July 11, 2016
On July 6, 2016, Sir John Chilcot, made a statement on the “Report of the Iraq Inquiry”. In less than twenty-nine minutes, he summarized the conclusions of the 2.6 million-word report with clarity, precision and eloquence. He and his colleagues are only to be respected. And, they are not the only ones. At a time when EU capitals are debating Brexit, its wisdom or the lack of it, the people of the United Kingdom have given the world a lesson on what democracy is about. Very few Western countries, if any, could launch such an in-depth inquiry into major policy decisions of international consequence, no less than starting a war, taken by an earlier government and a prime minister and come up with a report underpinned with adjectives “scathing”, “devastating”, and “damning”.
Sir Chilcot recapitulated the conclusions of the Inquiry as follows:
• The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.
• Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate.
• The Government failed to achieve its stated objectives.
He also said:
“The Inquiry has not expressed a view on whether military action was legal. That could, of course, only be resolved by a properly constituted and internationally recognized Court.
“We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory.”
None of the foregoing breaks new ground. Many countries had long-ago reached the same conclusions. The Report only substantiated them.
By contrast, Mr. Blair’s remarks to the press were contradictory, leading those present to ask him what was is that he was sorry about. He appeared “unrepentant” as many interpreted his statement that he would again do exactly the same under those circumstances and that “the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein”. This is also the Bush line.
One day before Sir Chilcot made his statement, Jeremy Bowen, BBC’s Middle East editor, reported the following from Baghdad:
“Kadhim, like many Iraqis, blames the invaders for starting a chain of events that destroyed the country. He longs for the certainties and stability of Saddam’s time…
“The Americans and Britain removed a hated dictator, and dissolved his army and state. But they had no real plan to rebuild the country they had broken. They improvised – and made matters worse.
“Jihadists were not in Iraq before the invasion. Shia and Sunni Muslims, whose sectarian civil war started during the occupation, could co-exist.
“The invaders did not have enough troops to control Iraq. Jihadists poured across open borders. Al-Qaeda established itself here, and eventually was reborn as so-called Islamic State.”
“Iraqis have often made matters worse for themselves, but it was mistakes by the US and Britain that pushed Iraq down the road to catastrophe.”
In brief, it was never “mission accomplished”.
The Report of the Iraq Inquiry will no doubt serve as a valuable source of information for historians and foreign ministries across the world. But it is more than that. It is a lesson in international relations for those in positions of power. It is also a vindication of President Obama’s determination to resist another military intervention, this time in Syria. And, above all, it is a message to the peoples and the leaders of the Middle East to put their house in order. However, questions such as “Why did the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq? What were its motives? What were the expected benefits?” will be with us for many years to come. “Getting rid of Saddam” cannot possibly be the answer.
In the “Introduction” of his book, “A History of the Middle East”, Peter Mansfield referred to General John Bagot Glubb who had enjoyed reminding his readers that, in terms of civilization and culture, the Middle East region was far in advance of western Europe for all but the last five hundred years of the five thousand or so years for which human history can be traced back.
For a multitude of reasons, on March 19, 2003, the day “Operation Iraqi Freedom” was launched, the glory of the Middle East was ancient history. Nonetheless, despite all its deficiencies it was still the Middle East as we knew it. Today, it is the Miserable East. And, the invasion of Iraq deserves a good part of the blame.