[1st Allotted Day]

Part of Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism – in the House of Commons at 6:26 pm on 13th July 2016.

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Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Defence) 6:26 pm, 13th July 2016

As my right hon. Friend Alex Salmond said earlier, Sir John Chilcot’s extensive report provides a comprehensive and detailed analysis of one of the most shameful and disgraceful failures of British foreign policy. Sir John quite rightly points a finger squarely at the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who he says led the United Kingdom into a war in Iraq

“before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.”

There cannot be a more damning set of words than that among the 2.5 million words of Sir John’s report. Tony Blair stands accused: while peace was still an option, he as the British Prime Minister chose war. And why? Because he had promised his friend George Bush that he would. The revelation of the memo saying

“I will be with you, whatever” exposes Mr. Blair’s desire to help President Bush to achieve regime change in Iraq as the primary motivating force behind the invasion—an invasion, as we have heard oft times this afternoon, that cost the lives of 179 British service personnel and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

In his report, Sir John makes it clear that there were the makings of a dirty deal to pursue regime change in Iraq as far back as 2001. So from the very outset of this calamitous misadventure, it appears that Tony Blair was more concerned with presentation, and with having and maintaining influence in the White House, than with doing what he should have been doing—that is, meticulously preparing and planning to ensure that UK service personnel would have the best equipment and the best possible intelligence ahead of an invasion. He singularly failed to do that, and today Tony Blair stands accused of overseeing a complete failure in military planning that left our armed forces vulnerable and with insufficient equipment, once the invasion was under way. Despite his knowing since December 2001 that war was an almost inevitable consequence of his deal with President Bush, there were still serious equipment shortfalls when war came in early 2003. Exactly one week before the invasion took place, it transpired that the new desert kit would not be ready in time, and our troops left for Iraq with insufficient body armour and ammunition. The shortfall of desert equipment amounted to 18,300 suits and 12,500 pairs of boots. That is absolutely shocking.

Even before a shot had been fired in Iraq, our service personnel had been badly let down by their Government’s abject failure to plan properly for a conflict they had long known was going to occur. Worse—much worse—was to come once the immediate invasion was over. The lack of a post-invasion strategy once Saddam Hussein’s army had been defeated meant that British troops were woefully unprepared to operate in a country that was descending into chaos and anarchy. That was to have disastrous consequences for many, including the soldiers of the Black Watch.

The Chilcot report reveals that on 21 October 2004 Tony Blair misled his own Cabinet on the risk of deploying the regiment to north Babil—an area known as the “triangle of death”. Cabinet minutes show that Blair told his Cabinet that

“the danger to which they”— the Black Watch—

“would be exposed was not qualitatively different from that which they had experienced to date in their current tour.”

However, we now know that Mr Blair had received intelligence that very same day warning that north Babil would be

“more hostile to a UK presence than the population in Southern Iraq” and that

“the presence of UK forces will attract insurgent attacks.”

Sir Kevin Tebbit, the then permanent under-secretary at the Ministry of Defence, had already warned that

“there would be a casualty issue” for the Black Watch. How sadly prophetic those words were. On 5 November 2004, three Black Watch soldiers—Sergeant Stuart Gray, aged 31 from Dunfermline, Private Paul Lowe, aged 19 from Fife, and Private Scott McArdle, aged 22 from Glenrothes—were killed and eight of their colleagues injured.

It is abundantly clear from the report that there was absolutely no proper plan to win the war or to secure the peace. One of the report’s key findings is that although it appears that Mr Blair understood the importance of securing peace, he did not seek assurances from the US President and did not make such a plan a condition of our involvement. Sir John makes it clear that as Iraq descended into absolute chaos neither DFID nor the Foreign Office was willing, prepared or equipped to accept responsibility for reconstruction. Had there been a plan, the future would have been markedly different. The humanitarian crisis we have seen since could have been avoided and a fertile recruiting ground for extremists would not have emerged from the chaos. It was the failure to plan that put the lives of many of our servicemen and women in such grave danger. The country remains a hotbed of extremism to this day. Lessons have to be learned from the shambles that was the Iraq war. People have to be called to account for their actions and we can never allow this to happen again.