Chilcot Report On Iraq War Debated In UK Parliament
Britain's former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who was appointed Finance Minister in the new Prime Minister Theresa May's government, opened the first day of debate in parliament on Sir John Chilcot's inquiry into the Iraq war.
Hammond described the Iraq Inquiry as a "Herculean task" which was carried out "thoroughly, fairly, with great rigor and with a degree of frankness that will reassure those who feared a whitewash and that ensures there can be no ambiguity about the lessons that need to be learned."
The inquiry, which was given unprecedented access to confidential government documents and took longer to complete than British military involvement in the conflict itself, said former Prime Minister Tony Blair had relied on flawed intelligence and determined the way the war was legally authorized was unsatisfactory.
Lawmaker and Conservative Party member Kenneth Clarke said that Blair and the U.S. government at the time wished to invade Iraq in order to change the regime and depose the country's president Saddam Hussein but that such a move would be illegal under UK law.
Clarke said there was a "desperate desire" to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction "no doubt subconsciously motivated by a desire to give the Attorney General some basis in which he could say it was legal."
Hammond said that the report identified that regime change as an objective would be illegal in UK law, adding, "I think the suggestion is that through a process of group think, people who were involved in this process came to see regime change as a means to deliver the legitimate objective which was compliance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions."
He said the government would not "apportion blame" and said that the findings should be used for lessons to be learned in the future and that the UK would continue to unite with Iraq against terrorism.
"Despite the risks of action and the failures of the past, Britain must not and will not shrink from military intervention as a last resort when our security is threatened. Nor will it resile from its proper role on the world stage," he said.
But UK shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said Britain has been continuing to make mistakes outlined in the report.
"You cannot bomb a country from 30,000 feet into a Western style democracy. In conclusion Mr. Speaker, we cannot turn the clock back, we cannot correct the mistakes that were made, we cannot bring back the lives of those who were lost, we cannot undo the chaos that we have created but we can and we must stop the mistakes being repeated. Unfortunately, as I've pointed out today, whatever his rhetoric and whatever his well-meaning intentions, too often the outgoing Prime Minister has repeated exactly those same mistakes," she said.
Clarke, who voted against the Iraq war, said that the decision to invade the country was "disastrous", adding, "It didn't cause but it greatly contributed to the extraordinary problems that have persisted in the Middle East and the wider world ever since and it will continue to have tragic consequences I fear for some years to come."
But he said it was "pointless" to focus on Blair and demand for him to be prosecuted as a war criminal over his decision to take military action that led to the deaths of 179 British soldiers and more than 150,000 Iraqi civilians over the following six years.
"The one thing this makes quite clear is nobody's committed any crime and as one who was present at the time, I have absolutely no doubt that nobody acted at the time on any other basis that they believed passionately they were acting in the public interest," he said.