Updated | Iraq report says Blair took Britain to an unnecessary war

Long-awaited Chilcot inquiry reveals UK went to war before peaceful options for disarmament exhausted • memos shine light on relationship between Bush and Blair, who had started discussing toppling Hussein a month after 9/11 

Tony Blair is accused of lying in order to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq
Tony Blair is accused of lying in order to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq

Sir John Chilcot, the chairman of the UK's inquiry into the 2003 Iraq War, warned that future military action require more careful analysis and better political judgement.

In a damning verdict, the report said Tony Blair chose to join the US invasion before “peaceful options for disarmament” had been exhausted.

The report concluded that Blair's government failed to achieve the stated objectives it had set itself in Iraq.

More than 200 British citizens died as a result of the conflict and by July 2009, at least 150,000 Iraqis had died with more than 1 million displaced.

He said the report concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action in 2003 "were far from satisfactory."

The report concluded that Blair's government chose to join the US-led invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.

"Mr Blair told the Inquiry that the difficulties encountered in Iraq after the invasion could not have been known in advance. We do not agree that hindsight is required. The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and Al Qaeda activity in Iraq, were each explicitly identified before the invasion," Sir Chilcot said.

The 12-volume report on the Iraq War criticises individuals and institutions and said he hoped it would help answer some questions for families of the 179 Britons who died between 2003 and 2009.

In a press conference, Chilcot said the inquiry looked at whether it was "right and necessary" to invade Iraq "and whether the UK could - and should - have been better prepared for what followed".

"We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort," Chilcot said.

He added that the judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction - WMD - were presented by former Prime Minister Tony Blair's government with a certainty that was not justified.

"Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate. The government failed to achieve its stated objectives."

The report found that intelligence had "not established beyond doubt" that Saddam Hussein had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.

Moreover, policy on Iraq was based on flawed intelligence assessments, which were not challenged. The report also said that there was "little time" to properly prepare three military brigades for deployment in Iraq.

The risks were neither "properly identified nor fully exposed" to ministers, resulting in "equipment shortfalls".

Sir John Chilcot made it clear that the UK did not face an "imminent threat" from Iraq and the strategy of containment "could have been adapted and continued for some time, the majority of the Security Council supported continuing UN inspections and monitoring."

The official report into the UK's involvement in the 2003 Iraq War has been published on Wednesday as hundreds of Stop the War protestors gathered outside the QE2 centre in central London.

The Iraq Inquiry, set up in 2009 and chaired by Sir John Chilcot, was set up to look at the decision making that led to the invasion of Iraq.

Thirteen years after British troops invaded Iraq and seven years after the inquiry began, Sir John Chilcot gave a short statement to journalists in Westminster and the report was published in full - all 12 massive volumes of it - when the press conference was over.

The report is available free online but hard copies are so large they cost £767 each.

Prosecutors will search through the Chilcot report for evidence to use against British soldiers – but it will ignore the actions of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The International Criminal Court in the Hague said Blair’s decision to take the UK to war in Iraq in 2003 “falls outside the Court’s jurisdiction.” But soldiers could be prosecuted if evidence of torture or abuse is found.

The former civil servant has said from the outset that the report does not delve into whether the invasion was legal in terms of international law, pledging instead to provide a "full and insightful" account of the decision-making process.

Blair is accused of exaggerating the threat from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to justify the US-led invasion in 2003.

Blair is due to announce a press conference later in the day.

‘Iraq invasion a catastrophe’ – Corbyn

Addressing the House of Commons, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn lambasted the invasion of Iraq as a “catastrophe” and a decision that had gone against “the weight of global opinion”.

He said that 1.5 million people who marched against the Iraq War in 2003 did not “underestimate the brutality or the crimes of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship”.

“Going to war without UN authorisation was profoundly dangerous, and increased the threat of terrorism in the UK”

“We now know that the House was misled in the run-up to the war, and the House must not decide how it should deal with it 13 years later. Just as all those who took the decisions laid bare in the Chilcot report must face up to the consequences of their actions, whatever they may be.”

Earlier, outgoing prime minister David Cameron said Chilcot’s report did not give a view of the legality of the Iraq war, but “Sir John is highly critical of the processes” through which the then-government’s legal advice was arrived at.

He said Blair gave commitments to US President George Bush that were not discussed openly in Cabinet.

“At no stage does he [Chilcot] explicity say that there was a deliberate attempt to mislead people,” he added.

He called on MPs to learn lessons from the report, that “taking the country to war should always be a last resort, and should only be done if all credible alternatives have been exhausted.”

‘I will be with you, whatever’

A set of memos sent between Bush and Blair in the run-up to the Iraq war were also released alongside the inquiry, and shone a light on the extent of the relationship between the two leaders.

In one memo dated July 2002 – eight months before the Iraq invasion – Blair told Bush “I will be with you whatever”.

“Getting rid of Saddam is the right thing to do. He is a potential threat. He could be contained. But containment, as we found with Al Qaida, is always risky. His departure would free up the region. And his regime is probably, with the possible exception of North Korea, the most brutal and inhumane in the world.”

One memo reveals that Blair and Bush were already openly discussing toppling Saddam Hussein as early as October 2001, just a month after the attacks on New York’s Twin Towers.

“There is a real willingness in the Middle East to get Saddam out but a total opposition to mixing this up with the current operation [bombing Afghanistan]…I have no doubt that we need to deal with Saddam. But if we hit Iraq now, we would lose the Arab world, Russia, probably half the EU and my fear is the impact of all of that on Pakistan. However, I am sure we can devise a strategy for Saddam deliverable at a later date.”

'I will be with you, whatever' - Blair to Bush in a memo dated 2002
'I will be with you, whatever' - Blair to Bush in a memo dated 2002

In another memo, Blair told Bush that their best ally in the Iraq War could actually be Russia.

“In my opinion, neither the Germans or the French, and most probably not the Italians or Spanish either, would support us without specific UN authority. And – here is my real point – public opinion is public opinion. And opinion in the US is quite simply on a different planet from opinion here, in Europe or in the Arab world.

“In Britain, right now I couldn’t be sure of support from Parliament, Party, public or even some of the Cabinet. And this is Britain. In Europe generally, people just don’t have the same sense of urgency post 9/11 as people in the US…At the moment oddly, our best ally might be Russia.”