Spearhead Analysis – 11.07.2016

The Iraq InquiryThirteen years after the US-UK orchestrated invasion of Iraq and seven years after he started work Sir John Chilcot has produced a most exhaustive 12 volume report on Britain’s decision to join the US in a war that undoubtedly was a supreme folly. This war has spawned the sectarian conflict in the Middle East and the rise of IS (Islamic State) leading to unimaginable violence and an immigration problem of gigantic proportions as millions of displaced people head for Europe. More than 150000 Iraqis have been killed and millions injured. This conceptually flawed decision to invade Iraq has often been attributed to some kind of geo-political strategy by the ‘neocons’ in the US to carry out socio-political re-engineering in the Middle East or as Omar Khayyam said in another context—“if you and I could with faith conspire to rebuild this scheme of things entire, would we not shatter it to bits and rebuild it closer to heart’s desire.” The Middle East has been shattered with Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq on the verge of disintegration and pressures mounting on Egypt and Turkey. AlQaeda has reinvented itself and is reaching out to new hunting grounds and the West is under threat from its own radicalized populations. The US decision to disband Saddam’s military machine has given IS expertise and trained manpower. The same Saddam who was armed and supported by the US in Iraq’s war with Iran and who was hunted and hanged after the invasion of Iraq. Many in Iraq miss his iron hand that kept Iraq cohesive and progressive much like Libya’s Gaddafi also killed by mobs in the street.

The Chilcot report has not revealed anything new but it is a chilling confirmation of all the doubts, speculations and opinions that were being widely expressed by authoritative voices. The fact that the report is based on very thorough investigation makes it authentic and a stand-alone document that needs thorough analysis to understand its full import. It is to Britain’s credit that the report has seen the light of day and it is commendable that it has been debated in Parliament with the Prime Minister David Cameron giving the government’s position and the former Prime Minister Tony Blair accepting full responsibility for the decision to side with the US in the invasion of Iraq. The report has given satisfaction to the families of British soldiers who were killed and injured in Iraq and it has brought about some kind of closure though there is talk of court cases and accountability and a motion may be tabled against Tony Blair.

The report reaches several telling conclusions; that the decision to invade was taken before other options had been exhausted, that the then Prime Minister Blair exaggerated the threat and told President Bush-‘I will be with you whatever’, the decision was made in most unsatisfactory circumstances, that President Bush largely ignored post war planning, that Saddam posed no imminent threat, that intelligence was flawed, that the military was ill equipped for the task and as a consequence had to enter into humiliating deals, that Colin Powell’s 2003 prescient warning of post invasion bloodletting was ignored and that full information was not shared with the Cabinet and Parliament nor was the decision ever fully explained in spite of massive street protests against Britain’s entry into the war. This last point is also being discussed in the context of the recent referendum on Brexit.

These conclusions should logically lead to lessons and actions that will ensure that these mistakes are not repeated. Prime Minister Cameron has instituted a National Security Council to improve and streamline the entire decision making process and has appointed a National Security Adviser. The report is a critique of the ‘establishment’ and this adds to its stature. It indicates institutional meekness in the docility with which decisions by political masters are accepted and even encouraged as part of a tail wagging culture. Discussions on the report has led to remarks like ‘elected dictatorship’ in the context of governance and decision making styles. There have been references to the role of the intelligence apparatus because the report implies doctoring of information to suit political desires and outcomes and even intelligence overstepping its mandate by suggesting policy and political decisions. The report may not specifically state this but the implication is there that senior military leadership should ensure adequate resources for the tasks assigned and clearly spell out requirements to the government before undertaking assigned tasks. Such mistakes lead to loss of lives that in turn should lead to accountability. The need for sound conception and planning that indicates the requirement for resources and includes post event consequences also emerges from the report.

The Chilcot Report is valuable not just for Britain but it is a must read for all leaders entrusted with governance and national decision making. Reports on significant events that do not get completed or if completed are ignored or deliberately kept under wraps serve no purpose. The bureaucracy and intelligence must function independent of political and other interference and that all national institutions must have strength and capacity. Sound institutionalized decision making at higher levels is the basis for sound strategies, policies and actions—its importance must be understood in totality.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)