The UK joined Iraq War without knowing if "WMDs" existed
FORMER UK Prime Minister Tony Blair convinced himself with unjustified certainty that Iraq's President, Saddam Hussein, had weapons of mass destruction, when intelligence reports had not established "beyond doubt" that they existed, the long awaited Chilcot report has damningly concluded.
The UK Prime Minister was so convinced that of the presence of the non-existent WMDs that he sent British troops into Iraq when diplomacy might still have resolved the crisis. But the secret intelligence reports he had been shown "did not justify" his certainty, Sir John Chilcot concluded.
Mr Blair's taking of the UK to the Iraq War helped galvanise Australia's own involvement.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard told the National Press Club in 2013:
Clearly, the presence of the British (in Iraq) is seen by many Australians as an important supplement to the presence of the Americans.
I want to say that the leadership that's been displayed by Tony Blair on this issue in his own party has been extraordinary and I salute him for that.
He's a very strong Labor leader and I think he deserves a great deal of respect for the very strong attitude that he's taken.
Sir John Chilcot's damning report into the Iraq War also revealed that Blair and US President George W. Bush were made fully aware that Iraq could descend into sectarian chaos after the invasion - directly contrary to what Mr Blair told the inquiry.
The issue of whether the then Prime Minister lied to Parliament to justify the UK's involvement in the Iraq war has been a source of damaging controversy for more than 13 years.
Sir John Chilcot did not use the word "lie" - in fact his report specified that it "is not questioning" Mr Blair fixed belief - but his damning conclusion is that the former Prime Minister deliberately blurred the distinction between what he believed and what he actually knew.
However, Mr Blair claimed that the 12 volume report proved that, at worst, he had made an honest mistake. He said, in a statement: "The report should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit. Whether people agree or disagree with my decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein; I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country."
Sir John also said the risks of internal strife, regional instability and the burgeoning of al-Qaeda in Iraq "were each explicitly identified", yet planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam were "wholly inadequate".
And he criticised intelligence chiefs for allowing the Prime Minister to get away with misrepresenting what they had told him when he presented his now notorious dossier to the House of Commons in September 2002.
The dossier itself, which accurately reflected what the intelligence services knew, came with a foreword signed by Tony Blair, which claimed that tit established "beyond doubt" that Iraq held WMDs. This was a "deliberate selection of a formulation which grounded the statement in what Mr Blair believed, rather than in the judgements which the JIC had actually reached," Sir John's report concluded.
"The judgements about Iraq's capabilities in that statement, and in the dossier published the same day, were presented with a certainty that was not justified," he said.
"The Joint Intelligence Committee should have made clear to Mr Blair that the assessed intelligence had not established 'beyond doubt' either that Iraq had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons or that efforts to develop nuclear weapons continued."
But he acquitted Tony Blair's director of communications, Alastair Campbell, of the charge that he "sexed up" the September dossier to distort the intelligence - an allegation aired on the Today programme in May 2003 by the journalist Andrew Gilligan, who claimed to have heard from the weapons inspector Dr David Kelly. "There is no evidence that intelligence was improperly included in the dossier or that No 10 improperly influenced the text," the report concluded.
Sir John's report damningly added that as the prospect loomed that the US was going to invade Iraq whatever the British decided, the intelligence chiefs gave "no consideration" to the possibility that Saddam Hussein was - for once -telling the truth when he said that his regime had destroyed all the chemical weapons it possessed and used in the 1980s.
The Iraq government announced in November 2002 - four months before the invasion - that it no longer had any weapons of mass destruction, but Mr Blair refused to believe that. Speaking on the telephone to President George W Bush the following month he said that the Iraqi declaration was "patently false" and that he was "cautiously optimistic" that weapons inspector would be able to prove that the Iraqis were lying.
On 18 March, 2003, Tony Blair persuaded the House of Commons to give the go ahead for military action, but "at the time of the parliamentary vote, diplomatic options had not been exhausted," Sir John concluded.
"It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been."
From September 2002, six months before the invasion, Foreign Office and intelligence reports indicated the war would create an "easier environment for terrorists" and the destabilisation of the country.
An FCO paper on Islamism in Iraq, shared with the Americans in December 2002, even foreshadowed the rise of extremist groups like Isis which went on to exploit the chaos of post-war Iraq.
It warned that it was likely groups would be looking for "identities and ideologies on which to base movements" and anticipated that a number of emergent extremist groups would use violence to pursue political ends.
Isis, which 11 years after the invasion declared a caliphate in Iraq, remains in control of vast swathes of the country, including its second city Mosul. The group claimed responsibility for Sunday's bombing in Baghdad, the death toll of which has now risen to 250 - the worst such attack since the invasion in 2003.
"Mr Blair told the inquiry that the difficulties encountered in Iraq after the invasion could not have been known in advance," Sir John said, as he released the report in London on Wednesday morning.
"We do not agree that hindsight is required. The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and al Qaeda activity in Iraq, were explicitly identified before the invasion."