On April 2, 2012, President Obama happily announced the end of the Iraq War, in reality appearing relieved to fulfill a promise to order the withdrawal of the one remaining military detachment in the country. The idea that the war, which began in March 2003, had finished was, in reality, fanciful. Iraq had already descended into what it is today — a failed state which, alongside Syria, is the principal focus of the destabilization currently rocking the Middle East. It is a country in ruins, smashed into sectarian pieces and consumed by a bloody conflict among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds that costs thousands of lives every year.
Thirteen years have passed since then; President George W. Bush ordered the military invasion that led to the overthrow and death of Saddam Hussein and to the lengthy postwar period. Despite this, the terrible effects of the war continue to weigh heavily on the international stage. The shock caused by yesterday’s Chilcot Report, an independent investigation launched in 2009 tasked with shedding light on all aspects of the U.K.’s involvement, is not surprising. The conclusions are devastating for both ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair and his allies at the time, such as then prime minister of Spain, José María Aznar. Aznar and his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi are shown to have pressed for rapid military action, exhibiting a tough stance in contrast to other international heads of state, including Blair, who in the days preceding the invasion had asked the White House for more time to negotiate a U.N. Security Council resolution. Aznar and Blair are also shown to have agreed on a propaganda strategy in order to justify the decision.
The report makes clear that “military action at the time was not a last resort” for confronting the Saddam regime. Indeed, it states that at the time, the regime “posed no imminent threat.” The investigation led by ex-civil servant John Chilcot emphasizes that the invasion was based on intelligence reports that were inaccurate. It also condemns both British ministers, who were “aware of the inadequacy of U.S. plans,” and states that “the judgments about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were presented with a certainty that was not justified.”
The many recorded conversations, reports, interviews and official documents to which Chilcot has had access have allowed him to conclude that the decision to go to war in Iraq was a tremendous error which has had catastrophic consequences. Since the invasion, at least 250,000 civilians and combatants have died. The report makes clear that Bush, who assumed the presidency shortly before the deadliest terrorist attack in history — 9/11 — took place, had already made the decision to invade Iraq, as he had done in Afghanistan. The decision, which formed part of the hurried mission against the so-called “Axis of Evil,” did not take into account potential regional destabilization and failed to produce any postwar peace plan whatsoever. Blair immediately decided that he would play the part of a vital, unconditional ally: “I’ll be with you, whatever,” the prime minister wrote to Bush months before the war. London did not hesitate in following Washington into Iraq, despite the fact that no U.N. resolution had been reached and that the decision was made in the face of the protests of millions across the world and despite serious doubts over the regime’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Blair, who months ago apologized for “some of the mistakes in planning” and admitted that “you can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation [the rise of the Islamic State] in 2015,” again expressed his regret for the mistakes made and stated that “the aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than we ever imagined.”
However, the apology seems somewhat hollow given the fact that immediately after he added that he believed that the world is “better and safer” thanks to the invasion, events on the ground suggest otherwise. That the Middle East has erupted in violence has much to do with the way the war was waged and the lack of postwar planning. That is surely the great lesson that the world has to learn: that never again must military action be taken without multilateral agreement and without doing so under the umbrella of international law.