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Explained: The Chilcot Report

Earlier this month, the Iraq Inquiry Report, better known as the Chilcot report, was published. But what is the Chilcot report? And what is it for?

British troops were part of an international coalition, led by the US, which invaded Iraq in March 2003 looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The UK led diplomatic efforts to secure UN authorisation for military action in the run-up to the invasion, but failed. Millions of people took to the streets of London to voice their opposition to the war, but the House of Commons authorised the military action anyway.

The invasion led to the downfall of then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his regime and triggered more than a decade of sectarian violence. British troops left Iraq in 2011 and over the period of the invasion, 179 British service personnel were killed and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians died. Tony Blair, who was British prime minister at the time of the invasion, insists that the catastrophic aftermath of the invasion could not have been foreseen, although sectarian conflict in Iraq was both predictable and predicted.

Blair faced calls for years to set up an inquiry into the Iraq War, particularly as no WMDs were found in Iraq. The Iraq Inquiry was finally set up in 2009 and chaired by veteran civil servant Sir John Chilcot, who gave the report its name.

The Inquiry was set up to look at the decision making process which led to the invasion of Iraq and publish secret documents, including private communications from Tony Blair to US president at the time George W Bush. In other words, the aim was to examine what happened and to learn lessons so governments and policymakers are better equipped to respond to “similar situations” in the future.

After seven years, the Chilcot report into the Iraq War has finally been published. The final report comes in at 2.6 million words and is separated into 12 volumes. The report is available to download from the Iraq Inquiry website.

The scope of the report is enormous. It spans almost a decade of policy decisions between 2001 and 2009, examining geopolitical influences leading up to the war, the period of the war, as well as capturing the conflict’s aftermath until 2009 when the inquiry was announced.

The inquiry heard evidence from a variety of witnesses, such as politicians (including Tony Blair), senior civil servants, diplomats and high-ranking military officers. And although witnesses were not asked to testify under oath, they were asked to sign a declaration that their accounts were “full and truthful”.

Chilcot concluded that the legal basis for the invasion was “far from satisfactory” and that it was not a “last resort”, but the report fails to offer a verdict on whether the war was unlawful, on the grounds that the committee is not qualified to judge.

The false intelligence about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq was arguably the gravest failure in the history of the Secret Intelligence Service. But most people have already come to their own conclusions that the invasion was sold on false pretexts and insufficient preparations for the aftermath left Iraq doomed to collapse into a cycle of violence and destruction.

Blair said he regrets the loss of life and the failure of intelligence services, but insists the world is better off without Saddam.

The families of those killed in Iraq have threatened to hold policymakers liable for their deaths, and prosecutors will be combing through the Chilcot report for details of evidence of torture and abuse by British soldiers. It does however seem unlikely that Blair will be prosecuted.

Though it is an admission of failure, deceit and misconduct, overall the Chilcot report was seen as a trial with no verdict.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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