Gordon Brown ordered the Chilcot Inquiry in June 2009 to “learn the lessons” from his predecessor Tony Blair’s war in Iraq.

Led by Sir John Chilcot, the remit did not include establishing the legality of the conflict, but did cover the decision to invade, the way military operations were conducted and planning for the aftermath.

Yesterday the public finally got to read the inquiry’s findings. Launching the publication, Chilcot said: “We have 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.

“The judgments 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.”


A 2002 memo shows Blair pledge his support to US President George W Bush, saying “I am with you, whatever.”

The report found military action may have been necessary in the future, but there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein’s regime in March 2003 and the strategy of containment could have continued, with ongoing inspections and monitoring from the United Nations.

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Run-up to war was flawed, aftermath was inadequate

Despite claims that Hussein continued to produce biological and chemical weapons, intelligence had not established this “beyond doubt” and policy underpinning the invasion was based on flawed information and assessments. Chilcot said: “They were not challenged, and they should have been.”

Additionally, the circumstances in which the legal basis for going to war was determined were “far from satisfactory”.

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith advised there was, on balance, a secure legal basis for action just seven days before the invasion began and, aside from a response to his letter from Downing Street, no formal record of that decision was kept and there is uncertainty about the precise grounds on which it was made.

The report also found the UK’s actions had undermined the authority of the UN security council and there was little scrutiny of Goldsmith’s advice by cabinet.


There was “little time” to prepare three military brigades for deployment and the risks were neither “properly identified or fully exposed”, leading to equipment shortfalls which put members of the armed forces at risk. Forces had to cope with shortages of armoured vehicles, helicopter support and reconnaissance and intelligence assets. Chilcot said: “Despite promises that Cabinet would discuss the military contribution, it did not discuss the military options or their implications.”

The report found the Ministry of Defence was “slow” in responding to the threat of improvised explosive devices and delays to the provision of adequate medium weight protected patrol vehicles and other key items should not have been tolerated. However, it was not clear which person within the MoD had responsibility for identifying and reporting such gaps in supply.

These gaps were attributed to the parallel campaign conducted in Afghanistan, with the report stating that the UK did not have the resources to do both.

UK military commanders were unable to challenge militia dominance in Basra, a situation which led to a deal to release of detainees in exchange for an end to the targeting of British soldiers.

Chilcot said: “It was humiliating that the UK reached a position in which an agreement with a militia group which had been actively targeting UK forces was considered the best option available. The UK military role in Iraq ended a very long way from success.”

Meanwhile, although Blair had said efforts would be made to minimise civilian deaths, the MoD made only a “broad estimate” of the number of Iraqis being killed. The report said more effort was given to determine which department should have had responsibility for this than on coming to the number itself and the government’s main concern was to “rebut accusations that coalition forces were responsible for the deaths of large numbers” of local people.


The government’s preparations “failed to take into account the magnitude of the task of stabilising, administering and reconstructing Iraq” and the responsibilities likely to result from this.

While the UK took particular charge of four provinces in the south east of the country, it did not ensure the necessary measures were in place to provide security and “the scale of the UK effort in post-conflict Iraq never matched the scale of the challenge”.

As a result, security in Baghdad and the south east deteriorated rapidly after the UK left.

Despite claims by Blair that the outcome of the invasion could not have been predicted, the report found the risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and Al Qaeda activity in Iraq, were each “explicitly identified” before UK intervention.

Meanwhile, US plans were known to be “inadequate” and, while concerns were raised, progress was not made with American authorities.

Chilcot said: “Ministers were aware of the inadequacy of US plans, and concerned about the inability to exert significant influence on US planning. Mr Blair eventually succeeded only in the narrow goal of securing President Bush’s agreement that there should be UN authorisation of the post-conflict role. Furthermore, he did not establish clear ministerial oversight of UK planning and preparation. He did not ensure that there was a flexible, realistic and fully resourced plan that integrated UK military and civilian contributions, and addressed the known risks.”


The report found Blair “overestimated his ability to influence US decisions” on Iraq and the UK’s so-called “special relationship” with the US would not have suffered “fundamental or lasting change” if Britain had not joined the fight.

It also emphasised the need for ministerial discussion which encourages frank and informed debate and challenge and said civilian and military arms of government must be properly equipped in future. It also concluded all aspects of any military action must be debated and challenged, with decisions implemented in full.

Timeline: How the UK became embroiled in a futile war

September 11, 2001 2,996 people are murdered by al-Quaeda in coordinated attacks on America’s eastern coast.

September 12, 2001 George Bush receives an unconditional pledge of support from Tony Blair. 

April 6, 2002 Following a meeting with Bush at his ranch in Texas, Blair announces for the first time that Britain is at war with terrorism and cites regime change in the Middle-East as a possible solution. Bush tells ITV that “Saddam needs to go”.

July 28, 2002 The most damning moment for Blair. In a memo to close ally George Bush, he declares: “I will be with you, whatever”.

March 20, 2003 The invasion of Iraq commences. Assaults by land, air and sea are launched by US and UK troops.

October 2, 2003 Head of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, tells Congress that their investigation has found no evidence of WMDs in Iraq.

December 13, 2003 Saddam Hussein is captured after nine months in hiding. He was found hiding underground at a farm close to his hometown of Tirkit.

December 30, 2005 Hussein is executed in Baghdad after being convicted of crimes against humanity. 

May 28, 2009 The last of the British combat forces in Iraq are withdrawn. 179 servicemen and women died, including 19 Scots.

June 15, 2009 Prime Minister Gordon Brown announces that his predecessor’s decision to wage war in Iraq is to be investigated in an inquiry led by former civil servant John Chilcot.

November 24, 2009 The first public hearing of the Chilcot inquiry is held, with Chilcot saying he would “not shy away” from criticising individuals in his final report.

February 2, 2011 The final public hearing of the Chilcot inquiry is held.

December 18, 2011 All US combat forces are withdrawn from Iraq. 4,488 servicemen and women were killed.

November 6, 2013 The progress of the inquiry is halted by an impasse over the release of vital documents. Records of exchanges between Blair and Bush are among the documents to be held back. 

July 6, 2016 After more than six years, The Chilcot Inquiry is finally published and is highly critical of Blair.