UK Politics

Iraq Inquiry: Tony Blair 'misused' Iraq intelligence, says Lord Butler

Tony Blair, George W.Bush and the Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar at a crunch meeting in the Azores in the final days before the March 2003 invasion Image copyright AP
Image caption Tony Blair and other world leaders sought a second resolution at the UN to authorise military action but joined the US-led coalition without it

Tony Blair "misused" intelligence about Iraq's weapons capability in the run-up to the 2003 war but did not deliberately deceive Parliament, a former top civil servant has said.

The PM "exaggerated" evidence of weapons of mass destruction but he and others believed it, Lord Butler said.

He said he did not expect the Chilcot report, to be released on Wednesday, to pronounce on the legality of the war.

It will examine the UK's decision to go to war and its aftermath.

The official Iraq inquiry, led by Sir John Chilcot, began its work in 2009 and its conclusions will be more than 2,500,000 words long.

The inquiry has been examining the reasons why the UK government, led by Tony Blair, took part in the US-led invasion of Iraq, which led to the toppling of Saddam Hussein. It has also been examining the prosecution of the war and its aftermath.

In total, 179 British troops died in Iraq between 2003 and 2009 while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis perished both during the conflict and in the years of sectarian violence that followed it.

'Dangerous person'

Lord Butler, who carried out an earlier inquiry in 2004 into the use of intelligence and was the UK's top civil servant between 1988 and 1998, said Mr Blair had clearly been wrong about the strength of the intelligence about Iraq's WMD capacity.

"You can see the mistakes that deceived the intelligence community into thinking Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. I have talked to the agencies and I hope that they have learnt the lessons from that," he said.

UK military fatalities

Full details of the 179 British servicemen and women who died

"In fact, I know they have learnt a lot of the lessons from it and intelligence won't be misused in future."

However, he said he did not believe the then prime minister had "deliberately" deceived Parliament, arguing that in his historic speech ahead of MPs' decision to authorise military action in March 2003, he had downplayed the intelligence angle and largely relied on other arguments.

"Tony Blair really believed there were WMD as did most of the intelligence agencies in the world," he told Radio 4's Today.

"He wanted to be in helping the US because he thought Saddam Hussein was a dangerous person to the world and to the Middle East and the world would be better off without him.

"My criticism of him was the way in which he reported the intelligence. He exaggerated the reliability of the intelligence...he was trying to persuade the UN and the world that there was a proper legal basis for taking military action."

"In the fact the Joint Intelligence Committee had said to him that the intelligence was sporadic and patchy. He said to the House of Commons that it was extensive, detailed and authoritative.

"That was where the inconsistency lay. I don't call that a lie. He may well have thought it was extensive, detailed and authoritative but it wasn't."

Post-war planning

Despite having access to many more documents, including private notes between Mr Blair and President George W Bush, than were available to his committee, Lord Butler said he did not expect Chilcot to rule on the issue of whether the invasion was lawful or not.

"That question was not the question that Chilcot was asked to deal with...The legal issue wasn't actually put to him and his team wasn't equipped properly to deal with that legal issue."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Lord Butler was the UK's top civil servant between 1988 and 1998

The report, however, is expected to focus heavily on shortcomings in the way government works and decision-making within Whitehall - particularly with regard to post-war planning.

While British troops and officials were well trained, Lord Butler said the situation they found themselves in southern Iraq given the collapse of regime and Iraqi institutions meant "the task was beyond them".

"The main problem was the inadequacy of the plan after the war. I think that was largely down to the Americans - not to us.

"It would have needed far more resources to be put in to seal the arms dumps, to seal the borders and in the absence of that there was a void into which the insurgents could come and it was made worse by dismantling the Iraqi structure of government."

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