The conception of a catastrophe

Some calmly horrifying extracts from the Chilcot report, helping to explain — on the British side, at least — why things in Iraq went so wrong after the war.

From the chapter on planning and preparation for a post-Saddam Iraq:

In his evidence to the House of Commons Liaison Committee on 21 January 2003, Mr Blair emphasised the importance of the post-conflict phase: “You do not engage in military conflict that may produce regime change unless you are prepared to follow through and work in the aftermath of that regime change to ensure the country is stable and the people are properly looked after.”

Yet when Mr Blair set out the UK’s vision for the future of Iraq in the House of Commons on 18 March 2003, no assessment had been made of whether that vision was achievable, no agreement had been reached with the US on a workable post-conflict plan, UN authorisation had not yet been secured, and there had been no decision on the UN’s role in post-conflict Iraq.

UK policy rested on the assumption that:

  • the US would provide effective leadership of the immediate post-conflict effort in Iraq;
  • the conditions would soon be in place for UK military withdrawal;
  • after a short period of US-led, UN-authorised military occupation, the UN would administer and provide a framework for the reconstruction of post‑conflict Iraq;
  • substantial international support would follow UN authorisation; and
  • reconstruction and the political transition to Iraqi rule would proceed in a secure environment.

Mr Blair was already aware that those assumptions concealed significant risks:

  • UK officials assessed that ORHA, the US body that would assume responsibility for the immediate post-invasion administration of Iraq, was not up to the task.
  • Significant differences remained between UK and US positions on UN involvement, and between the UK and the UN.
  • International partners were scarce and thought to be unlikely to come forward in the absence of UN authorisation.
  • UK officials recognised that occupying forces would not remain welcome for long and threats to security could quickly escalate.

Mr Blair did not:

  • establish clear Ministerial oversight of post-conflict strategy, planning and preparation;
  • ensure that Ministers took the decisions needed to prepare a flexible, realistic and fully resourced plan integrating UK military and civilian contributions;
  • seek adequate assurances that the UK was in a position to meet its likely obligations in Iraq;
  • insist that the UK’s strategic objectives for Iraq were tested against anything other than the best case: a well-planned and executed US-led and UN‑authorised post-conflict operation in a relatively benign security environment;
  • press President Bush for definitive assurances about US post-conflict plans or set out clearly to him the strategic risk in underestimating the post-conflict challenge and failing adequately to prepare for the task; or
  • consider, or seek advice on whether the absence of a satisfactory plan was a sufficient threat to UK strategic objectives to require a reassessment of the terms of the UK engagement in Iraq. Despite concerns about the state of US planning, he did not make agreement on a satisfactory post-conflict plan a condition of UK participation in military action.

In the weeks immediately following the invasion, Mr Blair’s omissions made it more difficult for the UK Government to take an informed decision on the establishment of the UK’s post-conflict Area of Responsibility (AOR) in southern Iraq…

In the short to medium term, his omissions increased the risk that the UK would be unable to respond to the unexpected in Iraq.

In the longer term, they reduced the likelihood of achieving the UK’s strategic objectives in Iraq.

From the conclusions on post-war reconstruction:

  • The UK failed to plan or prepare for the major reconstruction programme required in Iraq.
  • Reconstruction was the third pillar in a succession of UK strategies for Iraq. The Government never resolved how reconstruction would support broader UK objectives.
  • Following the resignation of Ms Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, and the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1483 in May 2003, DFID assumed leadership of the UK’s reconstruction effort in Iraq. DFID would subsequently define, within the framework established by the Government, the scope and nature of that effort.
  • At key points, DFID should have considered strategic questions about the scale, focus and purpose of the UK’s reconstruction effort in Iraq.
  • The US‐led Coalition Provisional Authority excluded the UK from discussions on oil policy and on disbursements from the Development Fund for Iraq.
  • Many of the failures which affected pre‐invasion planning and preparation persisted throughout the post‐conflict period. They included poor inter‐departmental co‐ordination, inadequate civilian‐military co‐operation and a failure to use resources coherently.
  • An unstable and insecure environment made it increasingly difficult to make progress on reconstruction. Although staff and contractors developed innovative ways to deliver projects and manage risks, the constraints were never overcome. Witnesses to the Inquiry identified some successes, in particular in building the capacity of central Iraqi Government institutions and the provincial government in Basra.
  • Lessons learned through successive reviews of the UK approach to post‐conflict reconstruction and stabilisation, in Iraq and elsewhere, were not applied in Iraq.

From the conclusions on removing Ba’ath party members from the Iraqi public sector:

  • Early decisions on the form of de‐Ba’athification and its implementation had a significant and lasting negative impact on Iraq.
  • Limiting de‐Ba’athification to the top three tiers of the party, rather than extending it to the fourth, would have had the potential to be far less damaging to Iraq’s post‐invasion recovery and political stability.
  • The UK’s ability to influence the decision by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) on the scope of the policy was limited and informal.
  • The UK chose not to act on its well‐founded misgivings about handing over the implementation of de‐Ba’athification policy to the Governing Council.

From the conclusions on reform of the security sector:

  • Between 2003 and 2009, there was no coherent US/UK strategy for Security Sector Reform (SSR).
  • The UK began work on SSR in Iraq without a proper understanding of what it entailed and hugely underestimated the magnitude of the task.
  • The UK was unable to influence the US or engage it in a way that produced an Iraq‐wide approach.
  • There was no qualitative way for the UK to measure progress. The focus on the quantity of officers trained for the Iraqi Security Forces, rather than the quality of officers, was simplistic and gave a misleading sense of comfort.
  • After 2006, the UK’s determination to withdraw from Iraq meant that aspirations for the Iraqi Security Forces were lowered to what would be “good enough” for Iraq. It was never clear what that meant in practice.
  • The development of the Iraqi Army was considerably more successful than that of the Iraqi Police Service. But the UK was still aware before it withdrew from Iraq that the Iraqi Army had not been sufficiently tested. The UK was not confident that the Iraqi Army could maintain security without support.
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