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UK Iraq Inquiry Report

Published on July 6, 2016        Author: 

In the past couple of hours, the Chilcot inquiry on the Iraq war delivered its long-awaited report, which can be accessed here. It is highly critical of virtually every aspect of UK policy that led to the Iraq war and its unfortunate aftermath – indeed, much more critical than many have expected. When it comes to the legal aspects, the inquiry’s mandate did not include an assessment of the legality of the use of force, but the inquiry nonetheless concluded that “the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort” and that:

The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.

Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate.

The government failed to achieve its stated objectives.

The inquiry also found that:

Mr Blair and Mr Straw blamed France for the “impasse” in the UN and claimed that the UK Government was acting on behalf of the international community “to uphold the authority of the Security Council”.

In the absence of a majority in support of military action, we consider that the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council’s authority.

Second, the Inquiry has not expressed a view on whether military action was legal. That could, of course, only be resolved by a properly constituted and internationally recognised Court.

We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory.

A 170-page chapter of the report on the provision of legal advice is here; further commentary from Joshua Rozenberg here.

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10 Responses

  1. Among many damning sections of the report 634-637 are damning, placing blame for the failure to plan with Blair himself, which in turn led to the situation in Iraq spiralling out of control and the consequences, of which we are all aware.

  2. Veronika Bilkova Veronika Bilkova

    I understand the report has been done for domestic purposes and assessing the legality of the use of force in Iraq was beyond the Inquiry´s mandate.
    Yet, I still find it striking that international law is only mentioned four times (on 150 pages of the summary), the UN Charter once and IHL or human rights not a single time. Maybe this tells us more about why/how Iraq was possible than the report itself.
    The argument about the non-exhaustion of peaceful remedies is not completely clear to me. Is it merely a political argument or does it carry any legal weight? And if the latter is true, does the argument imply that had all the remedies be exhausted, attacking Iraq would have been perfectly lawful?
    I am looking forward to further comments on the report especially by those who will take time to read it in its entirety.

  3. This page on the Iraq Inquiry website groups together the international law submissions, some of which had not been published before: http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/other-material/submissions-international-law/

  4. Marty Lederman

    Veronika, the long chapter on Lord Goldsmith and what one might call his “evolution” of his thinking on the Charter question, after his visits with U.S. lawyers, speaks volumes about international law and about the role of legal advisers on important ad bellum questions. (One very interesting question it raises: What would Blair and Jack Straw have done if Goldsmith had stuck to his original views?) No need for the authors of the report to make their own legal assessment — they convey quite clearly what the legal advisors themselves considered to be the decidedly better views of the relevant questions (on self-defense, the precedent of Kosovo and, ultimately, the 1441 “revivial” argument).

  5. Mary Ellen O'Connell Mary Ellen O'Connell

    Dear Marty and Veronika,

    The requirement that force be a last resort is an aspect of the ad bellum principle of necessity. The principle of necessity also requires that an assessment be made of the chance of success in accomplishing the legitimate ad bellum military objective (see the Nicaragua case). Chilcot is identifying an independent basis for the illegality of the invasion regardless of the arguments over Security Council authorizations or Blair’s claim of some right to override the Council.

    Necessity poses a significant barrier to the resort to unlawful force. I hope the Chilcot reference to it will raise awareness.

  6. Michael G. Karnavas

    Having only watched the press conference, it seems obvious that the Iraq invasion was a monumental blunder by all accounts, starting with the legal justification for waging war. While Bush and his neo-conservatives deserves the lion share of the blame, Blair comes across as someone who was too eager to please at the expense of common sense and international norms. In all likelihood Blair would have acted just the same (obsessive as he was with the so called “special relationship”) even if Goldsmith had not somersaulted on his legal analysis after his DC trip. Hard to imagine, however, that Goldsmith was not consciously aware that he was giving, at best, tenuous legal advice to Blair. Goldsmiths cleverly phased analysis in making a case for the legality of the invasion is wanting. He oblivious wanted to go with the flow which ever way it went, while leaving a bit of wiggle room for himself in case the invasion went (as predictably it would go) sour. Obfuscation masqueraded as legal advice. The magnitude of the hubris of all those involved in this tragic affair is shocking when hearing the number of innocent lives taken or destroyed, all of which could have been avoided.

  7. Richard Gardiner

    In Section 5, at para 108, the Report quotes the Vienna rules on treaty interpretation in full. Noting that their application has to take into account the different nature of Security Council resolutions (a point which may be based on the ICJ’s Kosovo Opinion, para 94), the Report also notes Michael Wood’s caution in relation to telegrams describing the formal and informal negotiation of the resolution: “If the matter were ever brought to court, none of these records would be likely to be acceptable as travaux preparatoires [explained in a footnote] of the resolution, since they are not independent or agreed records, and the meetings themselves were behind closed doors.” (para 109). While the Report does not give a view on whether the eventual legal advice by the Attorney General was correct, it does give quite a detailed account of how that advice was developed. It appears that the conclusion may have been strongly influenced by factors which the caution quoted above suggests should be ruled out. What one negotiator considered another negotiator must have understood a draft to mean is nowhere near anything that the Vienna rules envisage as a proper approach to interpretation.

  8. Marty Lederman

    Very good point, Richard. Has Goldsmith ever addressed the propriety of his apparent partial reliance upon the sub rosa understanding of U.S. negotiators? (Has he argued, for instance, that Vienna rules are for judicial interpretation, but not automatically for parties’ internal interpretation (not that that would necessarily be a good argument!)?)

  9. Jordan

    Another question under international law is whether the “first” gulf war ever ended. If not, was there an “invasion” or increase in force that had continued with respect to no fly zones, etc. Also, did the first Security Council authorization ever terminate? Subsequent relevant resolutions often expressly cited the first.
    Sure, Bush/Cheney left Powell “out to dry,” but had peace been restored to the region in 2003, or even today?
    When does an open ended SC authorization end?

  10. […] the in-depth chronicle of what happened with some unsurprising conclusions. What is remarkable, is the level of detail of the report and the extent of the failures during the decision-making process. Yet, I am more eager see what lessons the political class will […]