A long overdue report from the Iraq War Inquiry in the United Kingdom largely affirmed the protests of activists and leaders in Parliament, who opposed the United States-led invasion of Iraq over thirteen years ago.
The Stop the War Coalition in the UK described the report overseen by Sir John Chilcot as a “damning indictment of Tony Blair and those around him who took us to war in Iraq.”
“The report vindicates Stop the War and all we have been campaigning for over the years,” the coalition declared. “This report would not have happened without our campaigns and our ceaseless demands for Blair to be held to account. It is clear that Blair used lies and deception to get his way, that the war was unnecessary and illegal and that everything was done to ensure it went ahead.”
Indeed, the report highlighted a letter from Blair to President George W. Bush showing as early as July 28, 2002, the UK was essentially committed to supporting the U.S. invasion. In the letter, Blair states, “I will be with you, whatever.”
Another letter sent six days after the invasion featured this declaration from Blair: “This is the moment when you can define international politics for the next generation: the true post-cold war world order.”
In November 2001, according to the executive summary [PDF], the Joint Intelligence Committee, a part of the British Cabinet Office in charge of intelligence agencies, determined, “Iraq had played no role in the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. and that practical cooperation between Iraq an al Qaida was ‘unlikely.'” There also was no “credible evidence of covert transfers of [weapons of mass destruction-related] technology and expertise to terrorist groups.”
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, did not support invading Iraq in 2003. Nonetheless, he issued an apology at a press conference in Westminster.
“The apology is first owed first to all the people of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, and the country is still living with the devastating consequences of the war and the forces it unleashed. They have paid the greatest price for the most serious foreign policy calamity of the last 60 years,” Corbyn stated.
The Labour leader added, “The apology is also owed to the families of those soldiers, who died in Iraq or who have returned home injured or incapacitated. They did their duty, but it was a conflict they should never have been sent to. Finally, it is an apology to millions of British citizens, who feel our democracy was reduced and undermined by the way a decision to go to war was taken on the basis of a secret—’I will be with you, whatever’—understandings given to the U.S. President that have now been publicly exposed by Sir John Chilcot’s report.”
Days after a political campaign to intimidate and force Corbyn out of his position as a leader of the Labour Party, Corbyn stood on the floor of Parliament and sharply rebuked Blair and others involved in prosecuting the war.
“The Chilcot report has rightly dug deep into the litany of failures of planning for the occupation, the calamitous decision to stand down the Iraqi Army and to dissolve the entire Iraqi state as a process of de-Baathification,” Corbyn declared. “But the reality is it was the original decision to follow the U.S. president into this war in the most volatile region of the world and impose a colonial-style occupation that led to every other disaster. The government’s September 2002 dossier, with its claim declaring that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed in 45 minutes, was only the most notorious of many deceptions.”
In stark contrast, Blair’s long-winded statements to the press were classic imperial rationalizations of a war of empire in Iraq. He re-hashed much of the case against Saddam Hussein, which he relied upon in 2003 and gave a full-throated defense of military interventions for regime change. As the Independent newspaper in the UK put it, Blair was “spinning on the graves” of dead Iraqis and dead British soldiers.
“It’s claimed by some that, by removing Saddam, we caused the terrorism today in the Middle East, and it would have been better to have left him in power. I profoundly disagree,” Blair said. “Saddam was himself a wellspring of terror, a continuing threat to peace and to his own people. If he’d been left in power in 2003, then I believe he would once again had threatened world peace and when the Arab revolutions of 2011 began, he would have clung to power with the same deadly consequences that we see in the carnage in Syria today.”
“Whereas at least in Iraq, for all its challenges, we have today a government that is elected, is recognized as internationally legitimate, and is fighting terrorism with support of the international community. The world was and is in my judgment a better place without Saddam Hussein,” Blair additionally suggested.
What Blair said is the height of delusion. Regardless of prior elections, corruption pervades all levels of Iraq’s government. Torture, detention, and disappearances of Iraqis is perpetrated by the Iraqi government and state-backed forces. In tandem with U.S. forces, entire cities, like Ramadi, have been flattened by Iraqi government forces and millions have been displaced in the war on ISIS.
Back in October, Blair conceded there were “elements of truth” to the argument that the Iraq invasion had been a “principal cause” of the rise of the ISIS. “Of course you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”
Yet, faced with an inquiry aimed at providing some modicum of accountability for those killed and impacted by the war and occupation, Blair did an about-face.
Blair rejected the critique of his decision to so forcefully commit to aligning Britain with the U.S.
“9/11 was an event like no other in U.S. history. I considered it an attack on all the free world,” Blair said. “I believed that Britain, as America’s strongest ally, should be with them in tackling this new and unprecedented security challenge. I believed it important that America was not alone but part of a wider coalition. In the end, even a majority of European Union nations supported action in Iraq. I do not believe that we would have had that coalition or indeed persuaded the administration to go down the UN path without our commitment to be alongside them in this fight.”
This was an admission of how Blair gave President Bush’s administration international legitimacy in its effort to build support for what ultimately turned out to be the destruction of an entire country.
Perhaps, one of the most sociopathic aspects of Blair’s spin was the following “counterfactual” he posed to the world.
Supposing Saddam had stayed in power in 2003, I ask this counterfactual: Is it likely that he would still have been in power in 2011, when the Arab Spring began? Is it likely that the Iraqi people would have joined the Arab Spring, when all the countries were part of it and this was the most tyrannical regime of any of them with the vast majority of people excluded from power? And is it likely that if the Iraqi people, if there had been an uprising, that he would have reacted like Assad in Syria? Surely, it’s at least possible that the answer to all of those questions is affirmative. In that case, the nightmare of Syria today would also be happening in Iraq except with the Shia-Sunni balance inverted. Consider the consequences of that. Even if you disagreed with removing Saddam in 2003, we should be thankful we’re not dealing with him and his two sons now.
Blair’s colonial defense of the entire destruction of a country wholly neglects the reality of the terror Iraqis have experienced during the past 13 to 14 years. He assesses the “nightmare of Syria” like there is any meaningful or humane distinction between the nightmare in which Iraqis live daily. In fact, on July 3, the deadliest bombing attack since 2003, for which ISIS claimed responsibility, occurred in Baghdad and killed 250 people.
Journalist Anand Gopal has reported on what he calls the “end of Sunni Iraq.” In a piece written for The Atlantic and published last May, Gopal wrote:
The Iraqi state responded with raids and arrests that swept up innocent Sunnis, using as justification the notorious Anti-Terrorism Law, passed in 2005 by the occupation-backed provisional government. Thousands were imprisoned or disappeared on dubious grounds. “Federal police invaded 11 homes in the town of al-Tajji, north of Baghdad, and detained 41 people, including 29 children, overnight in their homes,” a typical Human Rights Watch dispatch stated. “Sources said the police beat the women and tortured them with electric shocks and plastic bags placed over their heads until they began to suffocate.”
How to differentiate between the regime of Saddam and the current regime headed by Haider al-Abadi? In May, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Rupert Colville urged the government to investigate security forces, which killed four protestors and injured 200 with tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition, during a demonstration outside the Green Zone in Baghdad.
“The terrorism we faced, and did not expect, would have been difficult in any circumstances to counter. This is the lesson we learned from other conflict zones, especially Libya, Syria, Yemen, but others also,” Blair contended. He later recommended, “It would be sensible now as a precaution to invest in nation building in those parts of the world, where we’re plainly, over time, at risk of failed states collapsing and leading to further centers of extremism. Certain states in Africa are a clear example.”
In other words, in Blair’s assessment, the nation-building in Iraq is no cautionary tale. Imperialism remains a viable tool to Blair in the “war on terrorism,” and he would have U.S. and U.K forces perpetrate the same criminal acts against African countries.
Blair even had the gall to share his distress over the fact that Iraq has made it harder to go to war and occupy countries.
“For us in the West, the pain of taking casualties in a fight that is often politically controversial and which does not involve defense of our own territory is now so great that we risk a situation where political leaders are reluctant to commit, especially ground forces to combat,” Blair stated. “On the other hand, Western forces, particularly those of the United States and UK, have the most experience and the highest level of capability. This needs an act of consideration of whether we require a different level of volunteering for these missions. Otherwise, we’re fighting without the best available forces to do the work.”
Simply, Corbyn’s remorse put Blair’s unrepentant attitude to shame. It pulled into focus the reality that the inquiry was not permitted to make legal recommendations on whether Blair or other high-ranking officials should be prosecuted for war crimes. It re-solidified the need for activism to press for additional measures of accountability, as the inquiry was apparently not enough to convince Blair that invading Iraq was wrong.
Sarah O’Connor, whose brother Sergeant Bob O’Connor was killed in Iraq in 2005, declared, “There is one terrorist in this world that the world needs to be aware of, and his name is Tony Blair, the world’s worst terrorist.”
A police officer, Colonel Ahmed Hassan, who works for Iraq’s interior ministry, told Guardian reporter Martin Chulov, “There is no excuse for [the decision to invade]. It was an extermination war. This is not the terrorists behind this. It is states against us. This is what all Iraqis feel. There was a high level of engineering behind this, and that is the job of countries.”
Lindsey German, a leading activist from the Stop the War Coalition, called for Blair to be charged with crimes and indicated the report marks a new phase of the antiwar movement in Britain.
“In 2003, millions marched, blocked roads, occupied, walked out of school and took industrial action. All to stop the war before it started. The lack of accountability on the part of politicians and the wider establishment must end now,” German demanded.
“This report will further deepen the political crisis in this country. Those on the wrong side of history need to acknowledge the profound error that they made, instead of cheerleading further interventions,” German additionally urged. “There will be justice over Iraq, however long it takes. Part of that is acknowledging the disastrous nature of Britain’s military action in the past 15 years.”