Richard Butler. The Invasion of Iraq,the decision and it’s consequences

It was reported on May 29th, that Sir John Chilcot, the head of the UK inquiry into the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, had reached a “breakthrough” on the issue of how much of the official records of the decision to invade can be published. The publication of the Chilcot report is some two years late. It is now thought that it may be published before the end of 2014.

Chilcot stated that the contents of the key documents at issue, mainly relating to communications between Prime Minister Blair and President George W Bush (some 25 of Blair’s notes to Bush) are “vital to public understanding of the enquiry’s conclusions”.

If this is true, then Sir John, and all of us, may yet be disappointed, because UK Cabinet office officials are now insisting that he may only publish the “gist” of such documents and information only “in relation to” relevant cabinet meetings. Hardly a “breakthrough”!

UK government sources have indicated that this outcome has been the result of negotiations between them and Washington. And, Tony Blair claimed this week, that he has had nothing to do with what has become widely regarded as the insupportable delay in the Chilcot report.

Oddly in these circumstances, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in an interview broadcast on Public Television in the US, yesterday, in answer to a criticism voiced by former Vice President Dick Cheney of the handling by the Obama Administration’s of the Iraq intervention, stated: “Dick Cheney was completely wrong about Iraq and we are still struggling with the aftermath of what Dick Cheney and his crew thought was the right policy; to go in and start a war of choice for the wrong reasons and they turned tops turkey the entire region with respect to Sunni and Shia and the relationships there. The fact is they have been deeply, deeply wrong in the policy they pursued.”

Three points of interest for Australia: While John Howard and Alexander Downer were not directly hired members of Cheney’s “crew”, they offered them and us as willing recruits; there has been no comparable enquiry in Australia to the Chilcot enquiry; has Canberra also made representations to Chilcot or the UK to bury communications between Blair and Howard or any other relevant Australian input? Why did John Howard think,we Australians,as the Americans sometimes,so crisply say.”have a dog in this fight”?

On John Kerry’s “wrong reasons”, he is clearly referring to the weapons of mass destruction rationale for the invasion. In my final report to the UN Security Council as Head of the UN Special Commission to Disarm Iraq, in 1999, I indicated that we had accounted for virtually all of Saddam’s  WMD. My successor, Hans Blix, four years later, on the eve of the invasion did the same. It was for this reason, among others, that the Security Council refused to authorize the invasion, thus rendering it contrary to international law.

In an informal submission to the Chilcot enquiry, some three years ago, I called its attention to the fact that the Bush Administration’s claims on Saddam’s alleged WMD involved rejecting these two UN Security Council authorized reports. I have no idea what, if anything, the Chilcot report will make of this fact. What is clear, however, is that no WMD were found after the invasion. That was because there were none.

For at least the last three years, with increasing intensity and horrific consequences, the region bound by Lebanon in the West, Syria in the center and Iraq to the East has been engaged in war.  And, it has external participants, from the region and beyond.

Why this is occurring, what is elementally at issue, and when and how it might end, continues to be the subject of much agonized and uncertain analysis.

Such an analysis, which deserves attention, was given by Borzou Daragahi (Middle East: Three nations, one conflict: Financial Times May 27th). He mentions the possibility that what we are witnessing is nothing less than the revision of the arbitrary boundaries laid down by the British and the French (the Sykes/Picot Accord) following the end of WWI and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire.

More pertinently, he observes that: “the outlines of the war now raging across the Levant and Mesopotamia became clearer after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. The election of the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad gave Iran influence, in its former rival, while enraged Sunnis took up arms, first against the American occupiers, then against Baghdad. The largely Sunni 2011 uprising against Mr. Assad’s heterodox Shia Alawite regime and the Damascus government’s harsh response engulfed the region in a still expanding war.”

He asks whether this is comparable to the 30 years’ war in 17th Century Europe. It can’t be; the weapons being used today are far more devastating, and great power rivalries are more deeply involved than in the battle over the Holy Roman Empire.

But it is clear that there is no end in sight and the conflict may continue for years.

A thought for the centenary of Gallipoli!

Richard Butler a former Australian Ambassador to the United Nations, and Executive Chairman of the UN Special Commission to Disarm Iraq, is a Professor of International Relations at Penn State University.

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