The Chilcot Report and the basic question: Why?

By Gunnar Westberg

After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on the 11th of September 2001 President George W. Bush felt the need for revenge. Since years back, the US had developed plans to attack Iraq. Its dictator Saddam Hussein had been left in power after the First Gulf War in 1991, a war which the father of George W. Bush had left unfinished.

The real reasons for this renewed war on Iraq are not known.

Saddam Hussein had previously had a program to produce nuclear weapons. After thorough investigations lead by the UN representatives Rolf Ekéus and Hans Blix it became clear that all weapons of mass destruction had been eliminated. There were no nuclear weapons.

However, Saddam Hussein could of course start the production of nuclear weapons at some point in the future. And the US leaders choose to disregard the reports by the UN inspectors. “I do not want the smoking gun to be a nuclear detonation over Manhattan” said Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, and on the TV screen a mushroom cloud rose over New York. That picture spoke more strongly than the reports by Hans Blix.

The UN Security Council did not support an attack on Iraq. There were demonstrations against the war, in the USA and in the world, probably the biggest peace and pre-war demonstrations in the world at any time. But the decision to go to war seems to have been taken, unchangeable.

To boost the perceived respectability of that planned war, President Bush felt a need to gather international allies. Without the support of the United Nations Security Council, UNSC, an attack would be against international law. In spite of this President Bush managed to get support from the UK, Australia, Poland, Denmark and several other national leaders. But not from France and Germany.

Great Britain was particularly valuable here.

The British Prime Minister Tony Blair had always cherished the special relations between the two Anglo-Saxon countries. In meetings with the US President, Mr. Blair agreed to back the US actions, “I will be with you, whatever”.

Mr. Blair went to obtain the approval of the Parliament for the war. The way he obtained this support has been the subject of a study led by Sir John Chilcot. The report, in 20 volumes, has just been presented; it’s the result of nine years of investigative work by many.

The report is a scathing review of the way the Prime Minister misled the parliament. It is difficult – if not impossible – to find a document in modern history which so severely criticizes a prime minister of a democratic country.

The report says “There was no imminent threat from Iraq” – contrary to what Mr. Blair had said.

By concluding that he “military action was not the last resort” the commission in reality says that the war was illegal, against the UN Charter.

The report refrains from making that conclusion explicit as that would require the competence of an international court. Support from the UNSC was required for a legal military attack, and that support was not there.

A core question is the evaluation of the threat from nuclear weapons.

For an outsider the situation seems simple: No nuclear weapons or installations for producing them were found, although the inspectors visited all the places indicated by CIA and other sources. If doubt persisted, the investigations should have been allowed to continue.

Mr. Blair’s disregard for the UN is remarkable. The report on this concludes that ”In the absence of a majority in support of military action, we consider that the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council’s authority”.

The report also makes clear that “the judgments about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMDs – were presented with a certainty that was not justified”. The report does – to some extent – blame the intelligence community for not making the limitations of their data and evidence clear.

The report further ventures to make the extremely clear point that “Mr. Blair had been warned, however, that military action would increase the threat from al-Qaida to the UK and to UK interests. Mr. Blair told the inquiry that the difficulties encountered in Iraq after the invasion could not have been known in advance. 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.”

Mr. Blair has, in his comments to the report, said that he is convinced the world is better of without Saddam Hussein. Ex-president Bush concurs. Neither presents any strong arguments for that statement.

Reflecting on the report, one cannot help asking:

What were the real reasons for the US, Britain and others to go to war?

The threat of nuclear weapons in Iraq (in the future?) was obviously a pretext. Without this lie, stating Saddam Hussein had or was about to have nuclear weapons, the war would probably not have received the support of parliament or public.

But, then, what was the real and basic reason? Was it only that the US needed to make a show of its strength after the 9/11attack? Or are wars just a natural consequence of the presence of armies?

And what then what were the real reasons for Tony Blair to go to such length in order to please the US? The answer perhaps will be more of a psychological than a political nature?

Mr. Blair! The war and the sanctions did cost around one million Iraqi lives and started a spiral of anti-Western terrorism of which we have seen just the beginning. And you tell us that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein! ?

The hope has been expressed that this report will help us avoid such terrible mistakes in the future.

Judging from their responses Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush would have acted in the same way today.

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