In 2003, for the first time since the Second World War, the United Kingdom took part in an opposed invasion and full-scale occupation of a sovereign State – Iraq. Cabinet decided on 17 March to join the US-led invasion of Iraq, assuming there was no last-minute capitulation by Saddam Hussein. That decision was ratified by Parliament the next day and implemented the night after that.
Until 28 June 2004, the UK was a joint Occupying Power in Iraq. For the next five years, UK forces remained in Iraq with responsibility for security in the South-East; and the UK sought to assist with stabilisation and reconstruction.
The consequences of the invasion and of the conflict within Iraq which followed are still being felt in Iraq and the wider Middle East, as well as in the UK. It left families bereaved and many individuals wounded, mentally as well as physically. After harsh deprivation under Saddam Hussein's regime, the Iraqi people suffered further years of violence.
The decision to use force – a very serious decision for any government to take – provoked profound controversy in relation to Iraq and became even more controversial when it was subsequently found that Iraq's programmes to develop and produce chemical, biological and nuclear weapons had been dismantled. It continues to shape debates on national security policy and the circumstances in which to intervene.
Although the Coalition had achieved the removal of a brutal regime which had defied the United Nations and which was seen as a threat to peace and security, it failed to achieve the goals it had set for a new Iraq. Faced with serious disorder in Iraq, aggravated by sectarian differences, the US and UK struggled to contain the situation. The lack of security impeded political, social and economic reconstruction.
The Inquiry's report sets out in detail decision-making in the UK Government covering the period from when the possibility of military action first arose in 2001 to the departure of UK troops in 2009. It covers many different aspects of policy and its delivery.
In this Executive Summary the Inquiry sets out its conclusions on a number of issues that have been central to the controversies surrounding Iraq. In addition to the factors that shaped the decision to take military action in March 2003 without support for an authorising resolution in the UN Security Council, they are: the assessments of Iraqi WMD capabilities by the intelligence community prior to the invasion (including their presentation in the September 2002 dossier); advice on whether military action would be legal; the lack of adequate preparation for the post-conflict period and the consequent struggle to cope with the deteriorating security situation in Iraq after the invasion. This Summary also contains the Inquiry's key findings and a compilation of lessons, from the conclusions of individual Sections of the report.
Other Sections of the report contain detailed accounts of the relevant decisions and events, and the Inquiry's full conclusions and lessons.
The following are extracts from the main body of the Report covering some of the most important issues considered by the Inquiry.