of the House of Lords, and Labour Friends of Israel collected huge amounts of funds for the war. Jewish journalists and media gave wide coverage to the ‘dossier’ that purportedly gave evidence of Iraq’s WMD. In 2003 some intelligence experts pointed out that the dossier was initially produced in Tel Aviv.

In 2010, a highly respected veteran British diplomat Oliver Miles, wrote in The Independent that it is curious that out of the five members of the Chilcot Inquiry, two were Jews (Sir Martin Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman), who were strong supporters of Tony Blair and his decision to invade Iraq. In December 2004 Sir Martin Gilbert wrote that Bush and Blair “may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill.” Miles wrote that this eccentric opinion “would seem to rule him out as a member of the committee.”

The Chilcot report demurs from expressing an opinion on the question of the legality of the Iraq invasion. But this issue has been settled by the United Nations, prominent legal scholars and many veteran British policymakers and leaders.

The disastrous legacy of the invasion of Iraq continues to cast its long and sinister shadow over Iraq, Syria, Libya and other parts of the Arab region. The fear, expressed by British intelligence agencies, that military action in Iraq would inevitably lead to an unprecedented upsurge in violence and terrorism in Iraq and the neighbouring areas has become a horrifying reality. The invasion strengthened and reinforced the terrorist networks of Al Qaeda. It is an open secret that the so-called Islamic State was born out of Al Qaeda. The violence and bloodshed that was unleashed during the Iraq invasion and its aftermath have taken a toll of over 600,000 lives.

Certainly, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, who masterminded the invasion, and Australia and Poland which sent their troops to fight in Iraq, cannot escape responsibility for the illegal invasion. Bush and Blair in particular must be held accountable for one of the most dreadful catastrophes of modern times. They should be brought to the International Court of Justice at The Hague to stand trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and human rights violations. The United Nations must ask the US, Britain, Australia and Poland to pay adequate compensation to Iraq for the devastation wrought by the occupation forces.

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