By Martin Khor
Frontier | Vol. 49, No.10, Sep 11 – 17, 2016
The findings of the Chilcot inquiry have not only provided a scathing critique of the whole chain of events and policies of Britain’s role in the Iraq war, but also revived the controversy of whether the invasion of Iraq should have taken place at all and what the grave consequences have been in the 13 years since then.
The 7-year inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot found that the supposed rationale for Britain joining and in fact cheerleading the invasion was not backed up by facts on the ground.
There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The intelligence portraying the existence of such weapons was faulty, overhyped and wrongly used by pro-war politicians, especially Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister (PM), who presented the threat of the weapons “with unjustified certainty”.
There was no imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein, concluded Chilcot. Moreover, peaceful means to resolve the conflict were not exhausted and this undermined the United Nations Security Council.
The Chilcot report gave a picture of a messianic Blair out on a mission to get rid of Saddam Hussein and vowing to partner the United States, even if there was no proper legal justification or United Nations Security Council mandate for the invasion.
The words “I will be with you, whatever” that Blair wrote to US President George Bush eight months before the 2003 invasion, and which the report for the first time made public, will surely cast a long dark shadow over the former PM, summarizing his role as faithful follower, or some would say, poodle.
The Blair excuse that it was better to be a close partner so that he could influence Bush to do things properly was blown apart by the report’s conclusion that in fact the US ignored the UK leader’s advice during and after the invasion.
“It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day,” said Chilcot.
Blair said he accepted responsibility for the mistakes made. “I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you will ever know.”
But any expectation that Blair would apologise for leading the UK into war was dashed at question time. Even knowing what has since happened, he made clear he would still have invaded Iraq.
What then was he apologising for? The mistakes he admitted were confined to “the intelligence assessments …turned out to be wrong, and the aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever we imagined”.
Even if no weapons of mass destruction were found, Saddam had used them before, and he had plans to accumulate more in future. Since Saddam was a menace, it was right to invade Iraq and remove him. Blair, who started his media performance looking nervous, ended it looking decidedly unrepentant for his main actions.
The Chilcot report did not dwell on whether the war was legal. “We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for military action were far from satisfactory,” said Chilcot.
The BBC interviewed relatives of British soldiers killed in Iraq. All were satisfied with the Chilcot report, many condemned Blair’s role and some said he was a war criminal and they were exploring legal options to make him accountable.
Five years ago, there was already an initiative to make the war leaders accountable. In 2011 the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal had conducted proceedings on the roles of Bush and Blair in the Iraq war, after two years of investigation by a related commission.
The five judges led by Abdel Kadir Salaiman, a former judge in Malaysia’s federal court, concluded that they were both guilty of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and genocide as a result of their roles in the Iraq War.
The Tribunal’s work was based on a legalistic approach, with prosecutors and a defence team, although the two accused were not present though invited to attend. It found that from a legal viewpoint, the war was unjustified and illegal, and that Bush and Blair were culpable.
The Chilcot report also found that those who executed the war were thoroughly unprepared for its aftermath. Blair’s government had been warned of the consequences of the war, the report found, so they cannot plead ignorance.
The responsibility of the chaos and carnage that followed the invasion thus lies squarely with the invading forces, led by the US and Britain.
One criticism of the Chilcot report is that it did not go into detail on the consequences of the war on the people of Iraq. It thus missed the opportunity to reveal the scale and nature of the horror.
Iraq Body Count, a group specialising in counting the casualties in Iraq, has criticised the report for omitting this issue. “For the Iraqi bereaved, who might have hoped for an investigation that finally detailed the full extent of their suffering and consequent needs, the Inquiry is as disappointing as it ever was.”
The number of civilians who died as a result of the war and its aftermath is the subject of several studies, and the estimates range from a few hundred thousands to more than a million.
According to Iraq Body Count, more than 174,000 civilians have died as direct casualties from the start of the war in 2003 to around March 2016. If combatants are included, the total deaths climb to 242,000. If the injured are included, the figures increase further.
There are also deaths caused indirectly. Damage caused by the war to infrastructure, health services, food and water supply and transport multiplied the number of deaths.
A team of American. Canadian and Iraqi researchers found that from 2003 to mid-2011. around half a million people died due to the war and indirect effects such as a declining health services.
They had carried out a survey of 2,000 households in 100 regions of Iraq and published the results in 2013 in the journal PLOS Medicine.
They concluded : ‘”Beyond expected rates, most mortality increases in Iraq can be aitributed to direct violence, but about a third are attributable to indirect causes (such as from failures of health, sanitation, transportation, communication, and other systems). Approximately a half million deaths in Iraq could be attributable to the war”.
Regarding the above study, the writer William Furney remarked : “Herein lies one of the main paradoxes of Western powers and their actions. If such monumental loss of life at the hands of a government, or a collection of like-minded leaders, in, say, Africa, occurred, the International Criminal Court in the Hague, would be gearing up for prosecutions. The tragedy of many tragedies in this case is that Bush and Blair remain untouchable and unaccountable.”
Another study, by ihe Physicians for Social Responsibility (PRS) in 2015 found that the death toll from 10 years of the “War on Terror” since the September 11 attacks was at least 1.3 million, and could be as high as 2 million.
This was based on estimates of the number of civilian casualties from the US interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The PSR report is authored by an interdisciplinary team of leading public health experts, from the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, and the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University.
Besides the deaths and injuries, the war in Iraq has had immeasurable psychological, ideological and polilical effects. The Iraq war may not have started the terrorist attacks attributed to militant Islamist groups, but it certainly accelerated and magnified the process, in Iraq itself and elsewhere.
Bush and Bluir tried to link the Saddam Hussein Irnqi regime to the September 11 Al Queda attack, as one of the reasons for the Iraq invasion. However, there is just no such connection as Saddam was no ally of Al Qaeda.
By creating false premises for a war on Iraq, supposedly to end terror, Bush inadvertently let loose so many unanticipated and uncontrollable events and forces that had precisely the opposite effect. And the ever faithful Blair stuck by him, whatever.
The US should have its own Chilkot inquiry on its role in Iraq. Probably it will come to the same conclusions about the myth of weapons of mass destruction, the false intelligence, the immoral rush to war and the devastating aftermath with its tales of mismanagement, corruption, and unnecessary deaths, hut on a much larger scale than the inquiry on Britain and Blair.
Will Blair and Bush be held to account? Probably not for the powerful countries have ways and are in a position to shelter their leaders. But even if courts of law do not, history will judge them, and harshly, not only for what they did to Iraq and Iraqis, but how their actions changed the world so devastatingly.