Chilcot report finds no place for Iraqis

After seven years, a report into the UK’s role in the Iraq war of 2003 offers little insight

British prime minister Tony Blair addressing troops at Shaiba Logistics Base in Basra, Iraq. Adrian Dennis / AFP
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Seven years in the making and four times the length of War and Peace, Britain’s Chilcot inquiry has finally published its findings. The inquiry was originally set up in 2009 to consider the UK’s involvement in the run-up to the Iraq war and its aftermath.

When Sir John Chilcot, the civil servant who chaired the inquiry, spoke yesterday, he had stronger words than expected about the intelligence and timing of the invasion. He said the Iraq war had been a failure.

In one way, the inquiry changes very little. Much of what it has found was, in one form or another, already known. Those who hoped for a “smoking gun” from the inquiry – especially those who hoped it would implicate former British prime minister Tony Blair in some way – are sorely disappointed. The arguments over the Iraq war will continue.

How much all of this helps Iraq and Iraqis is, however, unarguable. It does not. The inquiry was about Britain and Britain alone. Of the dozens of witnesses called to the inquiry over seven years, not one spoke about the impact of the war on ordinary Iraqis. The inquiry could not even decide how many Iraqis had been killed by the war, putting the estimate somewhere below 200,000 – when other estimates have put it substantially higher.

Nor did the inquiry consider how Iraq was affected by the war. What was the cost to the country of its devastated infrastructure – bridges and buildings, water and electricity, all destroyed by US and UK bombs? What was the psychological toll on a people, having lost loved ones, living with daily insecurity, with foreign troops not subject to Iraqi law, and with roaming militias? What did it mean for Iraq that its political system was completely overthrown and simply replaced by a foreign-written constitution?

None of these questions were considered. Indeed, they have never been considered. Of the 40 countries or so that contributed to the multinational force that invaded Iraq, not one has ever conducted an inquiry into the effect on Iraqis.

The Chilcot inquiry is unlikely to change the UK. Despite the hope that it would force better decision-making in future wars, that has clearly not been in the case (see Libya in 2011). Its 2.6 million words have found no place for Iraqis. They have been written out of the story of a war that matters to them most of all.