Britain Awaits Long-delayed Inquiry Into Iraq War

Anti-war activists and relatives of some fallen British troops hope the report will find the conflict illegal, opening the way for Blair to be prosecuted for war crimes.

Protesters hold a banner outside the London home of former Prime Minister Tony Blair ahead of the publication of the Chilcot report into the Iraq war in London, Wednesday, July 6, 2016.
Jonathan Brady, AP

The official inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq War is releasing its findings Wednesday, more than seven years after hearings began and 13 years on from the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Retired civil servant John Chilcot is due to publish his 2.6-million-word report on a divisive conflict that — by the time British combat forces left in 2009 — had killed 179 British troops, almost 4,500 American personnel and more than 100,000 Iraqis.

Iraq descended into sectarian strife after the occupiers dismantled Saddam Hussein's government and military apparatus, unleashing chaos that helped give rise to the Islamic State group.

The war has overshadowed the legacy of Britain's then-leader, Prime Minister Tony Blair. His government has been accused of exaggerating intelligence about Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction in order to build support for invasion.

Blair – who declined to comment on the report before publication – has always said his government did not invent or distort intelligence.
Senior politicians, diplomats, intelligence officials and military officers are prepared for criticism over the invasion and its aftermath.

Chilcot said Tuesday that he'd "made very clear right at the start of the inquiry that if we came across decisions or behavior which deserved criticism then we wouldn't shy away from making it."

"And indeed, there have been more than a few instances where we are bound to do that," he said.

Chilcot's inquiry held public hearings between 2009 and 2011, taking evidence from more than 150 witnesses and analyzing 150,000 documents.

Its report has been repeatedly delayed, in part by wrangling over the inclusion of classified material, including conversations between Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush. Some of Blair's pre-war letters to the president are expected to be published by Chilcot.

Anti-war activists and relatives of some dead British troops hope the report will find the conflict illegal, opening the way for Blair to be prosecuted for war crimes.

"That man has been the puppet master, and it's about time that we came along and we cut his strings," said Sarah O'Connor, whose brother, Sgt. Bob O'Connor, died in a plane crash in Iraq in 2005.

Chilcot has stressed that his inquiry is not a court of law, and the International Criminal Court has said that the "decision by the U.K. to go to war in Iraq falls outside the court's jurisdiction."

Chilcot said he wanted the report to be "a really reliable account of all that happened that really matters" over Iraq, with lessons for the future.

Peter Brierley, whose son Lance Cpl. Shaun Brierley was killed in 2003, said he hoped the report "comes somewhere close to what I expect, which is to say that Tony Blair did go to war illegally."

"Scrape away the whitewash and I feel the truth will be actually there," he said.