Chilcot Inquiry 13th July 2016
This week the House debates the report of the Chilcot Inquiry into the invasion and aftermath of Iraq in March 2003.
On the eve of the vote in parliament that determined the invasion some fifteen to twenty Conservative MPs who were considering voting against the war were asked to see the then Leader of the Opposition, Iain Duncan Smith and the Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael (now Lord) Ancram. We were informed that Mr. Duncan Smith had been advised by Prime Minister Blair, on “Privy Council Terms” that Saddam Hussein did indeed hold Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and that these could be delivered against British targets (later identified as our troops stationed in Cyprus) at forty-five minutes notice. We were therefore asked to support the government`s position and to vote to instigate the military action that was planned against Iraq. I believe that most if not all of us acquiesced.
Following the publication of the Chilcot Report, prepared by Sir John Chilcot and agreed unanimously by the other Privy Councillors on the team, we now know that there was no `forty-five minute threat`, that there were no WMDs and that Blair misled the House of Commons and the Opposition Front Bench. We also know, because the memorandum has now been published, that Blair told President Bush, not at Camp David as I had previously been led to believe but in writing on 28th July 2002 following a meeting in Crawford, Texas, in April of that year, that if Bush took action against Saddam Hussein then he, Blair, would “be with him whatever”. In other words the deal was struck and the Iraq War planned the best part of a year before parliament voted on the matter.
The report in his name, agreed with his colleagues, was circumspect on some issues but in his own press statement, issued when Sir John Chilcot met on the day of publication with the families of some of those killed in Iraq, was more robust. “We have concluded” he said “that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted .Military action at that time was not a last resort”. He adds that “The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq`s WMDs were presented with a certainty that was not justified” and that “The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate”.
In his statement Sir John says that “The Inquiry has not expressed a view on whether military action was legal. That could, of course, only be resolved by a properly constituted and internationally recognised court. We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory”.
On 18th March 2003 Blair told the House of Commons that he judged the possibility of terrorist groups in possession of WMDs was a “a real and present danger to Britain and its national security” and he won his vote as, on the basis of false information I and many others took him at his word.
The “internationally recognised Court” referred to by Chilcot has the power to try those who commit battlefield crimes only. This means that British soldiers can be brought before the International Criminal Court but that those who sent them into battle, very probably on a spurious pretext, cannot at present be prosecuted. That law may change but it will not be tried retrospectively and that Blair and others responsible cannot be held to account by the ICC.
The debate in parliament is programmed to give issues an airing but it has, effectively, no teeth. That is why I and other MPs who have lost young and brave constituents in this conflict have joined forces under a cross-party banner led by Alex Salmond and David Davis to pursue other measures that may yet hold Blair properly to account.
Those who join our armed services know that, when they do so they may be required to place their lives on the line. When they are called upon to do so they have a right to know that their cause is honourable and just and those of us who send young men and women into harm`s way have a clear duty to ensure that that is so. We owe it to the memory of those who have died and to their families to see this through and to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done.