We were tasked with analyzing the UK’s policy regarding Iraq from 2001 to 2009 and present lessons for the future. Our report will be published on the website of the commission of inquiry after my presentation.
In 2003, for the first time after World War II, Great Britain took part in the invasion and full-scale occupation of a sovereign state. It was a decision of great importance. Undoubtedly, Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who attacked Iraqi neighbors, carried out reprisals and killed many of his fellow citizens. There is no doubt that he acted in violation of the obligations imposed on him by the UN Security Council.
But the following questions stood before the commission of inquiry:
- whether it was right and necessary to invade Iraq in March 2003;
- whether Britain could (and should) have been better prepared for what happened next.
We concluded that the UK decided to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful disarmament options were exhausted. Military operations at that time were not the last resort.
We also concluded that:
- Judgments about the seriousness of the threat from the Iraqi weapons mass destruction (WMD) were presented with unreasonable certainty.
“Despite unequivocal warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated.” Planning and preparation for the period after the departure of Saddam Hussein were completely inadequate.
- The government has not achieved the stated goals.
And now I would like to outline some key points of the report.
First, the official decision to invade Iraq if Saddam Hussein does not agree to an American ultimatum about leaving within 48 hours was taken by the 17 Cabinet in March 2003. Parliament voted the next day and supported this decision.
However, this decision was influenced by the important choices that the Blair government made in the previous months ’18, and which I will summarize.
After the September 11 attacks, American politics began to change, and Blair proposed that the United States and Britain jointly and gradually develop, as he put it, a “smart strategy” to change the regime in Iraq, which will improve with time.
When Blair met with President Bush at Crawford, Texas in early April 2002, the official policy was still to contain Saddam Hussein. But by that time, profound changes had occurred in the views of Britain:
- The Joint Intelligence Committee concluded that it would be impossible to remove Saddam Hussein from power without invasion.
- The government has stated that Iraq is a threat that needs to be addressed. He must disarm, otherwise he will have to disarm.
“This implied the use of force in the event of Iraq’s refusal to obey.” The internal process of multivariate planning for participation in a military attack has begun.
In Crawford, Blair sought a partnership as a way to influence President Bush. He suggested that the UN should put an ultimatum to Iraq on the re-admission of inspectors, threatening serious consequences in the event of its non-compliance.
On July 28, Blair sent a message to President Bush assuring him that he would be with him, "whatever happens." But if the US needs a coalition for the conduct of hostilities, then changes will be needed in three key areas:
- progress in the Middle East peace process;
- UN mandate;
- Changes in public opinion in Britain, Europe and the Arab world.
Blair also stressed that “long-term commitment to Iraq will be required.”
Subsequently, Blair and (Jack) Straw called on the United States to put the question of Iraq back on the UN. September 7 President Bush decided to do this.
8 November, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1441. It provided Iraq with the final opportunity to disarm or face “grave consequences”. She also stipulated that any further violations of Iraq would be reported to the Security Council for an “assessment”. In the same month, the military inspectors returned to Iraq.
However, in November, President Bush decided that the inspections would not bring the desired result, and that the United States would take military action at the beginning of 2003.
By early January, Blair also concluded that "war is highly likely."
At the end of January, Blair agreed with the American schedule of hostilities scheduled for mid-March. To help Blair, President Bush decided to push for a new UN resolution - a “second” resolution with the definition that Iraq did not take the last opportunity to fulfill its obligations.
By March 12, it became clear that there was no chance that the majority would support the second resolution before the US launched hostilities.
Without evidence of serious new violations by Iraq and without reports of inspectors about his refusal to cooperate, which is why they are unable to carry out their tasks, most of the members of the Security Council would not believe that the possibilities of peaceful disarmament of Iraq have been exhausted, but therefore, there are grounds for the outbreak of hostilities.
Blair and Straw blamed France for the "deadlock" at the UN and said that the British government was acting in the interests of the world community to "defend the authority of the Security Council."
Due to the absence of a majority in support of military action, we believe that Britain actually undermined the authority of the UN Security Council.
Secondly, the investigation committee did not express its opinion on the legality of the military actions. Of course, this can be resolved only by a properly convened and internationally recognized court.
However, we concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that the legal basis for British military action did not exist was satisfactory.
In mid-January 2003, Lord Goldsmith told Blair that a new Security Council resolution was needed to provide the legal basis for military action. At the end of February, he said in Downing Street, 10, that, although the second resolution is preferable, it is reasonable to say that 1441 resolution is sufficient. This point of view he outlined in writing on March 7.
The military and civilian authorities asked for more clarity as to whether the use of force would be legitimate. After that, Lord Goldsmith declared that there was a “more solid point of view” that there was a solid legal basis for the outbreak of hostilities even without a new resolution of the Security Council. On March 14, he asked Blair to confirm that Iraq had committed new serious violations, which the 1441 resolution points to. Blair did it the next day.
But it is not clear on what particular grounds Blair made this decision.
Given the importance of the decision being made, Lord Goldsmith should have been asked to provide written comments on how, in the absence of a majority in the Security Council, Blair could take such a step.
This is one of several cases identified by the commission when the decision was to be considered by the Cabinet Committee and then discussed by the Cabinet itself.
Thirdly, I want to turn to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction assessments and how they were presented in support of the hostilities.
Britain’s political and intelligence community was firmly convinced that:
- Iraq has a certain arsenal of chemical and biological weapons;
- Iraq is determined to preserve and, if possible, increase this arsenal, and in the future to become the owner of nuclear weapons;
- Iraq managed to hide its activities from UN inspectors.
24 September 2002, Blair in the House of Commons presented the past, present and future potential of Iraq as evidence of a serious threat from the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He said that in the future this threat at some point will become a reality.
The findings on Iraq’s military capabilities made in this statement and in the dossier that was published on the same day were presented with unfounded certainty.
The Joint Intelligence Committee should have made it clear to Blair that intelligence analysis does not allow us to confidently say that Iraq continues to produce chemical and biological weapons, and also continues to develop nuclear weapons.
The Committee also concluded that while maintaining the sanctions, Iraq would not have been able to create nuclear weapons, and that it would have taken him several years to manufacture and deploy long-range missiles.
Speaking 18 March 2003 in the House of Commons, Blair said that in his view, the possibility of terrorist groups having weapons of mass destruction represents "a real and significant threat to Britain and its national security", and that the threat from the arsenal of Saddam Hussein cannot be contained, therefore, it represents a clear danger to British citizens.
However, Blair was warned that hostilities would exacerbate the threat to Britain and British interests from al-Qaida. He was also warned that in the event of an invasion of Iraq, weapons and the means of developing and delivering them could be handed over to terrorists.
The government's strategy reflected his confidence in the estimates of the Joint Intelligence Committee. These assessments became the guideline on which basis an opinion was drawn up on Iraq’s behavior, on its denials and on the reports of inspectors.
On March 17, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee informed Blair that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, their means of delivery and production facilities. He also said that, according to available data, Saddam Hussein considers this arsenal to be significant, and, if allowed, will continue to build it up.
Now it is clear that the Iraq policy was developed on the basis of unreliable intelligence data and assessments. No one doubted them, although it had to be done.
The findings on the capabilities of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program, described in the report of the Iraq Survey Group, were very significant. At the same time, they did not support the version of the British government, which spoke about the existing possibilities of Iraq. Blair and Straw have argued that Iraq has huge arsenals and is a growing threat.
In response to these findings, Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking in the House of Commons, said that Iraq may not have any ready-made weapons, but Saddam Hussein "kept his intentions and capabilities ... and violated the resolutions of the UN Security Council."
But before the start of the operation, he gave another explanation of the need for the start of hostilities.
In our report, we have learned several lessons about how in the future you can publicly use intelligence to support government policy.
The order of British military participation was not established until mid-January 2003, when Blair and Hun accepted the offer of the military to increase the number of brigades participating in the operation, and decided that they would operate in southern Iraq, and not in northern Iraq.
There was little time to prepare the three brigades, and the risks were not fully established or presented to the ministers. As a result, as the report established, there was a shortage of equipment.
Despite the cabinet’s promise to discuss military involvement, he never discussed military capabilities or their implementation.
In January, 2003, the government published its post-war Iraq plan, noting that the Iraqi administration should lead the UN during the transition period.
In March, 2003, the government failed to convince the US to support this plan and put forward a less ambitious proposal: for the coalition interim administration to receive UN approval.
When the invasion began, the British government based its policy on the assumption that the operation would be carried out effectively by the United States, with UN approval, in a relatively safe environment.
Blair told the commission of inquiry that the difficulties that had been encountered in Iraq could not have been foreseen in advance.
We do not agree that any particular foresight was required. The risk of Iraq’s internal division, Iran’s desire to pursue its own interests, regional instability, Al-Qaida’s activity in Iraq were aware of all this before the invasion.
The ministers knew about the shortcomings of the American plans and expressed concern that the United Kingdom could not influence the planning of the operation sufficiently. Blair achieved only a small goal, having managed to convince President George W. Bush to agree to the UN’s participation in a post-war settlement.
Moreover, he did not provide unambiguous ministerial control over the planning and preparation of the British operation. He did not guarantee the development of a flexible, realistic plan with sufficient resources that would combine military and civilian participation and take into account the existing risks.
Deficiencies at the level of planning and preparation also affected the invasion.
Thus, I turn to the failure of the government in achieving its stated goals in Iraq.
The armed forces successfully conducted a military campaign, taking Basra and contributing to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the fall of Baghdad in less than a month.
Attendants, civilians arriving in Iraq, and Iraqis who collaborated with the UK showed great courage in view of the risks involved. They deserve our thanks and respect.
As a result of the Iraq conflict, more 200 British citizens died. Even more people were injured. It caused a lot of pain to many families, some of them are present here today.
The invasion and further instability also led to the death of thousands of Iraqis by 150, as of July 2009. Perhaps there were a lot more casualties, and civilians prevailed among them. More than a million people lost their homes. Iraqis have gone through severe suffering.
The vision of the future of Iraq and its people, voiced by the United States, Britain, Spain and Portugal at the Azores Summit of March 16 March 2003, included a solemn promise to rebuild Iraq and allow it to live in peace with itself and its neighbors. This plan envisioned a united Iraq, whose people would live in security, freedom, prosperity and equality, and with a government respecting human rights and the rule of law as the cornerstones of democracy.
We have carefully studied the post-war period of Iraq, paying close attention to all the details, including efforts to rebuild the country and rebuild the security forces.
In this brief statement I can touch on only a few points.
After the invasion, the United States and Great Britain became the occupying powers. The following year, Iraq was governed by a temporary coalition administration. Britain was fully involved in the decision-making administration, but fought for a decisive influence on its policies.
Preparation of the government could not take into account the whole scale of the task of stabilizing, managing and reconstructing Iraq, and the responsibility that most likely falls on the UK.
Britain took responsibility for the four southern provinces of Iraq. She did this without a formal ministerial decision and without ensuring that there are sufficient military and civilian resources to fulfill her obligations, including security.
The scale of Britain’s efforts in post-war Iraq has never matched the scale of the challenges. British ministries and departments could not unite in order to accomplish the task.
In practice, the most consistent task for the UK in Iraq was to reduce the number of its contingent.
The security situation in Baghdad and in the southeast began to deteriorate shortly after the invasion.
We found that the Ministry of Defense reacted too slowly to the threat from improvised explosive devices, and this delay in the provision of patrol cars with medium armor cannot be justified. It is not clear who exactly in the Ministry of Defense was responsible for identifying and articulating these gaps. It should have been clear.
Since 2006, the UK has conducted two parallel operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The country did not have sufficient resources for this. The decision to allocate resources to Iraq influenced operations in Afghanistan.
For example, sending troops to Afghanistan influenced the availability of the necessary equipment for Iraq, primarily helicopters and the means to observe and gather intelligence.
In 2007, paramilitary forces dominated Basra, and British forces could not resist them, which resulted in the release of those arrested in exchange for stopping attacks on the British.
It is humiliating that the United Kingdom found itself in a situation in which an agreement with the militant group that attacked its forces was considered the best possible option.
The military role of Britain was far from successful.
We decided to describe the government’s actions in Iraq fully and impartially. Testimony can be seen by everyone. This is a report on the invasion, which was unsuccessful, and the consequences of which are still felt today.
The commission of inquiry has approved the investigative report unanimously.
At some point, hostilities in Iraq might have been necessary. But in March 2003 of the year:
1) Saddam Hussein did not pose an immediate threat
2) should have chosen a deterrence strategy for a period of time,
3) most members of the UN Security Council supported the continuation of the missions of international inspectors and observers.
A military invasion may be required in the future. The vital purpose of this investigation is to identify lessons from the invasion of Iraq.
The report listed many such lessons.
Some relate to relations with allies, especially with the United States. Blair overestimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq.
Britain’s relationship with the United States has been strong enough to withstand the weight of differences. They do not require unconditional support in cases where our interests or judgments diverge.
Lessons also include the following:
1) the importance of collective ministerial discussions ensuring honest and informed debates and tasks,
2) the need to assess risks, weigh the possibilities and establish a realistic strategy,
3) ministerial leadership and coordination, supported by senior officials,
4) the need to ensure that civilian and military government institutions have sufficient resources to complete tasks.
The main lesson is that in the case of an invasion discussion, it is necessary to carefully weigh, calculate, discuss and criticize every aspect of it.
And when decisions are made, they must be fully implemented.
Unfortunately, in the case of the actions of the British government in Iraq, nothing of the kind was done.
In conclusion, I want to thank the colleagues, our advisers and the secretariat of the investigative commission for their willingness to work on this difficult task.
I also want to pay tribute to the memory of Sir Michael Gilbert, who died last year. One of the most prominent historians of the last century, he brought his unique perspective to our work until he fell ill in April 2012. We really miss him as a colleague and as a friend.