UK and US have shown 'zero accountability' for Iraq war failures

The Blair and Bush administrations failed to make amends to the Iraqi people, a former weapons inspector has said

A fire at a looted warehouse burns near the Tigris river in Baghdad. AP
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Iraqis deserved an apology that never came for decades of sanctions and war unleashed on the country, not least the fact Britain and America have never given a clear reason for the 2003 invasion, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has said.

Speaking at Chatham House, former director general of the IAEA Mohamed ElBaradei said it was chilling to think that the two allies were able to recklessly churn out unfounded claims of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction to try to justify their war — and get away with it when the reason proved to be unfounded.

The event marked the 20th invasion of the Iraq war at which Mr ElBaradei bemoaned the lack of justice for the Iraqi victims.

“It is scary, frankly, that after 20 years as we are sitting here today, no one can pin down exactly the reason why this war took place,” Mr ElBaradei said.

“Was it regime change, democracies spreading, WMDs, Iraq oil, extremism [or] Al Qaeda?

“What is really concerning is that there has been zero accountability."

He said while the Chilcot report was “proper and eloquent” it stopped short of achieving justice for the Iraqi people.

“No one was really held accountable, no criminal charges were made,” Mr ElBaradei added.

Former head of the IAEA Mohamed ElBaradai was speaking at the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq. Reuters

A report by a committee of the US Senate identified numerous failures officials’ gathering and processing of intelligence in the lead up to the invasion.

But the probe stopped short of holding anyone to account, Mr ElBaradei said, and was simply “the end of the story”.

“Basically both sides [were] saying ‘oops, we made the mistake',” said Mr ElBaradei.

“But aside from the technical individual accountability — or absence of it — we haven't seen any effort to learn from the mistakes to avoid a repeat.”

Mr ElBaradei and Hans Blix, the former chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Committee, were in charge of UN weapons inspections in Iraq in the lead up to the war.

George W Bush used the threat of Saddam Hussein using WMD against America and its allies as a pretext to invade Iraq. His claims, supported by Tony Blair, were later found to be untrue.

Mr ElBaradei noted comments made by Paul Wolfowitz, the then-US deputy defence secretary, in an interview with Vanity Fair, saying the claim was used by Bush administration officials “because it was the one reason everyone could agree on”.

Mr ElBaradei said while the claim was not a “serious pretext” for a foreign army to invade a sovereign nation, it provided a “rallying point for all these people who thought that after the end of the Soviet Union, this has to be sort of Pax Americana, if you like”.

The Egyptian diplomat said the lack of accountability in Washington and London is regrettable.

“It is very sad, speaking also here in England, that the UK was a major accomplice and enabler in all the planning, preparation and execution of this horrendous war,” Mr ElBaradei said.

'Like a bull in a china shop'

He said noted how the strategy employed by the US and Britain to attempt to use the UN and IAEA inspectors to legitimise their invasion plan “was bad for them and was bad for us”.

“From an international order perspective, and that's really what is more important to me, it was like a bull in a china shop — completely rogue behaviour,” Mr ElBaradei said.

“They violated every aspect of international order, they violated international law, they disregarded the Security Council, they disregarded international inspections.”

Fast forward to the present day, with a war raging in eastern Europe, Mr ElBaradei warned the West cannot claim to have learnt any valuable lessons from the Iraq War blunders.

“Then we haven't learnt anything,” added Mr ElBaradei.

“Unless we all know unless we own up to the horror, to the mistakes we made, then where we are going nowhere.”

The Iraq War, a timeline of events — in pictures

Updated: March 28, 2023, 7:28 AM