Tony Blair told George Bush he would be with him “whatever” eight months before the invasion of Iraq was launched, and suggested January or February 2003 as a strike date, the long-awaited Chilcot inquiry has revealed.
While the report does not explicitly say the former prime minister did a deal with the US president to back military action, it says Mr Blair’s commitment in July 2002 – which had not been discussed or agreed with his Cabinet – set the UK on a path that would “make it very difficult” for it to withdraw its support.
In a six-page memorandum to Mr Bush, marked Secret Personal, Mr Blair wrote: “I will be with you whatever.”
The inquiry found Mr Blair led the UK into the Iraq War before the “peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted”.
US President George W. Bush (R) waves with British
Tony Blair and George W Bush at the then president’s ranch in 2002 In his damning report, Sir John Chilcot said military action was “not a last resort”, and claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were made “with a certainty that was not justified”.The intervention went “badly wrong” and the consequences are still being felt to this day, he said.
Although the inquiry says military action against Iraq might have been necessary at some point, it adds that when the war began in March 2003 there was “no imminent threat” from the Iraqi leader.
The 2.6 million-word document, which has cost £10m to produce and is four times longer than War and Peace, also heavily criticises the process by which it was decided the 2003 war was legal, the intelligence that was used to support military action, and the planning for the conflict.
The consequences of the invasion were underestimated despite “explicit warnings”, the inquiry found, and the Government “failed to achieve its stated objectives”.
The inquiry was set up in June 2009 by then prime minister Gordon Brown to examine the UK’s involvement in Iraq from the summer of 2001 to the end of June 2009.
It received evidence from more than 150 witnesses, held more than 130 sessions of oral evidence and analysed more than 150,000 government documents as it sought to build a complete picture of a conflict that cost the lives of 179 British soldiers.
One of the focuses of the 12-volume report is the advice from the then attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, that war was legal without a second UN resolution – a key moment before hostilities began.
While the inquiry has not expressed a view on whether this was right, it said the circumstances leading up to Lord Goldsmith’s controversial advice were “far from satisfactory”.
The report also criticises the fact that the Cabinet did not discuss the legality of the conflict before the advice was issued.
Mr Blair’s “unequivocal” belief that Iraq was in “material breach” of a UN resolution on complying with weapons inspections – a key plank of the case for war – is questioned.
Sir John says it is “unclear” what grounds Mr Blair relied upon in reaching this view.The intelligence community also does not escape censure, with Sir John criticising the “ingrained belief” Hussein had chemical and biological capabilities and wanted to enhance them.
It had not been established “beyond doubt” that Hussein had continued to produce WMD and the Joint Intelligence Committee “should have made that clear” to Mr Blair before he presented the infamous September 2002 dossier to Parliament.
Sir John said: “It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments.
However, the report found no evidence intelligence was improperly included or that Number 10 influenced the content of the September dossier, which contained the notorious claim Iraq could launch WMD within 45 minutes.
In the end, the UK and US went ahead without a second UN resolution, a move that Sir John said “undermined the Security Council’s authority”.
Initial military gains were swift – US forces seized Baghdad’s airport a little more than two weeks later – but both countries’ involvement dragged on long after an end to the initial military campaign was declared.
Planning and preparations for what would happen post-Saddam are slammed as “wholly inadequate” in the report.
The Armed Forces are praised for fighting a “successful military campaign”, and Sir John notes that service personnel, civilians who were deployed and Iraqis who worked for the UK “showed great courage in the face of considerable risks”.
But Sir John says the UK’s efforts once the war was over “never matched the scale of the challenge”.There is also criticism for the Ministry of Defence, which Sir John said was slow to respond to the threat from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Delays in providing armoured patrol vehicles to troops “should not have been tolerated”, the inquiry said.
Sir John went on to say: “It was not clear which person or department within the Ministry of Defence was responsible for identifying and articulating such capability gaps. But it should have been.”From 2006, the UK was also committed to a campaign in Afghanistan – something which it did not have “sufficient resources” for.
In two particularly scathing passages of his statement, Sir John said the UK’s most consistent strategic objective was to reduce the troops it had deployed there and notes it was “humiliating” that at one point the British did a deal with a militia group to exchange prisoners in return for the end of the targeting of UK forces.
In short, Sir John concluded: “The UK military role in Iraq ended a very long way from success.”