LONDON – The long-awaited inquiry report into intelligence failures that led Britain to join the invasion of Iraq reveals what went wrong, but stops short of saying who went wrong.
The 196-page report by Lord Butler discloses "serious flaws" in intelligence that led to Britain’s involvement in the war. Key intelligence relied on third hand sources and was unreliable, the report says. And yet the report does not blame the intelligence services, because intelligence was pushed to "outer limits but not beyond."
The report says there is no reason that John Scarlett, head of the joint intelligence committee who put together the intelligence on Iraq should not be appointed head of MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency, as planned.
The report also points out that the dossier presented to the public did not contain the caveats and qualifications that had been included in the reports that the intelligence services handed to the government.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said in Parliament after the report was tabled Wednesday: "Don’t blame the intelligence community, blame me."
Blair was saying the right thing but several opposition leaders said he was not doing the right thing. And the report itself does not blame Blair for any wrongdoing.
"The report talks of lies, but does not say who the liars are," Mustafa Alani, Iraq expert at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) told IPS. "It is good news for Blair but bad news for democracy and for a system of accountability."
Going to war is the most crucial decision any government can make, Alani said. "At the end of the day Britain’s decision has been shown to be based on a set of assumptions. This is very serious. You cannot justify the most important decision you take on just an assumption."
That view was expressed in the House of Commons but to no effect.
"Somehow, no one is to blame for all of this," Welsh nationalist leader Elfyn Llwyd said to Blair. "Why don’t you take responsibility and do the honorable thing?"
Opposition leader Michael Howard said: "When presenting your case to the country, you chose to leave out those caveats, qualifications and cautions (of the intelligence services) at issue is the prime minister’s credibility. The question he must ask himself is, does he have any credibility left?"
Former Tory chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister) Kenneth Clarke pointed out how Blair had misled the parliament and the country, as brought out in the Butler report.
"Do you believe that if you had come to this House and if you had used the actual language of the intelligence assessment you had read when you made the case for war, you would still have won the vote that carried this country to war?" Clarke asked. "I must tell you I do not think you would have done."
Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary who resigned his cabinet post over the decision to invade Iraq added: "Had we done so we would have been spared the unavoidable conclusion from the content of the Butler Report that we committed British troops to action on the basis of false intelligence, overheated analysis and unreliable sources."
But Blair remained defiant. "No one lied," he said. "No one made up the intelligence. No one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services. Everyone genuinely tried to do their best in good faith for the country in circumstances of acute difficulty."
Blair said Britain had been right to invade Iraq. "I cannot honestly say I believe getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all. Iraq, the region, the wider world is a better and safer place without Saddam."
Officials are talking of a shake-up in the intelligence services, but not a shake-up in the government.
Alani says Blair’s future will rest on how the situation plays out within Iraq. "If there are positive developments, those would justify the mistakes of the government," he told IPS. "But if the situation deteriorates, then the mistakes of the government and this whole issue will be forced again to the front."