Last week saw the long-awaited publication of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war. The report was rightly commissioned by Gordon Brown under the last Labour government in 2009 to investigate the events leading up to the war in Iraq, the military action itself and the aftermath of the war. It is very rare that such a detailed retrospective review is undertaken of a key decision made by Parliament and Sir John Chilcot must be commended for the rigour of the inquiry that he led.
I fully accept and support the main findings of the Chilcot report and I hope that it will be met with widespread acceptance in Parliament, the Labour Party, other political parties and our wider society.
I was not in Parliament at the time of the vote on the Iraq war in 2003, but having taken part in the Parliamentary vote on Syrian air strikes shortly after being elected last year (see www.helenhayes.org.uk/my_views_on_syria), I have no doubt that for all those serving as MPs at the time the decision was more difficult and nuanced than it may seem now with the benefit of hindsight.
I was very moved last week to hear Ann Clwyd MP speak in the House of Commons. Ann has been a campaigner on human rights issues for 30 years and I share her views on many issues. She campaigned against Saddam Hussain’s human rights abuses for many years prior to the Iraq war, and knew in-depth the devastation he was meting out on his own people. Having voted for intervention in 2003, Ann last week accepted unequivocally and with humility the conclusions of the Chilcot report, despite having believed at the time that she was voting for the most responsible course of action.
As an ordinary member of the Labour Party in 2003, I was opposed to military intervention in Iraq. Continued reflection on this difficult issue and the passage of time have not changed my view.
At this point, and after so many years, it is vital that we turn Sir John Chilcot’s recommendations into lessons that will be deeply embedded in our political culture for the future. We must apply them to the threshold of proof for military action. We must foster – in all of our politics, not only discussions about possible military action – a culture of respect, where everyone feels able to question and scrutinise without fear or favour. We must ensure that any decision to take military action is accompanied by detailed and credible plans for post-conflict support and reconstruction. And we must, unequivocally ensure that if British troops are committed to fight in future that they have the equipment and resources that they need.
As well as there being important consequences if Parliament supports military intervention, there are often consequences of not taking military action, and the extent of our responsibility to engage with challenging international issues must never end with a vote in Parliament.
We must never forget the many thousands of Iraqis and 179 British service personnel who died during the conflict; the many thousands of Iraqis who died at the hands of Saddam Hussein prior to the conflict; and the lives that continue to be lost in the Middle East.
We must ensure that those who lost their lives are remembered and honoured by a change in our political culture and practice and by implementing Sir John Chilcot’s recommendations in full. Chilcot’s detailed report places a duty on us all not only to reflect carefully on this important period in our history, but also to ensure that the lessons are embedded within our politics and our society for the long term.