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Tony Blair must now face war crimes charges

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OPINION by Asa Winstanley

The Chilcot inquiry into the British decision to invade and occupy Iraq in March 2003 was established by former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It is only now, two elections later, that it is reporting.

Seven years and 2.6 million words later, the inquiry’s report was finally published on Wednesday to a media storm. Its findings are significant, and far more scathing of the then Prime Minister Tony Blair than many were expecting.

The committee of the inquiry, led by Sir John Chilcot, concludes that “the UK 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.”

Back in March 2003, Chilcot said in his public statement Wednesday, “there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.”

David Cameron announced today that the report will be the subject of two full days of debate in the House of Commons next week. The report is a massive 12 volumes long, plus reams of supportive documentation. The Executive Summary alone is 150 pages long. It will be poured over for years to come. Many more important details will no doubt come to light.

But the general outline is already clear. Indeed, it has been clear to most of us for years, and is ably summed up in one of the anti-war movement’s slogans: Blair lied, people died.

Blair, who held a defiant and defensive press conference today, is still trying to make out that he took the decision to go to war in the best of faith and he always tried to avoid it, taking the decision with a heavy hard and as a last resort.

But Chilcot flatly disproves that.

“By early December [2001], US policy had begun to shift and Mr Blair suggested that the US and the UK should work on what he described as a ‘clever strategy’ for regime change in Iraq, which would build over time,” Chilcot explains.

In a key supporting document, from 28 July 2002, Blair wrote to then US President George W. Bush that “I will be with you, whatever.” Despite the pantomime of UN and parliamentary debates that were to follow, the prime minister had in reality already taken the unilateral decision to go to war.

And let’s not forget the reality of what this war was. As the leader of the Labour opposition Jeremy Corbyn said in the House of Commons today, it was an “act of military aggression launched on a false pretext.”

It led to the “colonial style occupation” of Iraq, Corbyn said, and it increased the threat of terrorism all across the region, leading to the seemingly never-ending nightmare we still see in Iraq up to this very week.

There was a lot in the British press Wednesday about military personnel who lost their lives in the course of the invasion and occupation, with Iraqi deaths relegated to secondary concerns, if at all. But conservative estimates state that half a million Iraqis, mostly civilians lost their lives – and who knows how many since. Don’t forget that the invasion led to an ugly series of civil wars, the rise of al-Qaida in Iraq, and ultimately to the so-called Islamic State. So the horrors and consequences continue.

It gives those of us who marched against the war back in 2002 and 2003 no pleasure to have been vindicated on those counts.

Chilcot damns Blair too on his justifications for war, the so-called WMDs: “judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented [by Blair to the House of Commons] with a certainty that was not justified.”

Chilcot dismisses too, the post-facto justifications along the lines of “if we had only known then what we know now.” It’s clear from the evidence he presents that “policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been.” The reality is that incorrect information about Iraq was gleaned from the spies mainly because there was immense political pressure to produce it – and that pressure ultimately came from Blair.

The idea that the rise of al-Qaida and Islamic State could not be foreseen is also given short shrift: “we do not agree that hindsight is required. The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and Al Qaida activity in Iraq, were each explicitly identified before the invasion. ”

Perhaps most damning of all Chilcot heavily implies that Tony Blair could face a criminal court for violating the laws of war and launching an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign state: “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 recognised 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” (my emphasis).

This is careful lawyer-esque language from a top career civil servant. In that context it is utterly damning. Due to fact that the inquiry’s terms of reference did not require it to rule on this point, the fact that it even makes it is highly significant.

Ultimately, Chilcot does not appear to fundamentally challenge the right of the British state to wage aggressive wars and interventions around the world. It is part of a long tradition of formal inquiries that help to tidy things up for the British ruling classes. But it is immensely significant, nonetheless, that Chilcot appears to be throwing Tony Blair under the bus.

It’s true that we shouldn’t stop our criticism at Tony Blair, and we should demand wider accountability and change. Corbyn laid out some ways that could be done in Parliament today, and we will no doubt hear more debate on that next week.

But the anti-war movement should seize this critical opening to hold Tony Blair to legal account, to make it harder for our leaders to launch more wars of aggression in the future.

[Source: Middle East Monitor]
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