The 2003 invasion of Iraq was illegal, Lord Prescott, former deputy prime minister to Tony Blair has admitted, adding that he would live with the “catastrophic consequences” of this decision for the rest of his life.
“In 2004, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that as regime change was the prime aim of the Iraq War, it was illegal. With great sadness and anger, I now believe him to be right,” Lord Prescott wrote in a Sunday Mirror column, the confession coming shortly after Sir John Chilcot’s report into the lead-up to the war was unveiled.
The Chilcot Report concluded on Wednesday that Britain rushed to join the conflict before all other bloodless options had been exhausted, with the assessment of Iraq’s capacities “presented with a certainty that was not justified.”
The report also found that: “The government’s decision to contribute a military force to a US-led invasion of Iraq inevitably increased the risk that more service personnel would be put in breach of the harmony guidelines. The issue of the potential pressure on service personnel was not a consideration in the decision.”
A 2002 letter released by the Chilcot Inquiry showed that Blair assured then US President George W. Bush eight months before the invasion that “I will be with you, whatever.”
“Tony’s note to Bush with that devastating quote ‘I am with you, whatever’ was all the Americans needed to go in, without UN support. They wanted it over and done with quickly to avoid the heat of a summer military intervention,” Lord Prescott writes.
Although the Chilcot Report had gone into detail about what went wrong, the peer said he wanted to “identify certain lessons we must learn to prevent this tragedy being repeated.”
“My first concern was the way Tony Blair ran Cabinet. We were given too little paper documentation to make decisions,” he wrote.
“No documentation was provided” to justify Attorney General Lord Goldsmith’s reasoning that it was “legal to act militarily against Iraq,” he added.
Lord Prescott has described the Chilcot Report as “a damning indictment of how the Blair Government handled the war,” adding that he takes his “fair share of blame.”
“As the Deputy Prime Minister in that Government I must express my fullest apology, especially to the families of the 179 men and women who gave their lives in the Iraq War,” the 78-year-old member of the House of Lords wrote.
“A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think of the decision we made to go to war. Of the British troops who gave their lives or suffered injuries for their country. Of the 175,000 civilians who died from the Pandora’s Box we opened by removing Saddam Hussein,” he added.
Nearly 4,500 American personnel, 179 British troops and some 150,000 Iraqis were killed in the six-year war, plunging Iraq into chaos, which is thought to have helped create Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
On Wednesday, Tony Blair described the decision to join the US in military action in the Iraqi war as the “hardest, most momentous, most agonizing” of his life.
“I did it because I thought it was right,” Blair said, expressing “sorrow, regret and apology” over the mistakes made.
The families of British soldiers who died in Iraq have called for Tony Blair to face legal action over the invasion. They were reportedly allowed to see the Chilcot Report before it was unveiled. Unable to hold back the tears, the sister of one soldier who was killed in Iraq aged 19, called Mr Blair “the world’s worst terrorist.”