The Chilcot Report Into Iraq Has Been Published: Some Key Points


The Chilcot report into the 2003 invasion of Iraq was published earlier today after a 7 year long investigation. The document is made up of 12 volumes and contains 2.6 million words. Much of the interest from the public and those that served in the war (and the families who lost loved ones) centres around whether or not then Prime Minister Tony Blair lied to the British public during his push for war.

We now know that claims of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ turned out to be false, but was this a product of faith in bad intelligence, or a concerted effort to mislead?

Lara Prendergast over at The Spectator has summarised some key points from the report:

Key points

  • The report 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.
  • It suggests that it is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been.
  • 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.  Blair ‘did not establish clear Ministerial oversight of US planning and preparation. He did not ensure that there was a flexible, realistic and fully resourced plan that integrated UK military and civilian contributions, and addressed the known risks.’
  • The government failed to achieve its stated objectives. In the absence of a majority in support of military action, the report considers that the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council’s authority.
  • Blair’s 24 September statement to the House of Commons contained judgements about Iraq’s capability that were presented ‘with a certainty that was not justified’.
  • The Inquiry has not expressed a view on whether military action was legal, because that could only be resolved by a properly constituted and internationally recognised court. However, it concludes that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for military action were far from satisfactory.

The late Christopher Hitchens lost a lot of friends over his support for the Iraq war, but gave what I consider to be a compelling argument for the removal of Saddam Hussein whether WMDs existed or not:

As author Douglas Murray remarked of Hitchens’s arguments at the time:

“It must be said that many people do not agree with him [Hitchens] on the points he puts across, complaining that the justifications he gives were not those of the Bush or Blair administrations. And of course they are right, but Hitchens is not a spokesperson for the British or American governments and has (as all those of us who supported the war do) particular impetuses for his stance. Nevertheless, it does remain a source of concern that during a time of war a non-government source can provide more satisfactory explanations for government actions than government can”

The BBC  have already published some of the Chilcot reactions from families and politicians here.

I think what isn’t uncertain however is how much of a disaster this war has been in both its execution and the legacy it has wrought. The body count, the torture, the current state of the region and a catastrophic failure to foresee the sectarian violence that followed.

I was 18 years old at the start of the invasion and I opposed the war. This was owed to a naive commitment to pacifism rather than anything resembling respectable insight (or sincere interest). I’ve since grown up to discover that the world is a scary place and that pacifism just won’t do if you wish to prevent scary people from getting their way.

Faced with the same decision today, would I be in favour of military action to oust Saddam? I truly do not know, but probably. Faced with the same decision today, but with the knowledge of how that military action would play out? Definitely not.

Those responsible for this war were not privileged with the gift of hindsight however and will have to live with the consequences of their actions. There will be more discussion and analysis in the coming days. I hope those desperate for answers receive them and that any wrongdoing is exposed to the full light of day.

I’d be interested in your thoughts in the comments section. Did you support the war? If so, how do you feel about it now? Please keep it civil.

Stephen Knight is host of The #GSPodcast. You can listen to The Godless Spellchecker Podcast here, and support it by becoming a patron here.


  • Yes, Stephen, I opposed the war in 2003 and now think that you could not make a more just case for war than the ones outlined by Hitchens. Viewed from a certain perspective there was a better case for war against Saddam in 1991 and in 2003 than there was against Hitler in 1939.

    What is deeply peculiar about today’s ‘no imminent threat’ idea is that it is trivially and demonstrably untrue. Saddam shot every day at British planes in the no fly zone up to the first day of 2003 liberation of Iraq. I haven’t yet seen Chilcot’s opinion of the useless Hans Blix: but his incompetence was crucial in Russia and France sending a signal via the UN to Saddam that the inspections program was a cosmetic exercise.

    • Dermot – “there was a better case for war against Saddam in 1991 and in 2003 than there was against Hitler in 1939.”

      Not so, Poland, UK and France had a mutual defense treaty in place specifically to dissuade Hitler from attacking Poland as his policies indicated he intended to do. Declaring war on Germany was a legal obligation on both France and UK.

      But once declared little military activity was done to get Germany out of Poland hence the phrase ‘Phoney War’. Not that UK could have done anything to attack German armies in Poland. France could have attacked Germany from the West but didn’t and then Germany attacked and occupied France.

      And the war ended with Poland occupied by the Soviets instead of the Germans.

      • I was broadly in support of the war at the time but feel it was prosecuted on a very dubious premise. Saddam Hussein was a despot and I thought we were right to remove him.
        With hindsight we made a bit of a mess of it, particularly the aftermath.
        Would it have been better or worse had we not gone in? It’s impossible to say.
        We made the best choice we could at the time which is all you can ever do.

  • Well, HarryR33, here is the case.

    The real moral question is why you would not support the 2nd Iraq war. Here’s why.

    There are 4 points by which Iraq broke international law.
    1. Regular aggression against neighbouring states breaking Articles 3 and 9 of UN Declaration on Rights and Duties of States
    2. Violating the non-proliferation of weapons – breaking Articles 8, 9 and 13 of UN Declaration on Rights and Duties of States
    3. Genocide – breaking Article 6 of UN Declaration on Rights and Duties of States
    4. Host to international terrorism – breaking Articles 4 and 14 of UN Declaration on Rights and Duties of States

    All of which Saddam did repeatedly.

    • Dermot,

      You’re talking with someone (HarryR33) who thinks that because the UK, Poland and France had a “mutual defence treaty”, THAT’S what justified UK’s declaring war on Nazi Germany. Not Hitler’s commitment to Jewish Genocide, Not Hitler’s annexation of numerous states (like Austria for example), not his invasion and/or occupation of 1/2 of Europe with no end in site. None of those things make a case for war justified. No no, it’s the mutual defence treaty. That’s what makes war justified.
      It absolutely amazes me the zeal with which, what you would think would be reasonable-minded, people leap to the defence of a sadistic, evil, murderous, genocidal tyrant like Saddam Hussein.

  • I suppose there was a reasonably good case to invade Iraq and depose Sadam. However, the report quite rightly states that sanctions and air dominance had somewhat nullified the treat he posed.

    Howeber, that wasn’t the reason given for invading, which is of course why everyone is so angry.

    It worth reminding everyone that Sadam was a truely evil man. The only question person ever to sanction the use of Sarin (see last weeks truely wonderful documentary of chemical warfare to understand just how hideous this was).

    That being said, the major problem was always what to do when the war was won. This was posed at the start of the war and never answered. With hindsight, we can see that this is because there was no proper plan.

    I would therefore be against the war if it were happening today, not because there wasn’t a case for it, but that there was no coherent plan for how to do it.

  • Uday Hussein, Saddam Hussein’s eldest son used to cruise around Baghdad and crash wedding parties. Kidnapping the bride and raping her and killing the groom if he dared say anything.

    The Ba’ath party would often throw people off of tall buildings on trumped up charges and they would blow people up by putting explosives in their pockets.

    They would execute dissidents by firing squad and then send the bill for the bullets to their family.

    They committed mass genocide on us Kurds killing approx 180,000 of us. We all have relatives and friends who are no longer with us because of Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath party.

    Yes, mistakes were made but we, as the victims of Saddam Hussein know that he had to be removed.

    • Yep. They were awful. Yet you cannot find an international law of war that lists that as an acceptable casus belli.

      • My grandfather was hanged by the regime, five of my uncles murdered. Scores of friends and more distant family members killed. If removing a genocidal tyrant isn’t justification for war then I don’t know what is. it is easy for people in the West who have never visited Iraq to discuss moral and ethical hypotheticals when it is not thier family members and friends being murdered by a tyrant.

  • Ashley, I have discovered something interesting today about the two sides in the debate. We all know that there is no convincing the Stop the War types that the liberation was morally justified because they are not really in the business of evidence. What I did discover is that even ultra-reasonable and otherwise admirable people like Mary Beard who was anti the war refuse to acknowledge the evidence for, in her case, WMD, even when it is presented to them. And there is evidence of WMD being found post-2003. She thinks that WMD was the sole casus belli and will not be removed from that idea even when one points out my 4 headings as the justification.

    The two positions are immovable and the Chilcot Inquiry seems to have had little effect on changing peoples’ ideas on whether the war wasjust: I would expect some previously pro-war people to soften their line.

    But yes, the horror of Saddam’s regime is getting lost and the moral relativists conveniently ignore it: Julie Lenarz wrote a good piece yesterday, very similar to Hitchens’ moral case, and she was actually in Iraq, interestingly enough.

  • Ridiculous. YOU DON’T GET TO INVADE OTHER COUNTRIES AND KILL OR JAIL THEIR LEADERS BECAUSE YOU DON’T LIKE THEM. Only powerful imperialist behemoths such as the USA are allowed to not only consider such illegal and immoral actions but also act on them with impunity. Partly because they’re able to spread the lies they use to justify them with no consequences.

    The Iraq war violated every international law of war. It was an abomination and is still inexcusable for any reason.

    • It’s not inexcusable to intervene to save the lives of millions of people. Its inexcusable NOT to do so.

      It was easy to make a moral case for the intervention, but the problem faced by Blair and Bush was in making the legal case. They could have made that case by persuading the UNSC to resolve for an intervention based on Saddam’s treatment of his population. Then, they would have had both the legal and moral authority to go into Iraq and stay there as long as necessary to properly rebuild the country. Unfortunately they chose not to do that, and I still don’t understand why… perhaps they cynically believed that voters in the UK and US did not care enough about the lives of ordinary people in far-off Iraq.

      So they chose to make a case based on Saddam’s imminent threat to the west via WMDs — a threat that turned out to be illusory. Because of this — and the immediate collapse of the legal case when Saddam was toppled and the WMDs failed to materialise — the coalition lost its reason for being there. With the threat non-existent, the public just wanted our troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, and there was no time to clean up the mess.

      A kind of absolutist pacifism is very popular and completely deluded. It’s something that Hitch fought against continuously, as did George Orwell. Writing during WW2: “Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist… The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security … both the Germans and the Japanese do all they can to encourage the spread of pacifism in British and American territories … In so far as it takes effect at all, pacifist propaganda can only be effective against those countries where a certain amount of freedom of speech is still permitted; in other words it is helpful to totalitarianism.”

    • Daddylove, can you cite those international laws?

      Have you considered the weighting of contradictory laws within the UN, the ICC and other international bodies?

      What international legal expertise do you have?

      Which lies did the US spread?

      In what way were there no consequences for the US in spreading these alleged lies?

      How much time have you spent discovering the crimes of the Saddam regime?

      Have you wondered ‘what if I am wrong?’

      Have you attempted to construct the contrary argument to your anti-war thesis?

      What set of conditions might persuade you that the war (by the west) was justified?

      Does such a possibility exist in your head?

      What, if any, set of criteria would you establish which determines that your mistrust of the west’s motives overrides the egregiousness of a non-western regime?


      Ok, tou have no idea who Saddam Hussein is. But why shout about it?

      • Daddylove subscribes to the Robert Wright school of whitewashing and whataboutism

        A excerpt from Christopher Hitchens discussing with Robert Wright, his rationale for justifying the Iraq invasion

        “There are 4 conditions, it is generally thought, under which a state, a government can lose its sovereignty. One is if it invades and occupies the territories of neighboring states. The other is if it commits genocide. That’s if you are a signatory to the genocide convention, which we are. The third is violations of at least the spirit of the non-proliferation treaty. In other words, fooling around with weapons of mass destruction. And Forth is giving aid and comfort and hospitality to nihilistic, international gangster groups. Iraq was guilty of all four of those things on more than one occasion. It was a serial offender under all four. It hadn’t been punished for it at the time it was doing those things. It put itself way outside the law. And after the attempt to annex Kuwait, to destroy a neighboring country, not just to occupy and invade it but to abolish its existence – a member state of the UN and the Arab League, it signed a ceasefire with the United States on condition of which its regime was allowed to remain in power. Many of us thought at the time that was a mistake. It continued to violate ALL of the terms of that ceasefire. It seems to me that it would have been much better to put an end to the Saddam Hussein regime in 1991. It would have spared the Iraqi people some terrible years of suffering and misery and it would have shown that the UN was serious about disciplining members that don’t have any respect for international law. But if you believe that the only violations of international law, or the only important ones, are committed by those who considered Saddam Hussein to be an outlaw, I certainly know where you’re coming from. I’m familiar with that viewpoint.”

  • Hussein and his crew were vile almost beyond description so the apparently dubious decision to take him out is of minimal interest to me. What concerns me, is how we did it, and how in Cthulhu’s name we ended up in a place where that vile murdering bastard and his rapist progeny are honestly seen as the lesser of two evils…

  • they knew!

  • The Sectarian conflict currently going on in Iraq and surrounding region was always going to happen. It is a stage that the Middle East had to eventually go through. We can’t blame the Iraq war for the current violence that is, in reality, a fight between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This is a fight that stems from the immediate aftermath of the prophets death.

  • “She thinks that WMD was the sole cases belli.”
    Dermot O’Sullivan

    That’s what we were told:

    “The world needs him [Saddam] to answer a single question: Has the Iraqi regime fully and unconditionally disarmed, as required by Resolution 1441, or has it not?

    Our demands are that Saddam Hussein disarm. We hope he does. We have worked with the international community to convince him to disarm. If he doesn’t disarm, we’ll disarm him.

    . . .Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament.

    No doubt there’s risks with any military operation. I know that. But it’s very clear what we intend to do. And our mission won’t change. The mission is precisely what I just stated. We’ve got a plan that will achieve that mission should we need to send forces in.”
    GW Bush, March 6, 2003

    The other excuses were mentioned – Saddam’s prior use of chemical weapons, for instance – though without the annoying detail that the US had supplied him with materials to make those weapons – but they weren’t the “single question”.

    “There are 4 points by which Iraq broke international law.”

    The US “broke international law” many times over the past several decades. And still does.

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