Chilcot Report: Tony Blair’s “Ill-Prepared War” that Canada Narrowly Avoided

The UK’s Iraq war inquiry just came to a damning conclusion: Ex-PM Tony Blair led the country into an ill-prepared war under false pretenses. The decision to blindly follow the United-States into Iraq in 2003 “went badly wrong, with consequences to this day,” said the long-awaited Chilcot Report, published Wednesday.

The war in Iraq killed 179 British soldiers, 4500 American ones and at least 150 000 Iraqis. It left the country without a proper army or government and riddled with rising terrorist militias. And according to Chilcot’s findings, it might be now considered an illegitimate act of aggression under the UN charter.

Key Findings

The independent inquiry was ordered by Blair’s successor Gordon Brown (Labour Party) in 2009 and was supposed to last two years.  Half a decade late and £10 million later, Chairman Sir John Chilcot published a 2.5 million word document eviscerating the launching and the planning of the UK’s military involvement from 2003 to 2009.

The report found that Blair overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in order to gather support for a military intervention in Iraq. The claims that Hussein posed an imminent threat and that all peaceful options had been exhausted were found patently untrue.  Although the report heavily blamed the government for playing up what was actually very shaky intelligence about a possible nuclear threat from Iraq, it did not accuse them of knowingly lying.

Chilcot heavily critiqued the entire military operation. The risks were “neither properly identified nor fully exposed to ministers,” he wrote.  He was especially critical of the “wholly inadequate” planning for post-conflict Iraq. British troops failed to reach the objectives laid out in 2003 and ended up making “humiliating” deals with local militias to avoid attacks.

In a bewildering two-hour-long press conference, Blair expressed “more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe,” for his decisions, all while resolutely denying their horrible impact in the middle-east and declaring he would do it again.

He insisted that it was “better to remove Saddam Hussein” and does not “believe this is the cause of the terrorism we see today whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world.”

He added “If I was back in the same place with the same information, I would take the same decision because obviously that was the decision I believe was right.”

Tony Blair Facing Trial?

Relatives of soldiers killed in action renewed their calls to prosecute Tony Blair.

“We want to see him in court,”  one father assured.

“There is one terrorist the world needs to be aware of and his name is Tony Blair; the world’s worst terrorist,” said Sarah O’Connor, whose brother died in the war. She was speaking at a press conference called by bereaved families after the report’s release.

The report stopped short of commenting the legality of Tony Blair’s action, but it might have opened the door to prosecution.  It stated that Blair called for an invasion of Iraq at a time when Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat, and that peaceful options to contain him had not yet been exhausted.

This makes the action an illegitimate aggression, according to the UN charter. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Tony Blair will face repercussions. The UN Security Council could apply sanctions, but since the UK and US both have permanent seats on the Council, this is a very unlikely scenario.

The international court, which deals with war crimes, does not have jurisdiction over “acts of aggression.” Bringing politicians or military leaders to court would require proving that

  • a) The army breached laws of war in Iraq and that
  • b) The leaders in question knew about it and did nothing to stop it

No western leaders have ever been indicted by the international court.

Lawyers representing the families of veterans are looking into bringing Blair to civil court on charges of “misconduct in public office.” This law, unused since the 19th century, was recently criticized for its vagueness.

Canada Should Take Note

The Chilcot report must singularly vindicate Jean Chrétien, Canada’s PM at the time. The question of whether or not Canada would join the US-led coalition had generated heated debates in the House of Commons and the population alike.

He and Blair both said that this was the hardest decision of their respective mandates. Chrétien made the right one. The Canadian population can claim partial credit for that. Anti-war protests had taken place across the country, uniting 1000 people in Montreal, 2000 in Toronto and 3000 in Vancouver.

To kill any temptation to feel smug about it, Canadians should remember how close we came to being an integral part of the disaster. You can watch Stephen Harper’s fervent plea for the invasion of Iraq, if you need a reminder. This was in 2003, only a couple of years before he took Chrétien’s place (and stayed there for almost a decade).

As it is, we should face the fact that while Canada avoided the international backlash, it did not do so with a clean conscience. Unofficially, it provided significant practical support to the war. Canadian troops escorted the US navy through the Persian Gulf. They also provided significant military expertise and training for our southern neighbours, as well as airspace and fuel.

Paul Cellucci, then US ambassador to Canada, admitted that “… ironically, Canadian naval vessels, aircraft and personnel… will supply more support to this war in Iraq indirectly… than most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting our efforts there.”

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