London: Britain went to war in Iraq before all peaceful options for disarming Saddam Hussein were exhausted, the long-awaited Chilcot Inquiry has concluded, the BBC reported on Wednesday.
The invasion was not the “last resort” presented to MPs and the British public, probe chair Sir John Chilcot has said.
The 2003 invasion was based on “flawed intelligence and assessments” that “were not challenged”, it argued.
Tony Blair underestimated the impact it would have on Iraq and the wider region despite “explicit warnings”, it added.
The former Labour Prime Minister is facing fresh calls to apologise from political opponents of the war amid protests in central London against the war taking place. He has said he will “take full responsibility for any mistakes without exception or excuse”.
The report, which has taken seven years to complete, has been published on the Iraq Inquiry website.
The war, which lasted about six weeks, ended Saddam Hussein’s 25-year regime in Iraq, but the aftermath unleashed years of sectarian violence that has killed thousands since then.
The 2.6-million-word report does not make a judgement on whether Blair or individual ministers were in breach of international law.
But Sir John, the ex-civil servant who chaired the inquiry, describes the Iraq War as an intervention that went “badly wrong” with consequences still being felt to this day.
He has harsh criticisms for British military commanders who, the report says, had made “over-optimistic assessments” of their capabilities which led to “bad decisions”.
But in a statement at the launch of the report, he criticised the way the need for military action was presented to the public and MPs by Blair and his ministers.
“The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of a mass destruction (WMD) were presented with a certainty that was not justified,” he said. “Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated.”
The US and Britain were part of an international coalition which invaded Afghanistan, regarded as a “safe haven” for terrorists, in late 2001 to rid it of the Taliban.
In January 2002, President Bush named Iraq as part of what he described as an “axis of evil” in what he said was a “war on terror” against al-Qaeda and other groups.
Sir John said military action against Saddam Hussein might have been necessary “at some point” but that when Britain joined the US-led invasion in March 2003, the Iraqi dictator posed “no imminent threat”, the existing strategy of containment could be continued and the majority of UN Security Council members supported continuing UN inspections and monitoring.
The report concludes that Blair, who twice gave evidence to the Iraq Inquiry, along with more than 100 senior military figures, officials and ministers, “overestimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq”.
He said Blair had assured then US President George W Bush in July 2002 — nearly a year before the invasion — that Britain would be with him “whatever” — as revealed in a cache of 29 memos between Blair and Bush which are published along with the report.
Sir John echoes the criticisms made in earlier reports into the Iraq War of the use of intelligence about Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to justify war.
It says the assessed intelligence had not established “beyond doubt” that Saddam Hussein had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.
Sir John said the report does not make a judgement on the legality or otherwise of the war — pointing out that participants did not give evidence under oath and his findings have no legal force.
But he adds: “The circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for British military action were far from satisfactory.”
The former Prime Minister issued a statement saying he still believes the world is better off without Saddam Hussein and the war and its aftermath is not responsible for the “terrorism we see today whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world”.
The report, he claimed, does not suggest there was any “falsification of the intelligence” and acknowledges that Blair was told that there was a legal basis for the war.
“The report should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit. 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,” he said.