The head of Britain's Iraq War inquiry released a damning report Wednesday on a conflict he says was mounted on flawed intelligence and executed with "wholly inadequate" planning.
Retired civil servant John Chilcot, who oversaw the seven-year inquiry, said "the U.K. 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."
He said then-Prime Minister Tony Blair's government presented an assessment of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons with "certainty that was not justified." Military planning for the war and its aftermath were not up to the task, Chilcot said.
He said "the people of Iraq have suffered greatly" because of a military intervention "which went badly wrong."
But he refrained from saying whether the 2003 invasion was legal, and did not find that Blair and his government knowingly misled Parliament or the British public.
Chilcot heard from 150 witnesses and analyzed 150,000 documents. His conclusions are a blow to Blair, who told President George W. Bush eight months before the March 2003 invasion — without consulting government colleagues — "I will be with you whatever."
The report says that Blair went to war to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Britain's main ally, only to find the U.K. excluded from most important decision-making about the military campaign and its aftermath.
Blair responded that he had taken the decision to go to war in Iraq "in good faith", that he still believed it was better to remove Hussein, and that he did not see that action as the cause of terrorism today, in the Middle East or elsewhere.
Blair argued the report should exonerate him from accusations of lying.
"The report should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit," he said in a statement.
"Whether people agree or disagree with my decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein; I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country."
Relatives of some of the British soldiers who died in Iraq said they would study the report to examine if there was a legal case to pursue against those responsible.
Prime Minister David Cameron said the government needed to learn the lessons from what went wrong in the build-up to Britain's joining the invasion of Iraq, in his initial response to a long awaited inquiry on the war.
Cameron, the outgoing Conservative prime minister, was answering questions in parliament on the Chilcot report into mistakes made by the government of the-then Labour Prime Minister Blair ahead of the Iraq war.
"I think the most important thing we can do is to really learn the lessons for the future, and the lessons he lays out quite clearly," he said, referring to the Chilcot report.
"The only point I would make is that there is actually no set of arrangements and plans that can provide perfection in any of these cases.
"Military intervention is always difficult, planning for the aftermath of intervention, that is always difficult and I don't think in this House we should be naive in any way that there's a perfect set of plans ... that can solve these problems in perpetuity," he said.
Below are some of the report's key findings:
Unsatisfactory legal basis for war
Chilcot said in his statement: "We have concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for U.K. military action were far from satisfactory."
The report cited several shortcomings in the legal process, including that the legal advice produced by the government's top lawyer was presented to a cabinet meeting of senior ministers, but not discussed in detail.
"There was little appetite to question Lord Goldsmith about his advice" that the invasion was legal, and "no substantive discussion of the legal issues was recorded", the report said, referring to the attorney general.
The report criticized the way Blair presented intelligence information to the public.
"The deliberate selection of a formulation which grounded the statement in what Mr. Blair believed, rather than in the judgments which the JIC [Joint Intelligence Committee] had actually reached in its assessment of the intelligence, indicates a distinction between his beliefs and the JIC's actual judgments," the report said.
The intelligence itself was also criticized. "At no stage was the proposition that Iraq might no longer have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or programs identified and examined by either the JIC or the policy community."
The report said that Britain chose to join the invasion of Iraq before peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.
"At the time of the parliamentary vote of 18 March, diplomatic options had not been exhausted. The point had not been reached where military action was the last resort," it noted.
Blair was warned about the threat of increased Al-Qaida activity as a result of the invasion, the report said.
"Mr. Blair had been advised that an invasion of Iraq was expected to increase the threat to the U.K. and U.K. interests from Al-Qaida and its affiliates."
It cited Blair's response, made in a 2011 statement: "I took the view then and take the same view now that to have backed down because of the threat of terrorism would be completely wrong."
"The Iraq of 2009 certainly did not meet the U.K.'s objectives as described in January 2003: it fell far short of strategic success. Although the borders of Iraq were the same as they had been in 2003, deep sectarian division threatened both stability and unity."
The report criticized the government's post-conflict planning for Iraq: "The information on Iraq available to the UK government before the invasion provided a clear indication of the potential scale of the post-conflict task."
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