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Britain's Role in Iraq War: What to Expect From Chilcot Report

The Iraq Inquiry Committee will release a voluminous report on Wednesday about Britain's role in the Iraq war.

The report, the product of seven years of work, is likely to be the definitive assessment of a conflict that is widely seen in Britain as the worst foreign policy blunder since the 1956 Suez crisis.

The war claimed the lives of 179 British troops, more than 4,500 United States service members and an untold number of Iraqi civilians; severely damaged the reputation of Tony Blair, who stepped down as prime minister in 2007; and continues to cast a shadow over Britain's relations with the United States.

The report arrives at an acutely sensitive time, less than two weeks after Britain voted to leave the European Union, with power struggles consuming both of Britain's largest political parties. Here are answers to some of the major questions:

What are the key issues?

Intelligence failures are expected to be a focus: reliance by analysts on flawed sources of information about Saddam Hussein's weapons program, and the use of that intelligence as part of the march to war.

The report is also expected to look at how the military intervention itself was carried out, and the failure to plan for Iraq's future in the aftermath of the invasion.

More generally, the report will examine decision making within Whitehall. It will also be seen as a verdict on Mr. Blair's tenure.

This is not the first report, is it?

There have been two previous official examinations of Britain's role in the war, both completed in 2004. But critics said those reports were too easy on the government and amounted to a whitewash. They demanded a more thorough inquiry.

One report, led by Lord Hutton, a senior judge, stemmed from the 2003 death of an arms expert who had privately alerted the BBC to his doubts about the reliability of the intelligence. The report blamed the network for sensationalizing the expert's claims.

The second, led by Lord Butler, a former civil servant, found extensive failures in the gathering and use of intelligence, but cleared Mr. Blair of accusations that he or his government had manipulated evidence to build a case for war.

How will this report differ?

Gordon Brown, who succeeded Mr. Blair as prime minister, set up the inquiry in 2009 and named John Chilcot, a retired civil servant, to oversee it.

The committee was authorized to thoroughly examine Britain's involvement in the Iraq war, "including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish as accurately and reliably as possible what happened, and to identify the lessons that can be learned," as Mr. Chilcot put it.

He also promised that the investigation would "not shy away from making criticisms."

The committee's report is expected to be 12 volumes and more than 2.6 million words. Besides Mr. Chilcot, there are three other members of the committee; a fifth, the historian Martin Gilbert, died last year.

Why has it taken so long?

The inquiry, originally intended to be concluded in a year, lasted longer than Britain's combat operations in Iraq, which ended in 2009, and cost around $14 million.

Relatives of some of those who died in the conflict have expressed frustration over the delays, as has Prime Minister David Cameron.

Mr. Chilcot has said he underestimated the time needed for the work, which involved a review of more than 150,000 documents and testimony from more than 150 witnesses. Significant witnesses were given the opportunity to respond to criticism.

There were also protracted negotiations over the release of classified papers, including correspondence between Mr. Blair and President George W. Bush.

What will it mean for Blair?

After Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair was the world leader most associated with the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Although he was the longest-serving Labour prime minister in British history, he has become a deeply unpopular figure.

Mr. Blair supported the Bush administration's assertions that Mr. Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Despite reservations raised by some British civil servants, and against the wishes of allies like France and Germany, Mr. Blair backed the American-led military intervention.

In an interview with CNN in October, Mr. Blair apologized for acting on what he described as faulty intelligence, and he acknowledged that the unending strife in Iraq had contributed to the rise of the Islamic State.

Charges for Blair or others?

This is most unlikely.

"The inquiry is not a court of law," the committee says on its website. "The members of the committee are not judges, and nobody is on trial. But if the committee finds that mistakes were made, that there were issues which could have been dealt with better, it will say so."

The International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, has looked into claims of torture and abuse by British soldiers against Iraqi civilians, but it has said Britain's decision to go to war is outside its jurisdiction.

Although Mr. Blair has been out of office for nearly a decade, some lawmakers want Parliament to put him on trial for "high crimes and misdemeanors" under a law dating to medieval times. However, no government minister has been impeached under the law since 1806, and the law is considered obsolete.

What about the United States?

A presidential commission in 2005, a Senate Intelligence Committee report in 2008 and other inquiries have documented failures of intelligence collection and analysis, debilitating turf battles among government agencies and the military, and other mistakes leading to the Iraq war.

Barack Obama's opposition to the war helped him secure the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president this year, said in her 2014 memoir that she "got it wrong" when, as a senator, she voted to authorize military force in Iraq, but she has generally maintained a more hawkish stance on foreign policy than President Obama.

Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has said he opposed the war, but in 2002, when asked whether he supported invading Iraq, he replied, "I guess so."

[Source: By Sewell Chan, International New York Times, London, 04Jul16]

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War in Afghanistan & Iraq
small logoThis document has been published on 07Jul16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.