Full statement by Jack Straw on #chilcot report publication...
For immediate release
Statement on The Report of the Iraq Inquiry from Rt Hon Jack Straw
The judgement which I, and colleagues, made in mid-March 2003, to take military action in respect of Iraq, was by far and away the most serious decision in which I was ever involved.
I pay tribute to our armed forces, and our civilians in Iraq, who put their lives in harm’s way, and to Britain’s civil servants in the FCO, the Ministry of Defence, DFiD, the agencies and from other departments who worked so hard to achieve the best diplomatic and practical solutions in the hope of avoiding military action, and on the ground in Iraq when that action happened.
The consequences which flow from the decision to take military action against Iraq will live with me for the rest of my life. This is as nothing, however, compared with the grief of all those who lost loved ones in the conflict and its aftermath. They have my deepest sympathies at this very difficult time.
The Chilcot report is a most thorough examination of all the key issues. I should like to place on record my thanks to Sir John and all his colleagues for their work, as well as my profound sadness that one of the key members of the Inquiry, Sir Martin Gilbert, had to withdraw from the Inquiry in 2012 and sadly passed away last year.
This report considers at length the issues relating to the conflict. The impact of these decisions is still felt today in Iraq. I note that the Inquiry says that it “has not been able to identify alternative approaches that would have guaranteed greater success in the circumstances of March 2003.” [Executive Summary, paragraphs 798]
The Inquiry does not support two of the most serious accusations that have been made against the UK Government of the time - that Parliament and the public were wilfully misled about the intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction, and that the decision to take military action was unlawful.
Difficult decisions were made in good faith, based on the evidence available at the time – and only after strenuous efforts had been made by me and many others, across the international community, to pursue a diplomatic resolution and avoid military conflict.
One of the achievements of the UK government was to persuade the US Administration to go down the United Nations’ route. That led to the UN Security Council’s unanimous agreement to UNSCR 1441 in November 2002. It was that Resolution which formally recognized “the threat Iraq’s non-compliance with [Security] Council Resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles poses to international peace and security”. The whole of the international community considered Iraq to be a most serious threat – not just the US and the UK. France, Russia, Germany – and Syria – all voted for this Resolution. They would not have done so if their intelligence had suggested the reverse.
For the record, I did not take the intelligence about WMD I received at face value, but questioned those providing it about its accuracy and its provenance. In the end I came to the conclusion that military action was necessary if all other means failed. In March 2003 I concluded that it was a last resort. I acknowledge that the Inquiry, in retrospect, says that the point of ‘last resort’ had not been reached – but that was not how I saw matters at the time. My profound concern at that time was that, given the threat to international peace and security which the Security Council had declared in respect of Iraq only four months previously, if no military action was taken international resolve would progressively weaken, and the threat from Saddam Hussein to his own people and neighbouring countries would become much greater.
As the report reflects, a second UN Security Resolution was our preferred option, and I and others worked ceaselessly to try to achieve it. I continue to believe that if we had achieved such a resolution, then war could have been avoided. The responsibility for the ‘undermining’ of the Security Council has to be one which, in the circumstances, is therefore shared by all members of the Council at the time.
However, I welcome the Inquiry’s confirmation that “Cabinet was not misled on 17th March”, the meeting at which it agreed to recommend military action to the House of Commons, for decision the following day. [Executive Summary para 491].
As the Report spells out in great detail, there were serious failures in relation to the post-conflict planning and implementation by the United Kingdom Government. These were significantly compounded by the extraordinary, unilateral edict of the US Head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul (‘Gerry’) Bremer completely to disband Iraq’s army and other security forces. This decision, whose consequences Iraq is still living with, not only blindsided the British Government; it blindsided key members of the US Administration, including then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the then Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The Inquiry makes a number of important recommendations relating to decisions in respect of taking military action. One of these concerns the machinery of government. The Prime Minister was, in 2010, right to establish a National Security Council. Decision-making on Iraq would have benefited from such arrangements although I doubt that it would have affected the final judgements about the war.
With the benefit of hindsight, different decisions would have been made on Iraq, and the Inquiry sets out the clear lessons which need to be learnt. But the decisions made by me and others can only properly be judged in the context of the time. I take full responsibility for all those that I made.