The long-awaited Chilcot inquiry into the UK’s involvement in the 2003 U.S.-led Iraq war was published last week. And the findings were damning.
The report found that UK policy on Iraq was made with “flawed intelligence and assessments” and that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was deliberately exaggerated. Military action was “not a last resort,” and peaceful options were willfully dismissed in favor of the invasion. It was, in short, a war of choice.
While the pretext for the invasion was Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, none were ever found. In fact, letters published in the Chilcot report revealed that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had committed to war long before weapons inspectors had left Iraq. “I will be with you, whatever,” he wrote George W. Bush, eight months before the invasion.
The decision to go to war was deeply unpopular in the United Kingdom and a vibrant anti—war coalition formed in opposition to the invasion. It culminated in the largest protest march in British history on February 15, 2003.
Across the world, 10 to 15 million people marched in over 600 cities. It was one of the single largest coordinated protests in human history. It was a political awakening that defined a generation, but it did not stop the war.
Anti-invasion protesters warned of mass fatalities and destruction in Iraq, but they were emphatically brushed aside. As the Chilcot report noted, in a memo to George Bush, Blair called the London protest march “fatuous” and ridiculed public anger as ignorant. “Rational people are behaving very stupidly,” he said of protesters.
Thirteen years on, Tony Blair’s political legacy is in tatters. The most successful leader in Labour’s history – a key player in the Northern Ireland peace process and military intervention in Kosovo — looked visibly exhausted, his voice wavering, as he addressed reporters after the Chilcot report’s release. But, still, he was unrepentant. “I believe that I made the right decision and that the world is better and safer as a result of [the invasion],” he said.
Days earlier, on July 3, Iraq suffered its worst attack since that invasion. Families had gathered in the wealthy, diverse Karrada district to shop for the end of Ramadan. The car bombings that killed over 250 civilians in that neighborhood reflect the daily lived experience of death and destruction that Iraqis have suffered since the invasion.
The publication of the Chilcot report will not change any of this, but it serves as official evidence that the anti-war movement was on the right side of history. There must now be accountability for those who were not, lest the horrors of war be brutally and unjustifiably unleashed again.