A botched inquiry?
People across the Middle East have a stake in the UK’s Chilcot Inquiry into the causes of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, writes Salah Nasrawi
When former British prime minister Gordon Brown set up a panel in 2009 to look into the UK’s involvement in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq many Iraqis hoped that they would finally hear the truth about the invasion that left their country in ruins.
Britain, after all, was the US’s main ally in the war and its then prime minister Tony Blair was a key supporter of then US president George W. Bush, who still insists that the invasion was the “right decision” despite the hundreds of thousands killed and the numerous regional conflicts it has unleashed.
Nearly six years later the report of the UK’s Iraq War Inquiry has still not been made public, even though it was reportedly finalised in 2011. Last year it was disclosed that a deal had been reached between London and Washington to block essential documents in the inquiry, including critical pre-and post-war communications between Bush and Blair.
A new hurdle came this month when the inquiry panel, known as the Chilcot Commission after its chairman Sir John Chilcot, decided not to publish the long-awaited report, which will now be delayed until after the British general elections in May.
The delay has raised suspicions of a whitewash. The British Independent newspaper described it as “one of the most bitterly controversial episodes in recent British history.”
The leaders of both the ruling Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party have been accused of a cover-up of what has been called the war of destruction on Iraq.
Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has suggested the delay of the report is an attempt to “sex it down.” Others have called it a scandal and urged voters to sign a petition calling for the publication of the report before the elections.
The criticisms go beyond the delay in the publication to include the alleged incompetence of the Chilcot Commission and the political calculations that have coloured its investigations, including caving in to pressure from the British and US governments.
What gives weight to charges that the inquiry process has been manipulated is the reluctance of both Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband to push for publication of the report.
Both have been apparently engaged in an elections blame game. For many in Britain who have been demanding to know the reasons that pushed their government to submit to Bush’s whims, the postponement of the report has not been good news. They consider it to be a setback for justice, democracy and transparency.
For Iraqis, however, the war is history that cannot be forgotten. For 12 years, Iraq has been reeling in the apocalyptic aftermath of the invasion and occupation. For most Iraqis, these have been years of terror, grief and destitution. Their country now stands at a crossroads, with increasing fears that it will ultimately fall apart.
The majority of Iraqis do not need to know when Blair made commitments to Bush about the UK’s involvement in the invasion and its aftermath. But they expected the truth to be made public and the Chilcot Commission to disclose information about who did what in the plundering their country.
One of their expectations was that the commission would open a window of opportunity to expand the inquiry from merely probing Britain’s involvement and Blair’s secret deals with Bush to include the entire war and its devastating consequences.
Bereaved Iraqi victims of abuses committed during the war and the subsequent occupation also hoped a credible report would help them take those responsible for war crimes committed during the invasion and the occupation to court.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed or wounded in the catastrophic occupation, while millions were forced to leave their homes and seek refuge abroad or within Iraq because of the sectarian violence triggered by the invasion.
Unknown numbers of Iraqis have been exposed to a range of environmental and chemical hazards caused by the allies’ use of weapons that carried potential health risks. The destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure has been immeasurable, along with the economic losses.
Other peoples in the Middle East also have a stake in the Chilcot report. The invasion of Iraq unleashed the turmoil that has culminated in the stunning advances of Islamic State (IS) forces in Iraq and Syria and the wave of religious radicalism it has unleashed in the region.
This threat of terrorism, which has hit Europe recently, should be underscored because Western politicians such as Blair still try to distance themselves and their policies from the snowballing problem and blame it on Muslims.
Last week, Blair claimed that a “closed-minded view of the world” was perpetuating what he termed a “culture of hatred.”
“At some point we have got to understand this extremism has grown up over a long period of time and over decades. Its roots are deep within a perversion of the religion of Islam,” Blair told participants at the Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland.
The outcome of the investigation should also have an impact on the US-led coalition which is fighting IS in Iraq and Syria. Iraqis are entitled to know that the war which the international coalition is fighting against IS is not driven by another conspiracy, and will not turn into an exercise in destruction like the one waged in 2003 to topple the regime of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
As the recent exchange of blame over the efficiency of the coalition’s military aid in the war against IS has shown, the Iraqi government has little confidence in the coalition, something which makes observers believe it is undermining the campaign.
If the report of the Chilcot investigation is curtailed, the world will never know the truth of the secret deals between Bush and Blair that paved the way for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and those responsible for Iraq’s misery will continue to escape being brought to account.
This article appeared first in Al-Ahram Weekly on Jan, 29, 2015