Chilcot: The legacy and lessons to learn from Iraq

‘I will be with you, whatever.’

Written by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair to President George W. Bush, this is perhaps the most pertinent and powerful quote to have emerged from Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry. The Prime Minister is blindly noting a proposal to The President, of an ill-advised and ill-conceived war.

The 2.6-million-word dossier extensively details and chronicles the happenings and the mishappenings of the Iraq War.  Long over-due and long needed, the report critically analyses and ultimately condemns the actions taken by the allied forces in the middle-east. While the report may provide some closure to the grieving families of dead service men and women in Iraq, what the rest of the country must take the report as is a lesson. A lesson in how a war should not be conducted. A lesson in avoiding flawed assumptions. And a lesson in how diplomacy and decisions should not be taken.

More intelligent intelligence

Since the beginning of wars, the role of intelligence has been seen as paramount to conducting a successful operation. Knowing who and where your enemy is and what your enemy is doing and capable of is critical to any conflict. Perhaps this is why the intelligence gathered for the Iraq War has come under such scrutiny, because the importance of such intelligence is absolute. Yet the accuracy and reliability of the intelligence gathered for the conflict was not absolute. Chilcot’s report states that the ‘flaws in the construct and the intelligence were exposed after the war’. The report identifies a serious blind spot in intelligence agencies as key lines of investigation were ignored: ‘at no stage was the proposition that Iraq might no longer have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or programmes identified and examined’. To follow on the analogy of the blind spot in intelligence agencies, the report suggests that Tony Blair adopted a kind of tunnel vision to the intelligence he was provided. Instead of questioning assessments presented to him, the Prime Minister remained on the straight and narrow and took such assessments as gospel and as fact and presented them accordingly with incorrect ‘certainty’.

Maybe this is a result of Blair’s naivety or maybe this is a result of a need for Blair to back his actions after already committing to military action with the U.S. following the line ‘I will be with you, whatever’. Either way, such certainty was not justified by the intelligence that had been accrued and thus should not have been presented so. Overall, there appears to be an assumption towards the danger of Iraq and this appears to have overrode the conduct of intelligence. The assumptions should be created out of the intelligence, rather than the assumptions guiding the intelligence. The lesson here then is one of careful consideration. Assumptions should not cloud the facts and the facts should not be borne out of assumptions. Intelligence is crucial and vital to wars. This is not disputed. Yet perhaps more intelligent intelligence and the delivery of such intelligence to those in power is what must be changed following this report.

Peace over power

While such a statement may seem obvious to many, this is an assertion that must be continually revisited in the build-up to any conflict. The country and its leaders must not ever underestimate the gravity of such a statement and must always seek to avoid engagements at all costs. Yet despite this clarity in what should be done, this was not the case for the Iraq War. Sir John Chilcot states in his report that ‘the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.’ This is hugely damning firstly to Tony Blair and his actions, but also to all involved in the war. It plainly suggests that peace was not at the forefront of policymaker’s minds and this is a considerable issue. One cannot overestimate the need for peace and when those tasked with keeping the peace fail to do so at all costs, a vital lesson must be learnt.

‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’       Benjamin Franklin

Arguably the most crucial lesson that must be learned from the Iraq War and Sir John Chilcot’s subsequent report is the necessity of careful and considered planning. Once again this may seem obvious, but in the lead up to the conflict and during the conflict, planning for what was to come was grossly overlooked. The report indicates that the UK jumped headfirst into a war for which no plan for military extraction had been created. The extraction is crucial. For a conflict that is aimed at stabilising a nation, the post-war plans have to be sound for this to be achieved. The extraction must be smooth and steadying in order for the conflict to have the ultimate desired effect. Yet the allies failed to achieve this.

The report states that Blair did not envisage anything other than the best-case scenario once the invasion was over: a US-led UN-authorised force operation in a benign secure environment. Yet in a world, and particularly a region, of vast uncertainty, this was clearly unrealistic. The failure to plan for every eventuality contributed to Britain’s ultimate failure of strategy. The criticism with regard to planning extends further to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The UK military was ill-equipped for the battle and there was ‘wholly inadequate’ planning and preparation for Iraq after Saddam Hussein. The MoD was rushed in its approach and planning to the invasion, yet then was slow to react to the security threats on the ground; as seen in the inadequacy of the Snatch Land Rovers which were easily pierced by insurgent Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), costing many British lives. Ultimately the Chilcot Report concludes that military operation was overstretched, inadequate and above all, poorly planned.

the decision to invade Iraq and the subsequent war was significantly ‘flawed’

The lesson from these failings then is that in a war, overthinking and over-planning cannot exist. Every eventuality and aspect of war must be considered in great detail and subject to extreme scrutiny, even before the decision to embark on war has been taken. Perhaps the governing bodies/institutions and those making the decisions must realise this need for planning at an even greater level and thus be prepared for any and every eventuality and be in a position to act on each eventuality at a moment’s notice.

Possibly the greatest lesson that the British people and indeed the world has and must learn from this report concerns hindsight. With hindsight it is clear to many and certainly to Sir John Chilcot that the decision to invade Iraq and the subsequent war was significantly ‘flawed’. This is all well but does not solve the war. The Iraq War cannot be changed for what it was. Going forward perhaps military action must be more heavily considered on how the actions will look and impact in 13 years to come and beyond.



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