Highlights From the Chilcot Report

Earlier today, the UK’s Iraq Inquiry Committee released the report of its seven year investigation into the country’s role in the Iraq War. Started in 2009 at the direction of then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the committee, chaired by retired civil servant Sir John Chilcot, was asked to investigate two questions: whether it was right and necessary to invade Iraq in March 2003; and whether the UK could — and should — have been better prepared for what followed. While the 6,400 page report will take time to read through and process, there are a few sections and conclusions we wanted to flag for our readers.

First, Section 5 of the report is particularly noteworthy for its focus on the role government lawyers played in the UK’s participation in the war. Labeled “Advice on the legal basis for military action, November 2002 to March 2003,” the section includes an in-depth discussion of legal advice given to senior British government officials by Lord Peter Goldsmith, then-Attorney General for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in the run-up to the war.

Key findings from Section 5 include the notion that senior government officials were not given an explanation of legal advice that helped the British government determine Iraq failed to meet its disarmament obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and thereby opened the door for the UK’s use of force against the regime of Saddam Hussein:

  • Cabinet [consisting of senior British government officials and MP’s] was provided with the text of Lord Goldsmith’s Written Answer to Baroness Ramsey setting out the legal basis for military action.
  • That document represented a statement of the Government’s legal position – it did not explain the legal basis of the conclusion that Iraq had failed to take “the final opportunity” to comply with its disarmament obligations offered by [UN] resolution 1441.
  • Cabinet was not provided with written advice which set out, as the advice of 7 March had done, the conflicting arguments regarding the legal effect of resolution 1441 and whether, in particular, it authorised military action without a further resolution of the Security Council.
  • The advice should have been provided to Ministers and senior officials whose responsibilities were directly engaged and should have been made available to Cabinet.

Second, in his statement accompanying the report, Chilcot wrote that, in response to the question of whether it was right and necessary to invade Iraq in 2003, the Committee determined 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.” He went on to say that the Committee’s other key conclusions include:

  • 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.
  • The Government failed to achieve its stated objectives.

Third, the Executive Summary contains key findings (starting on p. 111) and lessons learned (starting on p. 129) that cover the entire time under investigation (2001–2009). While the report obviously has more in-depth explanations and discussions of each, those sections are a good place to start.

The report itself covers only part of the total documentation the Committee made available. The Committee also published reams of witness and documentary evidence it considered during the inquiry. Additionally, the Committee has published some of the various other materials it considered during its investigation, and included details about those materials where it did not publish the information itself.

There will of course be much to say about the report once our editors and contributors have had a chance to read it through more comprehensively, so keep watching this space for more. 

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