As the damning findings finally emerge from the Chilcot report, my mind turns to the mothers of the victims of the wars triggered in 2003 by George W Bush and Tony Blair.
The details of the letters between these heads of state, the interdepartmental memos and the written evidence of the British politicians and civil servants involved will do little to change the fundamental truths of their painful predicament.
Their sons and daughters died in a fire sparked by men who did not consider for how long or how far that fire would burn. The report will bring little solace to the British mothers of the young men who died to remove a tyrant who posed no threat to their families. It will bring none to the Iraqi and Syrian mothers, who saw the lives of their sons and daughters snubbed out by a civil war that filled the power vacuum that was left. They know sadness and anger and despair but many of them also know the truth – a truth has been known for years.
George Bush sought to remake Iraq through regime change and occupation and he solicited Tony Blair, Britain’s capable but insecure Prime Minister, to help him. “Regime change in Iraq would be a wonderful thing,” Blair told Parliament six months before the invasion. He believed Bush and sought to establish the legal justification to act on his beliefs at the same time as he ignored high level warnings that an invasion would increase the threat from terrorism. In the run up to the invasion, he wilfully misrepresented the intelligence reports that shed doubt on the US claims that Iraq had anthrax, nerve gas and other weapons of mass destruction and that it might provide them to terrorists.
When he told Parliament, “Saddam is developing weapons of mass destruction, and we cannot leave him doing so unchecked. He is a threat to his own people and to the region and, if allowed to develop these weapons, a threat to us also”, he imagined that he was telling a white lie. But this precipitated the destabilisation of a country ruled by one of the 20th century’s most cruel dictators, but whose exodus ushered in something considerably worse: unchecked chaos.
Blair has said that he bears responsibility for the violence in Iraq, which – as he also admits – led directly to the emergence of so-called Islamic State, the latest and most organised incarnation of the sectarianism in the region that now rules half of Syria and Iraq and has footholds across the Middle East and Central Asia.
But the findings of the Chilcot report should make those who argued for and voted for the Iraq war hang their heads. Amongst other findings Chilcot says that: the UK chose to join the invasion before peaceful options had been exhausted; Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein; George Bush largely ignored UK advice on postwar planning; there was no imminent threat from Saddam; Britain’s intelligence agencies produced ‘flawed information”; the UK military were ill-equipped for the task; UK-US relations would not have been harmed if UK stayed out of war and Blair ignored warnings on what would happen in Iraq after invasion.
On the question of the Iraq war I am not being wise after the event. I listened to the debates, I spoke privately to the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and I read Alistair Campbell’s specious dossier. Crucially, I twice went to talks by the UN weapons inspector Scot Ritter who insisted that when he departed Iraq the weapons of mass destruction had largely been eliminated except for some chemical weapons which would had have deteriorated by now.
Too many people voted for war, both Labour and Tory, because they were not prepared to disbelieve the word of a British prime minister. But on the basis of the facts available, and in the face huge pressure from the party machine, I voted against the war and have never regretted that vote.
This inquiry was not a criminal trial. But, in the court of public opinion, Blair stands condemned by Chilcot.
Diane Abbott MP is Labour’s shadow Secretary of State for Health
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