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  • The Chilcot Report details legal, policy and military decision-making by the UK over 2001-2009 about military intervention in Iraq.
  • Most commentators consider that the legal basis asserted by the UK did not authorise military intervention.
  • Lessons for Australia include the need for thorough military planning and preparation, greater self-scrutiny by the executive, and rigorous and balanced legal advice.

On 6 July 2016, Sir John Chilcot published his report of The Iraq Inquiry. It describes UK government decision-making from the time the possibility of military action against Iraq first arose in 2001 to the departure of UK troops in 2009. This article considers the key policy findings and lessons learned, with a focus on the advice that was given about the legal basis for military intervention. It also reflects on general themes of relevance to Australia.

Overview of the Chilcot Report

In 2009, the-then UK Prime Minister Brown commissioned Sir John Chilcot and a committee of Privy Counsellors to consider the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Among other issues, it assessed:

  • the development of pre-conflict strategy and options;
  • the impact of 9/11;
  • whether Iraq was a serious or imminent threat;
  • intelligence assessments of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction;
  • the invasion, military resources (including personnel and equipment) and civilian casualties;
  • preparation and planning for post-war governance in Iraq;
  • the post-conflict period (including De-Ba’athification, the deteriorating security situation, reconstruction efforts and limited UK influence); and
  • the impact of operations in Afghanistan.

The report offers a thorough analysis of the process and timing of decision-making leading to war. Among other conclusions:

  • UK military commanders made ‘over-optimistic assessments’ of their capabilities which led to ‘bad decisions’;
  • there was ‘little time’ to properly prepare for deployment. The risks were not properly identified or fully exposed which resulted in ‘some serious equipment shortfalls’;
  • policy was made on the basis of flawed intelligence assessments which had not been challenged but should have been;
  • Prime Minister Blair overestimated his ability to influence decision-making by the United States (US) about Iraq, and the UK’s relationship with the US does not require unconditional support; and
  • diplomatic options had not been exhausted when the decision was made to use force and military action was not a last resort.

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