Failure to plan for the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq plunged the war-torn nation into chaos – despite "explicit warnings" given to Tony Blair, a landmark inquiry has found.
Sir John Chilcot's report found that the consequences of the war – the horrific violence that tore through the country in the years that followed – were "underestimated" and that post-conflict planning was "wholly inadequate".
Blair has claimed that the problems could not have not have been known in advance. Here's what he told the inquiry:
"... with hindsight, we now see that the military campaign to defeat Saddam was relatively easy; it was the aftermath that was hard. At the time, of course, we could not know that and a prime focus throughout was the military campaign itself..."
But in a statement on Wednesday, Chilcot said bluntly: "We do not agree that hindsight is required. The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and Al Qaida activity in Iraq, were each explicitly identified before the invasion."
Blair had argued himself in 1999 that "successful international intervention required long-term commitment", the report said – and that conviction was echoed about Iraq in "frequent advice" from ministers and officials.
These are the warnings Blair received about post-war planning between early 2002 and the invasion in March 2003:
– A letter from then defence secretary Geoff Hoon's office to Blair's foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning on 19 November 2002 warned that the post-conflict phase was the "strategically decisive" phase of the engagement in Iraq. A badly handled aftermath would make intervention a "net failure", it said.
– A note from Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, to Manning on 26 September 2002 warned of the likelihood of internal conflict in Iraq. It raised the prospect of "a terrible bloodletting of revenge after Saddam goes. Traditional in Iraq after conflict."
– British ambassador to the US Sir Christopher Meyer warned in a telegram to the Foreign Office on 6 September 2002 of the scale of the political, social, and economic challenge ahead, saying: "It will probably make pacifying Afghanistan look like child's play."
– The British embassy in Washington DC wrote to the Foreign Office on February 2003 warning of the absence of credible US plans for the immediate post-conflict period: "The inter-agency rehearsal for Phase IV ... exposes the enormous scale of the task. ... Overall, planning is at a very rudimentary stage."
– A letter from Hoon's office to Manning on 28 February 2003 warned that Britain needed to agree with the US how exactly it would contribute to post-conflict planning. The UK was "currently at risk of taking on a very substantial commitment that we will have great difficulty in sustaining beyond the immediate conclusion of conflict", it said.
– Foreign secretary Jack Straw wrote a letter to Blair on 8 July 2002 entitled "Iraq: Contingency Planning" that said the US "must also understand that we are serious about our conditions for UK involvement".
– An official paper entitled "The UK overall plan for Phase IV", which was shown to Blair on 7 March 2003, underlined the importance of a "United Nations framework for the administration and reconstruction of Iraq during the transition to Iraqi self-government", according to the Chilcot report.
Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Emily Ashton at email@example.com.
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