by Workers Fight
The Chilcot enquiry was originally commissioned by Gordon Brown’s Labour government, in June 2009, to look into “the period from summer 2001, before military operations began in March 2003, and our subsequent involvement in Iraq right up to the end of July this year ”.
The inquiry held its last public session in 2011 and its report should have been published by 2014. However, it was held up for another two years due to Cameron’s reluctance to release documents which might have upset the US administration. Seven years on, this report was finally published on 6 July.
Despite its size – 15 volumes and 2.6 million words – it does not actually contain anything new. It goes into minute detail of what had already been known for a long time: the Blair government’s very conscious manipulation of public opinion in order to justify joining the US invasion; its failure to anticipate the consequences of the US-British “regime change” strategy; its lack of any serious plans for the country’s reconstruction, etc.
But what the report does not deal with at all, are precisely the most important issues: the real reasons why theUS and British governments staged the invasion of Iraq; its immediate human consequences; the civil war triggered by their “regime change” strategy and its cost for the population; the resulting destabilisation across the whole region and how, from Syria and Iraq, to Yemen and Libya, the populations are today still being made to pay an exorbitant price for their policies.
In short, what the Chilcot inquiry does not deal with but then, nor could it had been expected to, anyway is the criminal nature of the imperialist domination over the Middle-East. It provides only a limited insight into the way in which the British and US governments enforced this domination.
Blair’s history of lies and deceit
In fact all the events covered by the Chilcot report are dealt with in such a polite, legalistic tone, that it does not seem as if, behind it all, whole regions were reduced to rubble, hundreds of thousands of women and men lost their lives, while millions were forced out of their homes.
This muted tone allowed Blair to issue a defiant response: “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. I note that the report finds clearly.. that there was no falsification or improper use of Intelligence”.
Indeed, the fact is that while the report repeatedly exposes never in so many words, though the way in which Blair twisted the truth to back up his case for invading Iraq, in Chilcot’s book this does not amount to lies nor deceit! On the contrary, he seems to consider that Blair just went a bit too far in pushing for what he believed in as if this was just an understandable, minor sin, coming from a man of strong convictions like Blair! Never mind the consequences!
So, for instance, concerning Blair’s famous September 2002 “dossier” on Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs) and ability “to deploy WMDs within 45 minutes”, the Chilcot report’s conclusion is that “there is no evidence that intelligence was improperly included in the dossier or that No 10 improperly influenced the text”.
Among other things, this “dossier” claimed that Iraq had been trying to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger, although Blair himself had been slightly more cautious in presenting his “dossier” to the Commons, when he said that Saddam Hussein had “been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, although we do not know whether he has been successful”. But, the Chilcot report stops short of mentioning that the whole claim was subsequently exposed as a fantasy, following an investigation conducted in Niger by a former US diplomat, Joe Wilson. But it does note that the British Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) “had consistently taken the view that, if sanctions were removed or became ineffective, it would take Iraq at least five years following the end of sanctions to produce enough fissile material for a weapon.”
So, this “dossier” was lying by claiming, explicitly or implicitly, that Saddam Hussein was anywhere close to developing any sort of nuclear capability. But what was it not lying about, then?
In fact, a few months later, an MoD expert, Dr David Kelly, contacted BBC journalist, Andrew Gilligan, about his concerns that this “dossier” had been “sexed up” by the government, especially regarding the 45 minutes claim. Gilligan reported these concerns on a Radio 4 Today programme on 29 May 2003 without mentioning his source. On 17 July that year, Gilligan was ordered by the Commons’ Foreign Affairs Select Committee to name his source which he refused to do. But that very same day, Dr Kelly was found dead, after having allegedly committed suicide. The following year, the Butler inquiry into these events conveniently provided Blair and the security services with a complete whitewash. Nevertheless, the circumstances of Dr Kelly’s death remain so mysterious that there have been numerous calls for a new inquiry since. But never mind, his death only deserves one sentence in the Chilcot report!
Then there was the case of what came to be known as Blair’s “dodgy dossier” which was released on 3 February 2003. It was meant to expose, among other things, how the Iraqi security forces were busy concealing the country’s WMDs. Within days, however, Radio 4 and the Guardian revealed that the middle section of this “dossier” had been copied and pasted from the research work of a student, Ibrahim al-Marashi. Writing on 7 July 2016 for the Middle East Research and Information Project, al-Marashi explained: “That section.. was not based on intelligence about Iraq from MI-6, but on plagiarized material from an unrefined rough draft of chapter two of my thesis, at a time when I was about to change the entire argument of the manuscript.”
The claim, so often repeated by Blair, that Saddam Hussein’s regime represented a direct threat for Britain, rested on a similar dodgy basis. In her evidence to the Chilcot inquiry, Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5 in 2002-2007, stated, among other things, that “we did not believe he [Saddam Hussein] had the capability to do anything much in the UK. That turned out to be the right judgement” and she added that, in her view, the intelligence on the threat from Saddam Hussein wasn’t “substantial enough” to justify military action.
Nevertheless, the Chilcot report only accuses Blair of having taken “unsafe intelligence” at face value and given precedence to his “beliefs” over reality, while ignoring the caution advocated by a few security experts.
However, the report shows something rather different. It shows how Blair wanted to be able to back up his drive to follow the US in invading Iraq with arguments which were more likely to shift public opinion to his side. The intelligence agencies were told to find the “evidence” he needed and they did what they were told. Eliza Manningham-Buller may well be critical of Blair’s policy today but, despite what was at stake, she stopped short of making her criticisms known at the time!
Of course, the resulting “intelligence” could be nothing other than “unsafe” since it was meant to back up a propaganda fabrication! Except that both Blair and the security agencies were fully aware of this. If this is not lies and deceit on their part, what is?
The “Thieves’ Kitchen”
If there is one thing that the Chilcot report may help to “lay to rest”, to use Blair’s words, it is the illusion that there is such a thing as a benevolent “international community” or “international law”, which are there to protect the interests of the populations, and that the United Nations is there to look after their interests.
Indeed, a large part of the Chilcot report is devoted to the endless to-ing and fro-ing and manoeuvring engineered by the US and British governments, in order to give their aggressive plans against Iraq some sort of legitimacy, long before there was any explicit, public acknowledgement that this was what they were really up to.
Beyond the tedious details into which the report goes to describe these years of horse-trading, the long series of motions and resolutions designed to drown the real objectives of the two partners in crime in a flood of legalistic words, what emerges is the true nature of the United Nations: a “thieves’ kitchen”, as Lenin used to say when referring to the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations. That is, just another instrument used by the governments of the rich countries in order to impose their imperialist order on the rest of the planet.
The report goes into a minute description of how Bush and Blair played the UN as long as it suited them, only to launch the invasion regardless of the opposition of the Security Council, in accordance with their own plan. Boring as this may be, reading this should be a “must” for all those who, in the anti-war movement, kept talking about the “legality” of the war, because it had not been endorsed by the right resolution. As if this was the real issue – or even an issue at all!
What does “legality” mean for governments which are a law onto themselves? And, in the UN, the imperialist powers but especially the US are a law onto themselves. When it was set up after WWII, the UN was designed to serve as a means for the US the dominant imperialist power which came out of the war to exercise its domination over the world, with the lesser imperialisms Britain and France playing the role of second fiddle.
In the Iraq war, the US played its hand alone. It first used the UN to justify imposing a 13-year blockade on Iraq, following Saddam Hussein’s defeat in the First Gulf War, at an exorbitant cost to the Iraqi population. And then, when it turned out that strangling the country wasn’t causing the regime to collapse, it used the UN both to increase the pressure on the regime and to portray it as an immediate threat, for the benefit of public opinion. Finally, having failed to gain the support of the UN Security Council for military action, Bush launched the invasion.
In all of this, Britain was merely a willing sidekick, sheepishly following the US at every step all the way to the invasion itself, in which they were joined by symbolic contingents from Australia and Poland.
All this was completely “illegal” according to UN rules? Of course it was! But so what? What difference would it have made had the UN endorsed the invasion, as it had done in the First Gulf War? Would the US and British cruise missiles have been less lethal for the Iraqi population?
If there is something to learn from this part of the report, it is the fact that in the UN “Thieves’ Kitchen” the only real law is the Law of the Jungle. The strongest imperialist power lays down its law, with its lesser partners in crime choosing to go along or not, depending on their circumstantial interests and this is the way it will be for as long as the rule of imperialism has not been overthrown, once and for all.
A background that they’d rather hush up
What were the objectives pursued by Blair and his government in this war? The Chilcot report rightly points out that these objectives cannot be considered in isolation of those pursued by the US: “Although it is not the task of the Inquiry to evaluate US policy, the approach taken by the UK Government can only be understood in the context of its dialogue with Washington and the evolution of US policy”.
Too true. But then the report does not go back to the real beginning of the story the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, in 1979. Nor does it devote any space to the subsequent decade during which Saddam Hussein became the most valued auxiliary of the imperialist order in the region a period during which no-one, whether in London or in Washington, bothered to even mention the bloody nature of his dictatorship.
Indeed, with the overthrow of the Shah, the imperialist powers had lost the main pillar of their domination over a region which was so vital for them, due to its oil reserves. This resulted in Saddam Hussein’s promotion to the position of imperialism’s number one regional stooge. And, in 1980, the Iraqi regime embarked on a war against Iran which was to last 8 years and claim over a million lives.
During this war, a long series of UN resolutions called for an immediate ceasefire, threatened sanctions, denounced the use of chemical weapons, etc… But this was just hypocritical window dressing. This war had been encouraged if not explicitly initiated by the imperialist powers. Their aim was to punish and weaken the new Iranian regime for having overthrown one of their most trusted dictators, while showing to the region’s populations the terrible cost attached to standing up against the imperialist system of domination and its local strong men. And despite the UN’s hypocritical noises and an arms embargo against both protagonists officially declared in 1984, Saddam Hussein was able to buy unlimited quantities of weapons from western arms multinationals which made a fortune out of this.
The Iran-Iraq war finally ended in 1988, by which time both countries were in ruins. The Iraqi regime came out of it with huge debts to western as well as neighbouring Arab countries. Saddam Hussein turned to the US for financial help, but to no avail. Not only did the western imperialist powers refuse to reward him for his loyal services, but they calculated that the difficulties faced by the regime would soften it up and make it more pliable to their demands. However, this proved to be a miscalculation.
Among Iraq’s largest creditors was the ultra-rich, micro oil-state of Kuwait. It was really a geographic anomaly, left over from the British colonial days, which should have been integrated into Iraq long ago, had it not been for the imperialist powers’ determination to preserve it as an outpost for their regional order.
In August 1990, having failed to get Kuwait to postpone Iraq’s debt repayment and to stop driving down prices by dumping cheap oil on the market, Saddam Hussein decided to repay himself in kind for his war against Iran, by invading Kuwait. In and of itself, this move did not affect the interests of the imperialist powers or multinationals. But allowing it to happen without reacting would have been setting a precedent which the imperialist leaders could not afford otherwise, what would have stopped other dictators from destabilising the imperialist order by invading a neighbouring country?
Such were the reasons behind the first Gulf War the so-called “Operation Desert Storm which started with massive air strikes, on 17 January 1991. As many as 88,500 tons of bombs were dropped on military and civilian targets across Iraq. This was soon followed up with the landing of troops and the defeat of the Iraqi army, whose soldiers were ruthlessly bombed on the roads as they were trying to escape towards the north of the country. This time round, the imperialist powers were able to drown Iraq in blood, without this costing significant casualties or damage to the invading forces.
Finishing the job of the First Gulf War
Saddam’s defeat, however, prompted rebellions across Iraq especially among the southern Shia and the northern Kurds. The imperialist powers did not want further destabilisation to affect the region and, once again, they used Saddam Hussein to restore order in the country.
But this meant that they were left with the same regime in Iraq. Not that the rich countries’ leaders were particularly bothered with the bloody nature of Saddam’s dictatorship. Quite the opposite, in fact: aren’t the poor countries littered with such bloody dictatorships, propped up and armed by the imperialist powers to take care of the interests of their multinationals against the populations?
No, what bothered the western leaders about Saddam Hussein was the fact that, since he had defied them once by occupying Kuwait, they just did not trust him to be the obedient henchman they needed.
So what followed was a decade of so-called “containment” strategy, whereby the imperialist leaders imposed a de facto blockade on Iraq, strangling its economy and population, in the hope that, eventually, this would lead to the demise of the regime. But it didn’t.
The pressure to “finish the job” was growing in Washington, especially from the oil majors’ lobby, which wanted to have a free ride in Iraq. The election of Bush Junior brought this lobby right into the White House. From then onwards, imposing “regime change” on Iraq was no longer a question of “if”, but one of “when and how”. The 9/11 attacks and subsequent launch of the “war on terror” provided Bush with the pretext he had been looking for.
It is only at that point that the Chilcot report starts its investigation: “It was the US Administration which decided in late 2001 to make dealing with the problem of Saddam Hussein’s regime the second priority, after the ousting of the Taliban in Afghanistan, in the ‘Global War on Terror’. In that period, the US Administration turned against a strategy of continued containment of Iraq, which it was pursuing before the 9/11 attacks.”
And Blair followed suit wholeheartedly, just as John Major’s government had followed Bush’s father in the First Gulf War and for much the same reasons the overall interest of British imperialism to remain closely aligned to the world’s dominant imperialism, in order to take the crumbs it would be allowed to take from the loot, and the particular interests of Britain’s two oil majors in the Middle-East.
Indeed, as Chilcot points out, Blair’s policy regarding Iraq had nothing to with 9/11 nor terrorism: “In November 2001, the JIC assessed that Iraq had played no role in the 9/11 attacks on the US and that practical co-operation between Iraq and Al Qaida was ‘unlikely’. There was no ‘credible evidence of covert transfers of WMD-related technology and expertise to terrorist groups’. It was possible that Iraq might use WMD in terrorist attacks, but only if the regime was under serious and imminent threat of collapse…. [Despite this] Mr Blair encouraged President Bush to address the issue of Iraq in the context of a wider strategy to confront terrorism after the attacks of 9/11… Mr Blair suggested a strategy for regime change in Iraq. This would build over time until the point was reached where ‘military action could be taken if necessary’, without losing international support.”
So, as early as November 2001, what Blair had in mind was “regime change” in Iraq which could obviously only be achieved by way of military intervention. Of course, contrary to what Chilcot seems to be implying, it wasn’t Blair who convinced Bush of adopting this policy. Bush did not need convincing, since he himself, together with his Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, had been arguing for this strategy under Clinton, long before 9/11, as had the US oil majors’ lobby. Rather, it was Blair who, opportunistically, told Bush what he wanted to hear.
And over the following two years, all the noises made by the US and British governments about Iraq’s WMDs or about its links with Al Qaeda and terrorism, all the weapons inspections and UN resolutions all that was nothing but propaganda, aimed at getting their respective public opinions used to the “necessity” of a military intervention against Iraq, in order to “finish the job” started in 1991.
Iraqi lives come cheap
As to the human cost of the imperialist powers’ policies for the Iraqi population, it is not an issue that really concerns the Chilcot report.
It says nothing about the human consequences of the decade of “containment” policies which preceded 2003 and only devotes one chapter the last 51 pages of its last volume, to be precise to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties caused by the invasion and occupation. As to the human consequences of the destruction of the country’s infrastructure by the invaders whether it be its health service and food supply system, or its electricity network and sewage they are barely mentioned.
There is no “human” way to bomb a population into submission, nor to invade a country. But there are many ways of making all this a lot worse for the population. And in this respect, at least, the Chilcot report shows in great detail how the arrogant stupidity of the occupation authorities and their total contempt for the population turned the situation into bloody mayhem.
First there was the total absence of any plan to rebuild the infrastructure which had been destroyed, both by the decade-long blockade and then by the carpet-bombing of the invasion. This left a large part of the population in complete destitution and no prospects other than to remain unemployed and live a precarious life for the foreseeable future.
Then, there was the catastrophic decision to sack the entire Iraqi civil service and army, under the pretext of ending once and for all the rule of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. It completely disorganised the day-to-day lives of Iraqis, right down to the distribution of food rations which, due to the blockade, were the only means of survival available to hundreds of thousands of households.
Ironically, the real objective of this policy was to pre-empt the development of an organised opposition to the occupation, which could have emerged around Saddam’s old state machinery. But it had the exact opposite effect. The massive number of sacked civil servants and soldiers formed a large pool of very angry people who had every reason to take revenge on the occupation authorities and soon provided the emerging anti-occupation insurgency groups with their first recruits.
Another consequence of this policy was to create a political vacuum which was soon filled by all kinds of rival militias fighting for a share of political power. When the occupation authorities embarked on a game of divide and rule, by propping up some of the Shia religious parties and militias as a counterweight to the pro-Baathist, mostly Sunni insurgency which was gathering momentum, they opened a Pandora’s box. Four years of brutal civil war followed, in which the Iraqi population was caught in the cross-fire between the rival Sunni and Shia militias and the occupation forces.
All these dramatic events are mostly documented in the Chilcot report, in great detail, at least until 2009. But what is particularly cynical about this report is that these policies, which were responsible for the deaths of tens, maybe hundreds of thousands, are described as “mistakes” that governments should learn from so as to make sure that they are not repeated in a future invasion! Never mind that, according to the evidence contained in the report, warnings had been issued by government advisers on all these issues even before the military preparation for the invasion started!
No, these were not “mistakes”, but criminal acts. Bush, Blair, their governments and their generals, knew exactly what the consequences of these policies would be for the population. But they did not care. Or maybe, even, this was part of their plan because they considered that the most efficient way to cow the Iraqi people into submission, was to terrorise them. Who knows how far the imperialist leaders’ contempt for the populations can go?
An indictment of imperialism
So, all in all, beyond its polite, legalistic language and its understatements, the Chilcot report is a damning indictment of Blair’s and Bush’s policies in Iraq.
But it only covers one part of the story. Since 2009, many more consequences of the occupation of Iraq have been unfolding. These have exposed how deeply the invasion of Iraq has affected the course of history for the populations of the whole region and the enormous cost to these populations of the preservation of this imperialist order.
Even before the resumption of the present civil war in Iraq, in 2014, the country never experienced any form of peace. The official formulation was that Iraq had a “security problem”. But behind this hypocritical phrase, the reality was that the population had to live through on-going terrorist attacks, due to the turf war between rival religious militias. The police, which had been armed and supposedly trained by the occupation forces, was often acting much like the militias, using their power to extract ransom from passers-by and generally behaving like gangsters.
In addition, the regime put in place by the western powers, which was dominated by Shia religious parties, deprived the Sunni and other minorities of any access to public jobs which were still the main source of employment. Due to the general corruption of these parties, the oil revenue disappeared into the pockets of a small layer of rich dignitaries representing the interests of the oil majors instead of being invested into the reconstruction of the country’s most vital infrastructure. The Iraqi economy and social fabric were in a total mess, back to where they had been several decades before. Such was still the state of Iraq eleven years after the invasion.
But since then, the emergence of ISIL (or Daesh in Arabic) has given a completely different dimension to the consequences of the Iraq war.
Of course, Blair and all those who supported the Iraq war energetically deny that ISIL has got anything to do with it. But whatever they may say, the fact is that the core leadership of ISIL was part of one of the many Sunni religious militias born out of the policies of the occupation authorities in Iraq. To escape the repression against the Sunni insurgency in Anbar province, around Fallujah, they fled to Syria where they rebuilt themselves by recruiting among the vast number of Iraqi refugees living near the border between the two countries.
Subsequently ISIL helped to reinvigorate the Syrian Islamic groups which had been decimated by Assad’s repression. And when the Arab spring broke out, ISIL and these groups managed, thanks to the weapons provided by regional backers from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, to become the driving force of an armed uprising against Assad. Having taken over control of part of the Iraqi-Syrian border, ISIL marched back into Iraq, taking over large swathes of the country, including Fallujah and Mosul, the country’s second largest town.
Today, although it seems to have been pushed out of Fallujah by the Iraqi army, ISIL is still proving its capacity to strike right in the heart of the capital, as was shown by the truck bombing which killed nearly 300 people in the Karrada district of Baghdad, on July 3rd.
The bloody chaos generated by ISIL has now spread much beyond Iraq and Syria. In a growing number of poor countries, Islamic groups claiming allegiance to ISIL, have embarked on terrorist campaigns from Jordan and the Lebanon to Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and even as far away from the Middle East as Bangladesh.
Of course, the rise of ISIL is not just the consequence of the Iraq war. It is also, more generally, the consequence of over a century of economic looting and military adventures by the rich imperialist powers, in the Middle East and in so many other poor countries. But it is also a by-product of the particular way in which the imperialist powers maintain their world order.
Whenever their system of oppression comes under threat of destabilisation, the imperialist powers always resort to the same methods, propelling into power the most reactionary among the local political forces. And more often than not this strategy backfires.
This was already the case in Afghanistan, where the CIA armed Islamic militias in order to weaken the Soviet union which had occupied the country, in an attempt to try to restore some order in what was then its sphere of influence. But, after the departure of the Soviet troops, the in-fighting between the Islamic warlords led to the victorious march of the Taliban. Eventually, the US and its imperialist allies had to intervene militarily to impose their order on a regime which was not prepared to accept it except that, to date, the government put in place by the western powers still only controls a limited part of Afghanistan and the country remains torn apart by an on-going civil war.
The same process has happened in Iraq following its invasion and occupation. It now backfired in the form of ISIL, which is now causing mayhem across the Middle-East and parts of Africa. And whatever the imperialist powers do against it will only backfire again, by producing more monsters aiming at imposing their own bloody dictatorships on the populations.
The populations of the poor countries are caught in the cross fire between the imperialist powers and the reactionary forces they generate. There is only one way out of this situation the overthrow of this imperialist order and the capitalist system it keeps alive.
But, of course, this is not the kind of “finding” that can be found in the Chilcot report. . .
The article below is taken from the Summer 2016 British quarterly Marxist publication Class Struggle (#108), here.