Tony Blair failed to ‘be straight’ with the public about Iraq invasion – Chilcot
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair failed to “be straight” with the public about his decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Sir John Chilcot said, exactly one year since he published his damning report into Britain’s role in the conflict.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the 12-volume report was published, Chilcot said Blair’s testimony to the inquiry was “emotionally truthful,” but the Labour leader had failed to act on the basis of facts.
“Any prime minister taking a country into war has got to be straight with the nation and carry it, so far as possible, with him or her,” Chilcot told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg.
“I don’t believe that was the case in the Iraq instance.”
The two-million-word report, which took seven years to complete, was published shortly after the EU referendum, somewhat blunting its impact.
Chilcot said Blair had drawn the UK into Iraq on the basis of questionable intelligence, which had suggested former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
The report, however, found that Saddam’s regime posed “no imminent threat” at the time of the invasion in 2003, and the war had therefore been waged on “flawed” intelligence.
It added that Blair, who told MPs at the time that Saddam could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes, acted with “a certainty which was not justified.”
Chilcot also suggested Blair may have failed to offer the inquiry a comprehensive account of the events that unfolded in the run-up, during and in the aftermath of the Iraq War.
“I think he gave an - what was - I hesitate to say this, rather, but I think it was, from his perspective and standpoint, emotionally truthful, and I think that came out also in his press conference after the launch statement.
“I think he was under - as you said just now - very great emotional pressure during those sessions… He was suffering. He was deeply engaged. Now in that state of mind and mood you fall back on your instinctive skills and reactions, I think.”
The report concluded that “peaceful options had not been exhausted” and it was “not necessary for the UK to join” the US-led invasion.
Light was also cast on the relationship between Blair and then-US President George W Bush. The report suggested the British PM yielded to Bush in the hope of exerting some influence over events.
“Tony Blair made much of, at various points, the need to exert influence on American policy-making,” said Chilcot.
“To do that he said in terms at one point, ‘I have to accept their strategic objective, regime change, in order to exert influence.’
“For what purpose? To get them to alter their policy? Of course not. So in effect it was a passive strategy. Just go along.”
Chilcot’s comments come a day after the High Court heard a case seeking to overturn an order to block Blair from being prosecuted over the Iraq War.
The order was handed down by Westminster Magistrates’ Court in November 2016, declaring the former PM immune from any criminal charges.
Michael Mansfield QC, however, who is bringing the case to prosecute Blair on behalf of Iraqi General Abdul-Wahid Shannan ar-Ribat, argued that in light of Chilcot’s findings, the former PM should be prosecuted on the charge of “aggression.”
But Attorney General Jeremy Wright, who wants the order against the prosecution to be upheld, argued such an offense only exists in international law, not in UK legislation.
Veterans and service families have crowd-funded £150,000 (US$195,000) to carry out a forensic analysis of the Chilcot report to build a case for the prosecution of Blair and other senior officials.
The Iraq War cost the lives of 179 British soldiers and potentially tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, while costing the UK economy an estimated £9.2 billion. It is widely held to have caused the bloody sectarian conflict that brought about the rise of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).