Chilcot: Why I knew Tony Blair was wrong

In the late 1980s I worked in Iraq, developing personnel and timetable software systems for Baghdad University.

The second day I was there, I was called in by the head of the university’s IT department to meet a uniformed major in the Iraqi army. He had a computer system which was not working properly.

I was asked if I would like to go with him to sort it out. I readily agreed. We drove for an hour through areas of very poor housing. People looked sad and children were running around with no shoes.

We arrived at Tajji Camp. A soldier on guard with an automatic weapon wanted my ID. I had submitted my passport to get the appropriate stamps allowing me to stay in Iraq, so I reached towards my inside pocket to get my wallet containing my driving licence. The soldier got very angry, waved his weapon at me and shouted “ID, ID.”

The major calmed him down and explained that Professor Nigel had come to help with the computer (I am not a professor).

Eventually we were shown the computer which was causing such concern. It was one of ours, British made. It had arrived in Iraq courtesy of Mrs Thatcher’s government signing it off with an Export Credit Guarantee – which means that Iraq did not pay for it initially (or ever, as far as I know).

By a stroke of luck I was able to identify what was wrong and fix the system. Everyone seemed very grateful. The problem then was that whenever the army had a problem with any of their computers, it was me they wanted to fix it.

I got to know the army personnel well and visited several of their installations. One day I arrived to find everyone very excited. Iraq has just test launched its first Al Hussain missile. I quizzed my major friend about it. He revealed it was powered by a lawn mower engine, had no guidance system, and could travel a hundred kilometres. To land it on the intended target, an officer licked his forefinger, stuck it in the air to gauge the wind strength, did a calculation, and loaded the appropriate amount of petrol.

The later Al Samoud missile had an uprated lawn mower engine, no guidance system and a range of two hundred kilometres.

Some years later I was elected to Parliament. When Prime Minister Blair tried to persuade us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, I was very sceptical. I told my then leader, Charles Kennedy, what I knew. The Liberal Democrat parliamentary party discussed it and decided we would campaign against the Iraq war.

The Chilcot Report proves that we were right.

The report is a damning indictment of the decision to go to war in Iraq. It shows that Tony Blair was fixated in joining President George W Bush in this military adventure, regardless of the evidence, the legality, or the serious potential consequences. That fateful decision cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives as well as those of 179 members of the British Armed Forces.

Chilcot lays bare the complete lack of planning for the aftermath of the invasion. That failure caused many more years of bloodshed and instability in the Middle East and led to the rise of Daesh (Isis).

Chilcot is a clear vindication of Charles Kennedy’s judgement and leadership on the Iraq War – and our party’s position.

I hope those in the Labour and Conservative parties who were so forceful in their criticism of him and the Liberal Democrats at the time are equally forceful in their acknowledgements today that we were right.

It is vital that the right lessons are learnt.

My new leader, Tim Farron, has called on the British government to pledge that we will never again go to war unless it is legal under international law, with a proper exit plan, and clear, unbiased intelligence.

I hope Sir John Chilcot’s findings can in some way provide comfort to the families of the British servicemen and servicewomen who lost their lives, and to the people of Iraq who lost hundreds of thousands of their loved ones. They are still are losing precious men, women and children, most recently in the savage bombing in Baghdad last weekend.

In my lifetime Britain has made three catastrophic foreign policy decisions. Suez in the 1950s, Blair’s war in Iraq in 2003, and Cameron’s EU referendum in 2016. Tory, Labour, Tory. Thank goodness my party, the Liberal Democrats, have clean hands.

* Nigel Jones was MP for Cheltenham from 1992 to 2005 and is now a member of the House of Lords

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18 Comments

  • I served in the Gulf War in 1991 and Iraq did then have significant stockpiles of chemical weapons. You seem to be conflating the lack of an effective delivery system with the existence of WMD. I would agree the 45 minute claim was laughable but not many experts were willing to stake their reputations on the non-existence of WMD back in 2003.

    In 1991 they did have several crude, but effective delivery mechanisms including Scud missiles. It was these that were used to attack Israel in 1991 and also scored a direct hit on a US barracks in Saudi causing multiple deaths – thankfully without employing chemical warheads. I would also caution that a delivery mechanism for chemical weapons could be very crude indeed and remain effective, recent use of chemicals in Syria has proven that.

    It is, of course, a matter of record that in the very period you allude to their incompetence, rocket and bomb delivered WMD’s caused the deaths of up to 5000 Kurds at Halabja.

    Did we need to go to War – No they were contained.
    Did Iraq have WMD – No (but we could not be sure about that, indeed most felt they did)
    Did they have a reliable long range delivery mechanism – No (and we should have been sure about that)
    Did Iraq have and use WMD in the late 80’s – Yes even lawnmower engine powered rockets can be deadly…

  • ……………In my lifetime Britain has made three catastrophic foreign policy decisions. Suez in the 1950s, Blair’s war in Iraq in 2003, and Cameron’s EU referendum in 2016. Tory, Labour, Tory. Thank goodness my party, the Liberal Democrats, have clean hands……………..

    How convenient to forget the “Libyan adventure”…A ‘protect civilian promise’ that had, within days, become ‘remove/kill Gaddafi’…An action which ensured that Russia/China, who had been ‘conned’ would refuse to act on Assad’s Syria…

    Your definition of ‘Clean Hands’ doesn’t hold true…

  • Expats
    Just stand by while Gaddafi massacred his opponents. Business as usual.

  • David Allen 12th Jul '16 - 5:45pm

    If it’s not off topic, can I just say – Three cheers for Sir John Chilcot and his team!

    They were relentlessly and unfairly pilloried for taking 6 years to write a report which was four times the length of “War and Peace”. They produced an admirably balanced and fair report. Their obvious integrity and objectivity made their condemnation of Blair and his allies all the more devastating. Parliament owes it to Sir John to respond appropriately – by holding Blair in contempt of Parliament.

  • Manfarang 12th Jul ’16 – 5:35pm……….Expats…..Just stand by while Gaddafi massacred his opponents. Business as usual….

    Where-as a broken country, without leadership, without any infrastructure, and where ISIS has free reign, is your preferred option?

  • Stevan Rose 12th Jul '16 - 8:22pm

    Didn’t this party support the invasion of Afghanistan too? I was reminded by the recent commemoration of the Battle of the Somme centenary, where 481,000 British casualties were amongst 1.3 million overall, that the PM at the time was a Liberal. No party has clean hands, just selective memory and an arbitrary cut-off date for what’s considered ancient history, which could be the birth year of whoever is making the point, so I’d have to exclude Suez myself but there are still thousands of people alive today for whom WW1 is within their lifetime.

    If we use 1900, the year when Labour was founded so all main parties are compared over the same period, as the starting point. Then add up all the British military deaths according to the party of the PM at the time, I would suggest the bloodiest record is that of the Liberals (WW1), twice that of the Tories (WW2 and Gulf War 1) with Labour barely noticeable. Of course Labour had the worst record between 1997 and 2010.

  • Rightsaidfredfan 12th Jul '16 - 9:42pm

    The EU referendum is not a disaster, it is right that people get the choice on those matters. Respect the people’s choice.

  • @rightsaidfredfan
    ‘Respect the people’s choice.’
    No problem respecting 52% of the people’s choice. It just happens to be a disastrous choice

  • expats
    No its not my preferred option. The Gaddafi regime was hardly peaceful. Look at its involvement with Chad, a conflict which passed largely unnoticed by the western public.

  • Rightsaidfredfan 13th Jul '16 - 8:08am

    @allan brame

    It might be a bad choice voting to leave the EU, but it wasn’t the governments choice, the government merely choose to let the people decide what kind of country they lived in, they were not responsible for the people’s choice.

    Every party should have supported having the referendum as it is right to let people decide such an important matter for themselves. The lib dems used to support a referendum on membership of the European Union, were they being insincere back then and supporting a policy for votes that they didn’t agree with because they thought it would never happen? Or should the SNP be able to say, actually, since they have the majority of the Scottish seats, and the majority of the MSPs in holyrood support independence they’re declaring Scotland independent anyway? If those sorts of things don’t require referendums n’ all.

  • Saddam Hussein was hung for crimes committed while he was our ally.

  • Manfarang 13th Jul ’16 – 4:48am….expats….No its not my preferred option. The Gaddafi regime was hardly peaceful. Look at its involvement with Chad, a conflict which passed largely unnoticed by the western public………….

    You appear to want things both ways….Plaudits because we voted against removing one tyrant and plaudits for voting to remove another. Both Iraq and Libya were undertaken using false pretences; both have left their citizens far, far worse off and less secure than before…
    BTW…How many people smugglers made fortunes out of misery in Gaddafi’s Libya?

  • Bill le Breton 13th Jul '16 - 9:16am

    Nigel, wish you would write more!

    I always admired and benefited from the way you used humour to prepare the ground for serious points. The light touch before the forceful point (s) is well illustrated here.

  • Stephen Booth 13th Jul '16 - 3:48pm

    Nigel, like you I’ve spent time in Iraq. Before we married my wife worked in Baghdad embassy for a year back in the 1960s when Saddam was just beginning to flex his muscles. I was appalled at the war Saddam launched in 1980 against Iran, egged on by the US which had a score to settle over the US hostages detained in Tehran. When Saddam used gas and killed at least 10,000 Kurds I protested along with a small band of others. I remember when The Observer’s reporter Farzad Bazoft was tried and hung for trumped up charges by Saddam and the lukewarm protests of the British Government. Next came Kuwait and the “shock & awe” attack on the Iraqi forces and the attacks on infrastructure in Baghdad and other centres, which included destroying water treatment and sewerage treatment facilities – the latter a disgraceful act by the coalition for which they should have faced a war crimes tribunal.
    After Kuwait Saddam was contained by no-fly zones and sanctions, which affected everything right down to medicines causing much misery and death for many unable to get life-saving drugs. The war launched by Blair and Bush in 2003, with no post operational plan (just like Brexit!) did indeed create the awful chaos in the Middle East from which we are now having to deal with through overwhelming numbers of refugees.
    What bothers me is how is it possible with all the experience and resources of the Foreign Office and MI6, no one could persuade Blair of the stupidity of his act of folly, which is almost certainly worse than Suez in its consequences. If folk like you and me and thousands of others knew it was wrong what is the point of employing experts to study these things or even having a foreign secretary?

  • Expats
    Times have changed from the days of the British Empire. Its no longer simply a question of sending troops.
    In Iraq the Americans made mistakes. Dissolving the Iraqi Army and the Ba’athists paved the way for the future problems. Likewise allowing militias to operate after the overthrow of Gaddafi was another.
    One thing that is sure is that western notions of democracy are entirely absent in both countries. Bringing about the conditions for political reform will take years.

  • Manfarang, I agree…

    However, the US were not alone in either Iraq or Libya….I remember an ex-PM (just) promising an interim Libyan government the world and delivering nothing….

    How much better for all concerned if ‘diplomatic’ means were tried, tried and TRIED again before we resorted to war….The US/UK saw the Arab Spring as ‘Goodies’ against ‘Baddies’…Things are far more complicated…

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