Trump threatens Turkey with economic devastation

Donald Trump recently announced that the United States would be withdrawing their troops from Syria. This raised questions about the fate of the Kurds who had been supported and used by the US, but are opposed by Turkey.

Trump has answered in his typical bluster and threat style, via Twitter:

“Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone…Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”

What if the Kurds attack Turkish forces? Should Turkey not respond for fear of economic devastation?

What if Russia…? What if Iran…?

What would economic devastation mean for Turkey and the Middle East and the Mediterranean?

Reuters: Trump threatens Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks Syrian Kurd militia

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks a U.S.-allied Kurdish militia in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Ankara on Monday and reviving fears of another downturn in ties between the NATO allies.

Relations between the United States and Turkey have long been strained by Washington’s support for the Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that is waging a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Speaking in Riyadh, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he did not think the threat would change plans to withdraw troops from Syria. Asked what Trump meant by economic devastation, he said: “You’ll have to ask the president.”

“We have applied economic sanctions in many places, I assume he is speaking about those kinds of things, Pompeo said, adding he had not spoken with Ankara since Trump’s comment.

So it sounds like Trump’s Secretary of State doesn’t know what the hell Trump is playing at. This isn’t an unusual situation for Trump’s administration. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned over Trump’s Syrian withdrawal announcement.

Trump has already impacted significantly on the Turkish economy.

Ankara is well aware of the cost of strained ties with the United States. A diplomatic crisis last year, when Trump imposed sanctions on two of President Tayyip Erdogan’s ministers and raised tariffs on Turkish metal exports, helped push the Turkish lira to a record low in August.

Things are getting crazier, with Trump letting loose on Twitter making seemingly impulsive, destablilising (for his Administration and for the world) and potentially devastating pronouncements.


Reuters Explainer: Where do the Kurds fit into Syria’s war?

The future of Kurdish-led swathes of northern and eastern Syria has been thrown into doubt by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops who have helped secure the territory.

The region, roughly a quarter of Syria, is the largest chunk of the country still outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran.

Syrian Kurdish leaders fear Turkey, which sees them as a threat, will use a U.S. pullout as an opportunity to mount an assault into northern Syria.

This has driven them to talk to Moscow and Damascus in the hope of agreeing a deal to protect the region and safeguarding their political gains.

The Russians will be quietly looking for any advantage they can take over the Us withdrawal from Syria.

HOW DID THE KURDS EMERGE AS A FORCE?

The main Syrian Kurdish faction, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), began to establish a foothold in the north early in the war as government forces withdrew to put down the anti-Assad uprising elsewhere. An affiliated militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), secured the region.

Early in the conflict, their control was concentrated in three predominantly Kurdish regions home to roughly 2 million Kurds. Kurdish-led governing bodies were set up.

The area of YPG influence expanded as the fighters joined forces with the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State (IS), becoming the spearhead of a multi-ethnic militia alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

SDF influence widened to Manbij and Raqqa as IS was defeated in both. It has also reached deep into Deir al-Zor, where the SDF is still fighting IS. The SDF, which also includes Arab and other groups, says it has more than 70,000 fighters.

Kurdish leaders say their aim is regional autonomy within a decentralized Syria, not independence.

The Syrian Government would probably not react well to an bid for full independence.

WHY DOES TURKEY VIEW THEM AS A THREAT?

The PYD is heavily influenced by the ideas of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a 34-year insurgency in Turkey for Kurdish political and cultural rights. Ocalan has been in jail since 1999 in Turkey. He is convicted of treason.

The PKK is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Turkey says the PKK is indistinguishable from the PYD and YPG.

So the US has been supporting an organisation they have designated terrorists?

Turkey has a Kurdish minority equal to 15 to 20 percent of its population, mostly living in eastern and southeastern areas bordering Syria. Wary of separatistism, Turkey views the PYD’s Syrian foothold as a security threat.

Turkey has already mounted two cross-border offensives in northern Syria as part of its efforts to counter the YPG.

Now Trump has threatened Turkey not to do that.

FOR KURDS, IS ASSAD A FRIEND OR FOE?

Syria’s Baathist state systematically oppressed the Kurds before the war. Yet the YPG and Damascus have broadly stayed out of each other’s way during the conflict, despite occasional clashes. They also have been seen to cooperate against shared foes, notably in and around Aleppo.

The YPG has allowed the Syrian state to keep a foothold in some of its areas. The YPG commander told Reuters in 2017 it would have no problem with the Assad government if Kurdish rights are guaranteed in Syria.

But Damascus has long opposed Kurdish autonomy demands and talks between the two sides last year went nowhere.

It’s complicated. And difficult to see a lasting solution.

WHAT WOULD AN ASSAD-KURD DEAL MEAN FOR THE WAR?

The territory held by Damascus and the Kurdish-led authorities accounts for most of Syria. A political settlement – if one could be reached, perhaps with Russian help – could go a long way to stitching the map back together.

Anti-Assad insurgents, though defeated across much of Syria by the government and its allies, still have a foothold in the northwest stretching from Idlib through Afrin to Jarablus. Turkey has troops on the ground in this area.

The rebels include Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army groups and jihadists.

Assad also wants Turkey out as he vows to recover “every inch” of Syria.

It’s very complicated.

I don’t think Trump can deal with complexities, apart from making them more complex with his ad hoc impulsiveness and threats.

Some good may accidentally emerge from his approach, but there is a far greater likelihood he will make things worse.

Russia will be seeing how they can benefit from all of this. I can’t see Trump deliberately aiding Russia here, but that is a highly likely inadvertent outcome.

 

Armistice Day Centenary

Today is the centenary of celebrating Armistice Day, which marked the end of the unprecedented death and destruction of World War 1.

Like many, probably most New Zealanders, I have family connections. Both my grandfathers fought in the war, and were lucky to survive (one was badly injured), otherwise I would never have existed. There was a huge casualty rate, with 18,000 New Zealanders killed and tens of thousands more injured.

 


Armistice centenary – 11 November 2018

At 11am on 11 November this year, Aotearoa New Zealand will mark the centenary of the armistice that ended the First World War in 1918. On that day 100 years ago, after four years of brutal conflict, war finally gave way to peace.

The First World War had taken a huge toll on New Zealand. Around 100,000 New Zealanders – or ten percent of the population at the time – served overseas during the war, and over 18,000 lost their lives. Families and communities back home felt these losses acutely.

When news of the Armistice reached our shores it was met with thanksgiving, hopefulness and joyous noise.

The Armistice centenary gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the loss and trauma of the First World War, as well as reflect on peace and hope at the centenary of its closure. As well as joining together in remembrance, we can recapture the relief and jubilation of that important day a century ago.

ATTEND AN ARMISTICE EVENT

SEND YOUR MESSAGE TO THE ARMISTICE BEACON

HISTORY OF ARMISTICE DAY

JOIN THE ROARING CHORUS

At 11am on 11 November 1918, after four years of brutal conflict, the First World War finally came to an end. When news of the Armistice reached New Zealand it was met with widespread thanksgiving, celebration and a lot of noise.

“There were songs and cheers, miscellaneous pipings and blastings, and tootings and rattlings—a roaring chorus of gladsome sounds.” – Armistice celebrations in Wellington described in The Evening Post, 12 November 1918

100 years on, we want to recapture this energy and we invite you to join us.

How can you be involved?

On Sunday 11 November, a two minute silence will be observed at 11am to acknowledge the immense loss and hardship endured throughout the war. Following this, we encourage organisations and communities to gather whatever ‘instruments’ they have at hand, and help create a roaring chorus of jubilant sound that once again celebrates peace and hope for the future.

The brief is wide open, you could ring bells, sound sirens, or toot horns. You could sing a waiata, beat drums or play music. You could incorporate something upbeat into an event you already had planned or do something stand alone. Anything goes.

Download an information sheet about the Roaring Chorus (PDF, 421 KB)

Chemical weapons bad, barrel bombs, mass executions, starvation ok?

As horrible as chemical weapons are, it does seem a bit selective to condemn them while turning a blind eye to, or aiding and abetting,  atrocities by other means in Syria.

The US, UK and French missile strikes on Syria are largely symbolic, and mask a much wider problem.

Jonathan Schanzer (Fox News): Why targeting Syria’s chemical weapons is not enough to stop rising civilian death toll

By firing 105 missiles at Syrian chemical weapons targets before dawn Saturday, the U.S., Britain and France sent a clear message to dictator Bashar Assad: they will not tolerate his regime’s use of toxic gas and other weapons of mass destruction against his own citizens.

But it seems the tripartite alliance is prepared allow Assad to keep killing Syrians on massive scale using conventional weapons. The death toll in Syria after seven years of war is more than 500,000 – and rising. The fact that these deaths did not involve chemical weapons makes them no less tragic for their victims and surviving loved ones.

It’s hard to know exactly how many of the Syrian deaths have been caused by chemical weapons. But we know they represent a relatively small percentage. The Assad regime has killed far more Syrians through crude barrel bombs, mass executions, starvation and deprivation, and in other ways.

On top of this, there have also been conventional military strikes conducted with and without the help of Assad’s allies – Iran and Russia. Both those nations have devoted significant resources to the war.

So has the United Statee. And the United Kingdom. And other countries, including Australia.

So despite the new attack announced by President Trump, the Syrian-Iranian-Russian conventional war machine that is responsible for the overwhelming majority of the murders of innocent Syrians remains intact. And it is not being threatened by America and our allies.

Because they are aiding and abetting it all, as well as supplying many of the means of destruction.

The US imposed severe financial sanctions on North Korea for being a threat, but enable the atrocities in Syria to continue, albeit with a symbolic opposition of chemical weapons.

Of course, President Trump has conveyed his utter contempt for Assad and the forces backing him. He has called Assad an “animal,” and he has called out Iran and Russia as being “responsible” for backing him.

But President Trump remains ambivalent about crafting a foreign policy that would prevent those three nations from continuing their slaughter. Just last week, the president vowed to pull America’s estimated 2,000 troops out of Syria “very soon.” This announcement was certainly welcomed by Assad and his allies.

It is just a bloody (and bloodless via chemical weapons) mess, with blood on the hands of many nations.

What is needed now is a strategy that enables the United States and its allies to make it increasingly more difficult for Syria, Iran and Russia to operate on the battlefield.

Instead they chose action that has a serious risk of escalation.

US nuclear general discusses illegal order to strike

This seems to be hypothetical musing but it is seen as significant that a US General involved in nuclear strike decisions openly discussed what he would do if given an illegal order to launch nukes.

Reuters: U.S. nuclear general says would resist ‘illegal’ Trump strike order

The top U.S. nuclear commander said on Saturday that he would resist President Donald Trump if he ordered an “illegal” launch of nuclear weapons.

Air Force General John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada that he had given a lot of thought to what he would say if he received such an order.

“I think some people think we’re stupid,” Hyten said in response to a question about such a scenario. “We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

Hyten, who is responsible for overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, explained the process that would follow such a command.

As head of STRATCOM “I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do,” he said in his remarks, retransmitted in a video posted on the forum’s Facebook page.

“And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I‘m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options, of a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.”

Hyten said running through scenarios of how to react in the event of an illegal order was standard practice, and added: “If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life.”

His job requires him to resist any president who might give illegal orders. This is one of the checks and balances on presidential power.

But why is the General being asked about this now?

They came after questions by U.S. senators, including Democrats and Trump’s fellow Republicans, about Trump’s authority to wage war, use nuclear weapons and enter into or end international agreements, amid concern that tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs could lead to hostilities.

Trump has traded insults and threats with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and threatened in his maiden United Nations address to “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if it threatened the United States.

Some senators want legislation to alter the nuclear authority of the U.S. president and a Senate committee on Tuesday held the first congressional hearing in more than four decades on the president’s authority to launch a nuclear strike.

Trump’s unpredictability and impetuousness seems to be raising concerns, as they should.

The world has raised concerns about the nuclear risk. As long as we can be assured a nuclear strike can’t be ordered via Twitter it may not be as bad as it seems.

Tony Blair was wrong, and is wrong

Tony Blair was wrong to take the United Kingdom to war, The decision was flawed,  following a flawed political process using flawed ‘intelligence’ and was contrary to United Nations protocols and ignored United Nations advice on the lack of ‘weapons of mass destruction’.

The just released Chilcot report details all the flaws – see Chilcot summary – unanimous view.

In his reaction Tony Blair expresses regrets for some outcomes but defends his decision.

It’s a huge responsibility for the leaders of major countries in particular to take their country to war.

And the outcome has been awful.

For Iraq. Things were already awful in Iraq under Saddam Hussein but they don’t appear to be any better. I saw a quote from an Iraqi yesterday who said that one despot has been replaced by a hundred despots.

Over a decade later and after hundreds of thousands of deaths the country is still a mess. ISIS has inflicted the worst of radical Islam on the people of Iraq.

Today’s ODT editorial: Lasting damage from conflict

The Iraq war was an intervention that went badly wrong with consequences still being felt to this day.

The report says former prime minister Tony Blair overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, sent ill-prepared troops into battle and had wholly inadequate plans for the aftermath.

Sir John says the 2003 invasion was not the last resort action presented to MPs and the public.

There was no imminent threat from Saddam – the intelligence case was not justified.

And this has spread to Syria, which has been self destructing in a complex factional civil war, with ISIS a prominent factor.

And it has not worked out well for the world, with a number of terrorist attacks in a number of countries, widespread fear of attacks, and resulting from this has been a growing fear of Muslims in general and in particular Muslim immigration.

And now, as the ODT puts it:

For his part, Mr Blair remains defiant on the central decision to go to war.

The decision to commit troops was the most agonising and momentous decision in his decade as prime minister and something he will carry with him for the rest of the days.

Mr Blair admits the intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong, the aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever imagined and a nation whose people the UK and the United States wanted to set free from Saddam became instead victims of sectarian terrorism.

“For all of this, I express more sorry, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe,” Mr Blair said.

I think that Blair is wrong to defend what he did. As does the ODT.

The war overshadows the legacy of Mr Blair, who swept into power as a new-style Labour leader, one not reliant on union support for his time in Parliament.

His arrogance as leader, and his willingness to support Mr Bush through some brutal conflicts, will provide lasting damage to his reputation.

I guess it’s hard to bring oneself to say “I stuffed up, I helped stuff up a country and a region, and this has been stuffing things up around the world ever since”.

But that is Blair’s legacy, alongside George W Bush and Dick Cheney (supported by Australia).

At least New Zealand stayed out of it, but that just prevented us from bearing a part of the blame, it didn’t do anything to prevent the mass destruction over the past 13 years.

Gezza on Blair’s reaction

Gezza’s take on Tony Blair’s reaction to a very critical Chilcot Report: The Iraq Inquiry


I watched Blair’s Press Conference, also shown live on Al Jazeera, like millions of others around the world will have done in the Northern Hemisphere. To be fair, he fronted up. The conference went on for 90 minutes.

He tried to link Saddam to 911—totally discredited years ago. Amongst various other justifications, he blamed the UN—specifically Russia and France—for vetoing a Security Council authorisation for the invasion. What impact is this going to have on the EU separation?
He said Al Qaeda became ISIS. He either genuinely has no idea what the real situation is—or he thinks others haven’t.

My understanding is that Al Qaeda barely existed, if at all, in Iraq until they invaded. Al Qaeda In Iraq, once it had gained a significant following that included many jobless Sunni ex-army occupation resistors, spawned ISIS in the detention camps that ex-Iraqi Army officers and Baathists were put into after Abu Ghraib, but they’re now separate organisations from each other, with slightly different aims. They’ve even been fighting each other in Syria. AQ-aligned groups keep moving in and out of alliances with the “moderate opposition” forces there.

Blair then took questions. No matter how his answers might be reported in print—on live tv they destroyed him. Although he said he took personal responsibility for the failures identified in the report, he blamed the UN. He blamed Saddam not complying with inspections.

He blamed the Iraqis. He blamed “external forces” connecting up with “internal forces” after they had destroyed everything —their military, their security forces, their bureaucracy, their political system, their infrastructure—& left a vacuum.

He blamed the Iranians. The Syrians.
It seemed to me that none of the reporters, whose questions were clearly heard, were buying it. He basically only apologised for not succeeding, for the fact that some of their soldiers had died—oh, and of course, for the fact that a lot of Iraqis had now died too.

He said he didn’t regret his decision to go to war because he still thought it was the right thing to do. He spoke of his “sorrow & regret” about the deaths that have resulted.

He said he would never accept criticism of the bravery and competence of the British forces in Basra. No one there had made any. It seems the report identifies some deal they made with insurgents to stop them firing on them.

He was asked several times why he had put in a letter to Bush that Britain would “follow you whatever” (or something along those lines—“whatever”, was stressed); whether the US had had too much influence on him personally; whether he had consulted Cabinet colleagues enough in making decisions on the war, and whether he would accept that had basically allowed himself to simply be led by the Bush administration. His answers were convoluted and unconvincing.

He said something about seeing some evidence that Saddam did in fact have plans to acquire or develop WMDs in the future, once the UN inspection heat & interntional scrutiny was off. (I can’t read my notes clearly—reporters might clarify that in their news reports.)

He said that the Middle East has always been unstable, and that if they hadn’t removed Saddam, the Arab Spring had shown that when the people rise to overthrow their dictators themselves, the result is chaos and sectarian killing. And that’s what would have eventually happened in Iraq. ??

(For those who don’t know, The Arab Spring is widely considered to have been a direct result of the removal of Saddam, which, according to many analysts I’ve read, is what prompted other peoples to rise & overthrow their repressive governments, spearheaded by their own Islamic fundamentalists. Which has in turn led to the strife now seen in places like Libya & Syria, and Egypt.

And, quite probably, the numerous other countries in North & Central Africa where Islamic extremists like Al Shabab and Boko Haram have sprung into vicious prominence and pledged allegiance to ISIS.)

Blair attempted, I think, to say that the Iraq invasion, and now the fighting against terrorism in the ME, has made the world a safer place. It was pretty muddy. He said he hadn’t lied to the British people.

The ramifications of the Chilcott report are going to be enormous.

Corbyn, in his speech to Parliament after Cameron’s, pointed out that he had spoken out vociferously against going to war. If I recall correctly, several of his MP colleagues supported it and he had thousands of supporters throughout Britain at that time, even after the decision was made to go to war, when people tend to get behind & back their military forces anyway.

This development could have a major impact on the current challenge to his leadership?

Tony Blair’s reaction

Reaction from Tony Blair to the highly critical Chilcot report: The Iraq Inquiry


BBC: Blair sorry for families but defends war

Tony Blair has apologised to the families of those killed in the 2003 Iraq War, accepting that they will never “forget or forgive him”.

The former prime minister said he felt sorrow and regret beyond what “people may ever know” at the loss of life.

He accepted intelligence had been wrong and post-war planning had been poor.

But he insisted that he did what he thought was the “right thing” at the time and he still believed Iraq was “better off” without Saddam Hussein.


BBC: Chilcot report: Tony Blair’s Iraq War case not justified

In a statement to the media, his voice at times cracking with emotion, the former Labour prime minister said the decision to commit troops was the “most agonising and momentous” decision in his decade as prime minister, adding that he would “carry it with me for the rest of my days”.

“I feel deeply and sincerely in a way that no words can properly convey the grief and sorrow of those who lost ones they loved in Iraq – whether our armed forces, the armed forces of other nations or Iraqis.

“The intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong, the aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever we imagined…. and a nation whose people we wanted to set free from the evil of Saddam became instead victims of sectarian terrorism.

“For all of this, I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe.”

But he was defiant on the central decision to go to war, saying “there were no lies, Parliament and Cabinet were not misled, there was no secret commitment to war, intelligence was not falsified and the decision was made in good faith”.

In a nearly two hour news conference he said he would never agree that those who died or were injured in Iraq “made their sacrifice in vain” as they had played their part in “the defining global security struggle of the 21st century against the terrorism and violence which the world over destroys lives, divides communities”.

Quizzed about what he was apologising for, he said: “There is no inconsistency in expressing my sorrow for those that have lost their lives – my regret and my apology for the mistakes – but still saying I believe the decision was right. There is no inconsistency in that.”

He said the US would have launched an invasion “either with or us or without us”, adding: “I had to decide. I thought of Saddam and his record, the character of his regime. I thought of our alliance with America and its importance to us in the post 9/11 world and I weighed it carefully with the heaviest of hearts.”

Mr Blair, who was PM from 1997 to 2007, conceded that intelligence on Iraq’s weapons had “turned out to be wrong” and the invasion had destabilised Iraq but said he still believed the country was “better off” without Saddam, comparing it with the situation in Syria where the decision had been taken not to intervene.

He also said he should have “disclosed” the attorney general’s legal advice to the Cabinet on the eve of war – but he defended his close relationship with President Bush, saying: “we are better to be strongly onside with the US”, arguing that it was “better for our own security”.


Full statement: Chilcot report: The Iraq Inquiry

Website: The Iraq Inquiry

Chilcot summary – unanimous view

A summary of the findings of the Chilcot report: The Iraq Inquiry

The Inquiry Report is the Committee’s unanimous view. Military action in Iraq might have been necessary at some point. But in March 2003:

  • There was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.
  • The strategy of containment could have been adapted and continued for some time.
  • The majority of the Security Council supported continuing UN inspections and monitoring.

Military intervention elsewhere may be required in the future. A vital purpose of the Inquiry is to identify what lessons should be learned from experience in Iraq.

There are many lessons set out in the Report.

Some are about the management of relations with allies, especially the US. Mr Blair overestimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq.

The UK’s relationship with the US has proved strong enough over time to bear the weight of honest disagreement. It does not require unconditional support where our interests or judgements differ.

The lessons also include:

  • The importance of collective Ministerial discussion which encourages frank and informed debate and challenge.
  • The need to assess risks, weigh options and set an achievable and realistic strategy.
  • The vital role of Ministerial leadership and co-ordination of action across Government, supported by senior officials.
  • The need to ensure that both the civilian and military arms of Government are properly equipped for their tasks.

Above all, the lesson is that all aspects of any intervention need to be calculated, debated and challenged with the utmost rigour.

And, when decisions have been made, they need to be implemented fully.

Sadly, neither was the case in relation to the UK Government’s actions in Iraq.


 

Chilcot report: The Iraq Inquiry

Statement by Sir John Chilcot: 6 July 2016

We were appointed to consider the UK’s policy on Iraq from 2001 to 2009, and to identify lessons for the future. Our Report will be published on the Inquiry’s website after I finish speaking.

In 2003, for the first time since the Second World War, the United Kingdom took part in an invasion and full-scale occupation of a sovereign State. That was a decision of the utmost gravity. Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly a brutal dictator who had attacked Iraq’s neighbours, repressed and killed many of his own people, and was in violation of obligations imposed by the UN Security Council.

But the questions for the Inquiry were:

  • whether it was right and necessary to invade Iraq in March 2003; and
  • whether the UK could – and should – have been better prepared for what followed.

We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.

We have also concluded that:

  • The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.
  • Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate.
  • The Government failed to achieve its stated objectives.

I want now to set out some of the key points in the Report.

First, the formal decision to invade Iraq, if Saddam Hussein did not accept the US ultimatum to leave within 48 hours, was taken by Cabinet on 17 March 2003.

Parliament voted the following day to support the decision.

The decision was, however, shaped by key choices made by Mr Blair’s Government over the previous 18 months – which I will briefly set out.

After the attacks on 11 September 2001, Mr Blair urged President Bush not to take hasty action on Iraq.

By early December, US policy had begun to shift and Mr Blair suggested that the US and the UK should work on what he described as a “clever strategy” for regime change in Iraq, which would build over time.

When Mr Blair met President Bush at Crawford, Texas, in early April 2002, the formal policy was still to contain Saddam Hussein. But, by then, there had been a profound change in the UK’s thinking:

  • The Joint Intelligence Committee had concluded that Saddam Hussein could not be removed without an invasion.
  • The Government was stating that Iraq was a threat that had to be dealt with. It had to disarm or be disarmed.
  • That implied the use of force if Iraq did not comply – and internal contingency planning for a large contribution to a military invasion had begun.

At Crawford, Mr Blair sought a partnership as a way of influencing President Bush. He proposed a UN ultimatum to Iraq to readmit inspectors or face the consequences.

On 28 July, Mr Blair wrote to President Bush with an assurance that he would be with him “whatever” – but, if the US wanted a coalition for military action, changes would be needed in three key areas. Those were:

  • progress on the Middle East Peace Process;
  • UN authority; and
  • a shift in public opinion in the UK, Europe and the Arab world.

Mr Blair also pointed out that there would be a “need to commit to Iraq for the long term”.

Subsequently, Mr Blair and Mr Straw urged the US to take the issue of Iraq back to the UN. On 7 September, President Bush decided to do so.

On 8 November, resolution 1441 was adopted unanimously by the Security Council. It gave Iraq a final opportunity to disarm or face “serious consequences”, and it provided for any further breaches by Iraq to be reported to the Security Council “for assessment”. The weapons inspectors returned to Iraq later that month.

During December, however, President Bush decided that inspections would not achieve the desired result; the US would take military action in early 2003. By early January, Mr Blair had also concluded that “the likelihood was war”.

At the end of January, Mr Blair accepted the US timetable for military action by mid March. To help Mr Blair, President Bush agreed to seek a further UN resolution – the “second” resolution – determining that Iraq had failed to take its final opportunity to comply with its obligations.

By 12 March, it was clear that there was no chance of securing majority support for a second resolution before the US took military action.

Without evidence of major new Iraqi violations or reports from the inspectors that Iraq was failing to co-operate and they could not carry out their tasks, most members of the Security Council could not be convinced that peaceful options to disarm Iraq had been exhausted and that military action was therefore justified.

Mr Blair and Mr Straw blamed France for the “impasse” in the UN and claimed that the UK Government was acting on behalf of the international community “to uphold the authority of the Security Council”.

In the absence of a majority in support of military action, we consider that the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council’s authority.

Second, the Inquiry has not expressed a view on whether military action was legal.

That could, of course, only be resolved by a properly constituted and internationally recognised Court.

We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory.

In mid-January 2003, Lord Goldsmith told Mr Blair that a further Security Council resolution would be necessary to provide a legal basis for military action. He did not advise No.10 until the end of February that, while a second resolution would be preferable, a “reasonable case” could be made that resolution 1441 was sufficient. He set out that view in written advice on 7 March. 5

The military and the civil service both asked for more clarity on whether force would be legal. Lord Goldsmith then advised that the “better view” was that there was, on balance, a secure legal basis for military action without a further Security Council resolution. On 14 March, he asked Mr Blair to confirm that Iraq had committed further material breaches as specified in resolution 1441. Mr Blair did so the next day.

However, the precise basis on which Mr Blair made that decision is not clear. Given the gravity of the decision, Lord Goldsmith should have been asked to provide written advice explaining how, in the absence of a majority in the Security Council, Mr Blair could take that decision.

This is one of a number of occasions identified by the Inquiry when policy should have been considered by a Cabinet Committee and then discussed by Cabinet itself.

Third, I want to address the assessments of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and how they were presented to support the case for action.

There was an ingrained belief in the UK policy and intelligence communities that:

  • Iraq had retained some chemical and biological capabilities;
  • was determined to preserve and if possible enhance them – and, in the future, to acquire a nuclear capability; and
  • was able to conceal its activities from the UN inspectors.

In the House of Commons on 24 September 2002, Mr Blair presented Iraq’s past, current and future capabilities as evidence of the severity of the potential threat from Iraq’s WMD. He said that, at some point in the future, that threat would become a reality.

The judgements about Iraq’s capabilities in that statement, and in the dossier published the same day, were presented with a certainty that was not justified.

The Joint Intelligence Committee should have made clear to Mr Blair that the assessed intelligence had not established “beyond doubt” either that Iraq had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons or that efforts to develop nuclear weapons continued.

The Committee had also judged that as long as sanctions remained effective, Iraq could not develop a nuclear weapon, and that it would take several years to develop and deploy long range missiles.

In the House of Commons on 18 March 2003, Mr Blair stated that he judged the possibility of terrorist groups in possession of WMD was “a real and present danger to Britain and its national security” – and that the threat from Saddam Hussein’s arsenal could not be contained and posed a clear danger to British citizens.

Mr Blair had been warned, however, that military action would increase the threat from Al Qaida to the UK and to UK interests. He had also been warned that an invasion might lead to Iraq’s weapons and capabilities being transferred into the hands of terrorists.

The Government’s strategy reflected its confidence in the Joint Intelligence Committee’s Assessments. Those Assessments provided the benchmark against which Iraq’s conduct and denials, and the reports of the inspectors, were judged.

As late as 17 March, Mr Blair was being advised by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, the means to deliver them and the capacity to produce them. He was also told that the evidence pointed to Saddam Hussein’s view that the capability was militarily significant and to his determination – left to his own devices – to build it up further.

It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been.

The findings on Iraq’s WMD capabilities set out in the report of the Iraq Survey Group in October 2004 were significant. But they did not support pre-invasion statements by the UK Government, which had focused on Iraq’s current capabilities, which Mr Blair and Mr Straw had described as “vast stocks” and an urgent and growing threat.

In response to those findings, Mr Blair told the House of Commons that, although Iraq might not have had “stockpiles of actually deployable weapons”, Saddam Hussein “retained the intent and the capability … and was in breach of United Nations resolutions”.

That was not, however, the explanation for military action he had given before the conflict.

In our Report, we have identified a number of lessons to inform the way in which intelligence may be used publicly in the future to support Government policy.

Fourth, I want to address the shortcomings in planning and preparation.

The British military contribution was not settled until mid-January 2003, when Mr Blair and Mr Hoon agreed the military’s proposals for an increase in the number of brigades to be deployed; and that they would operate in southern, not northern, Iraq.

There was little time to prepare three brigades and the risks were neither properly identified nor fully exposed to Ministers. The resulting equipment shortfalls are addressed in the Report.

Despite promises that Cabinet would discuss the military contribution, it did not discuss the military options or their implications.

In early January 2003, when the Government published its objectives for postconflict Iraq, it intended that the interim post-conflict administration should be UN-led.

By March 2003, having failed to persuade the US of the advantages of a UN-led administration, the Government had set the less ambitious goal of persuading the US to accept UN authorisation of a Coalition-led interim administration.

When the invasion began, UK policy rested on an assumption that there would be a well-executed US-led and UN-authorised operation in a relatively benign security environment.

Mr Blair told the Inquiry that the difficulties encountered in Iraq after the invasion could not have been known in advance.

We do not agree that hindsight is required. The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and Al Qaida activity in Iraq, were each explicitly identified before the invasion.

Ministers were aware of the inadequacy of US plans, and concerned about the inability to exert significant influence on US planning. Mr Blair eventually succeeded only in the narrow goal of securing President Bush’s agreement that there should be UN authorisation of the post-conflict role.

Furthermore, he did not establish clear Ministerial oversight of UK planning and preparation. He did not ensure that there was a flexible, realistic and fully resourced plan that integrated UK military and civilian contributions, and addressed the known risks.

The failures in the planning and preparations continued to have an effect after the invasion.

That brings me to the Government’s failure to achieve the objectives it had set itself in Iraq.

The Armed Forces fought a successful military campaign, which took Basra and helped to achieve the departure of Saddam Hussein and the fall of Baghdad in less than a month.

Service personnel, civilians who deployed to Iraq and Iraqis who worked for the UK, showed great courage in the face of considerable risks. They deserve our gratitude and respect.

More than 200 British citizens died as a result of the conflict in Iraq. Many more were injured. This has meant deep anguish for many families, including those who are here today.

The invasion and subsequent instability in Iraq had, by July 2009, also resulted in the deaths of at least one hundred and fifty thousand Iraqis – and probably many more – most of them civilians. More than a million people were displaced. The people of Iraq have suffered greatly.

The vision for Iraq and its people – issued by the US, the UK, Spain and Portugal, at the Azores Summit on 16 March 2003 – included a solemn obligation to help the Iraqi people build a new Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbours. It looked forward to a united Iraq in which its people should enjoy security, freedom, prosperity and equality with a government that would uphold human rights and the rule of law as cornerstones of democracy.

We have considered the post-conflict period in Iraq in great detail, including efforts to reconstruct the country and rebuild its security services.

In this short statement I can only address a few key points.

After the invasion, the UK and the US became joint Occupying Powers. For the year that followed, Iraq was governed by the Coalition Provisional Authority. The UK was fully implicated in the Authority’s decisions, but struggled to have a decisive effect on its policies.

The Government’s preparations failed to take account of the magnitude of the task of stabilising, administering and reconstructing Iraq, and of the responsibilities which were likely to fall to the UK.

The UK took particular responsibility for four provinces in the South East. It did so without a formal Ministerial decision and without ensuring that it had the necessary military and civilian capabilities to discharge its obligations, including, crucially, to provide security.

The scale of the UK effort in post-conflict Iraq never matched the scale of the challenge. Whitehall departments and their Ministers failed to put collective weight behind the task.

In practice, the UK’s most consistent strategic objective in relation to Iraq was to reduce the level of its deployed forces.

The security situation in both Baghdad and the South East began to deteriorate soon after the invasion.

We have found that the Ministry of Defence was slow in responding to the threat from Improvised Explosive Devices and that delays in providing adequate medium weight protected patrol vehicles should not have been tolerated. It was not clear which person or department within the Ministry of Defence was responsible for identifying and articulating such capability gaps. But it should have been.

From 2006, the UK military was conducting two enduring campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. It did not have sufficient resources to do so. Decisions on resources for Iraq were affected by the demands of the operation in Afghanistan.

For example, the deployment to Afghanistan had a material impact on the availability of essential equipment in Iraq, particularly helicopters and equipment for surveillance and intelligence collection.

By 2007 militia dominance in Basra, which UK military commanders were unable to challenge, led to the UK exchanging detainee releases for an end to the targeting of its forces.

It was humiliating that the UK reached a position in which an agreement with a militia group which had been actively targeting UK forces was considered the best option available.

The UK military role in Iraq ended a very long way from success. We have sought to set out the Government’s actions on Iraq fully and impartially. The evidence is there for all to see. It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day.

The Inquiry Report is the Committee’s unanimous view. Military action in Iraq might have been necessary at some point. But in March 2003:

  • There was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.
  • The strategy of containment could have been adapted and continued for some time.
  • The majority of the Security Council supported continuing UN inspections and monitoring.

Military intervention elsewhere may be required in the future. A vital purpose of the Inquiry is to identify what lessons should be learned from experience in Iraq.

There are many lessons set out in the Report.

Some are about the management of relations with allies, especially the US. Mr Blair overestimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq.

The UK’s relationship with the US has proved strong enough over time to bear the weight of honest disagreement. It does not require unconditional support where our interests or judgements differ.

The lessons also include:

  • The importance of collective Ministerial discussion which encourages frank and informed debate and challenge.
  • The need to assess risks, weigh options and set an achievable and realistic strategy.
  • The vital role of Ministerial leadership and co-ordination of action across Government, supported by senior officials.
  • The need to ensure that both the civilian and military arms of Government are properly equipped for their tasks.

Above all, the lesson is that all aspects of any intervention need to be calculated, debated and challenged with the utmost rigour.

And, when decisions have been made, they need to be implemented fully.

Sadly, neither was the case in relation to the UK Government’s actions in Iraq.


Trump says “take out their families”

It’s an awful look foer US politics when one of the presidential contenders is a dangerous oaf like Donald Trump.

In his latest of many embarrassing comments he suggests, well, he’s probably not far fromn wiping out the Middle east.

CNN reports: Donald Trump on terrorists: ‘Take out their families’

Donald Trump said Wednesday that he would kill the families of terrorists in order to win the fight against ISIS.

The billionaire businessman was asked by the hosts of Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” how to fight ISIS but also minimize civilian causalities when terrorists often use human shields.

“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families,” Trump said.

Trump said he would “knock the hell out of” ISIS, and criticized the U.S. for “fighting a very politically correct war.”

I hope US voters don’t let homn get anywhere near control of nuclear weapons, or any weapons. He would be a huge risk to the world.

The GOP would be nuts to put him forward as their presidential candidate.