Tony Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by the Iraqi regime as he sought to make the case for military action to MPs and the public in the buildup to the invasion in 2002 and 2003, the Chilcot inquiry has found.
Posted July 06, 2016
By Heather Stewart Political editor
July 06, 2016 "Information Clearing House" - "The Guardian"- Tony Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by the Iraqi regime as he sought to make the case for military action to MPs and the public in the buildup to the invasion in 2002 and 2003, the Chilcot inquiry has found.
In his forensic account of the way Blair and his ministers built the case for military action, Chilcot finds the then Labour prime minister – who had promised US president George W Bush, “I will be with you, whatever”– disregarded warnings about the potential consequences of military action and relied too heavily on his own beliefs, rather than the more nuanced judgements of the intelligence services.
In particular, Chilcot identifies two separate, key occasions in the buildup to the conflict, against the background of mass protests on the streets of London by the Stop the War coalition, when Blair appears to have overplayed the threat from Iraq and underplayed the risks of invasion.
“In the House of Commons on 24 September 2002, Mr Blair presented Iraq’s past, current and future capabilities as evidence of the severity of the potential threat from Iraq’s WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. He said that, at some point in the future, that threat would become a reality,” Chilcot says.
But Chilcot argues instead: “The judgments about Iraq’s capabilities in that statement, and in the dossier published the same day, were presented with a certainty that was not justified.”
The inquiry finds that the report, which subsequently became notorious as the “dodgy dossier”, was deliberately aimed at maximising the perceived threat from Iraq.
The foreword, in which the prime minister said he believed intelligence “established beyond doubt” that Saddam Hussein was continuing to produce chemical and biological weapons, and hoped to produce nuclear weapons, was “grounded in what Mr Blair believed, rather than in the judgements which the joint intelligence committee had actually reached in its assessment of the intelligence”, Chilcot finds.
Separately, Chilcot contrasts the powerful language used by Blair to the House of Commons on 18 March 2003, when he was making the case for military action to sceptical MPs, with the more nuanced picture presented by intelligence at the time.
Blair warned about the possibility of WMD falling into the hands of terrorist groups, which he said posed “a real and present danger to Britain and its national security”.
But Chilcot points out that the UK’s intelligence assessment was that:
The Chilcot report goes on to suggest the Blair government’s approach to making the case for war – including the “dodgy dossier” – undermined future public debate.
“The widespread perception that the September 2002 dossier overstated the firmness of the evidence about Iraq’s capabilities and intentions in order to influence opinion and ‘make the case’ for action to disarm Iraq has produced a damaging legacy, including undermining trust and confidence in government statements, particularly those that rely on intelligence that cannot be independently verified,” the report says.
Alistair Campbell, Blair’s director of communications, was widely blamed at the time for “sexing up” the claims in the dossier, but he barely merits a mention in the report’s executive summary, which focuses squarely on Blair’s key role in taking Britain to war in the Middle East.
Setting out the lessons future governments should take from the dossier episode, Chilcot emphasised “the need for vigilance to avoid unwittingly crossing the line from supposition to certainty” and “the need to be scrupulous in discriminating between facts and knowledge on the one hand, and opinion, judgment and belief on the other”.
As well as questioning the basis for many of Blair’s public statements about the threat posed by Iraq at the time, Chilcot also underlines a series of failings in the style of government practised behind the scenes, criticised at the time as “sofa government” – which he says failed to provide sufficient challenge to decisions made by a select inner circle.
The inquiry identifies 11 separate “decision points” in the buildup to the conflict, which could have benefited from “collective discussion” in a cabinet sub-committee, with advice from civil servants.
It also criticises Blair for failing to consult more widely within government about his promise to Bush – in a “long note” of September 2002 – that, “I will be with you, whatever”.
“While the note was marked ‘personal’ (to signal that it should have a restricted circulation) it represented an extensive statement of the UK government’s position by the prime minister to the president of the United States. The foreign and defence secretaries should certainly have been given an opportunity to comment on the draft in advance,” it says.