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World

Chilcot Report Details Britain's Role In The Iraq War

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, it has taken seven years. But today, people in Great Britain are hearing a report on their country's involvement in the Iraq War. This is the result of an investigation into the political decisions that led the U.K. to send troops there. Back in 2003, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair made the case that war was necessary to preserve the peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TONY BLAIR: Dictators like Saddam, terrorist groups like al-Qaida threaten the very existence of such a world. That is why I've asked our troops to go into action tonight.

GREENE: Now, of course, today's report comes with the backdrop of continued violence in Iraq, such as the bombing in Baghdad we heard about this past weekend. Reporter Lauren Frayer is in London covering the release of this report. Lauren, good morning.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So I know we're talking about thousands and thousands of pages that I imagine you have not had a chance to sift through totally, but any snippets so far?

FRAYER: Yes. I can tell you - the sort of headline is it describes a rush to war. It says military action was not a last resort at the time, that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to join the war. It says Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat at the time of the invasion. And it also reveals secret communications between Tony Blair and then-President George W. Bush. These are classified transcripts, never before been published. And they reveal that as early as July 2002, so nine months before the war even began, Blair told Bush - "I will be with you whatever."

GREENE: Wow.

FRAYER: Now that's a quote. And it shows that Blair agreed to join the war before all the evidence was in. And some of that evidence regarding weapons of mass destruction turned out not to be true.

GREENE: That's amazing. You remember President Bush saying what a firm partner he had in Tony Blair, but not realizing that commitment was that firm so early on. So this report has come out this morning. I mean, has there been any time to sort of monitor reaction there in London, or we'll have to wait and see?

FRAYER: Here's the scene outside British Parliament today.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Tony Blair, war criminal. Tony Blair, war criminal.

GREENE: Wow.

FRAYER: Those are protesters yelling Tony Blair, war criminal. They're waving placards that read B-liar, Bliar (ph), rather than Blair. They're also doing a solemn reading of the names of the 179 British troops killed in the Iraq War. And some of their families have called for war crimes charges against Blair.

GREENE: Is that possible? I mean, is there some legal authority in this report that could lead to that?

FRAYER: No, it's not a legal indictment, this report. It doesn't have authority in terms of criminal proceedings. But some of those families are looking into a civil lawsuit against Blair separately. And this report could give their case some backing.

GREENE: Lauren, there's - I mean, there's been a long debate over this war, many critics saying that the United States and Great Britain never should have gone into Iraq. But there are those who supported it. There are those who, you know, listened to the message from people like Tony Blair suggesting that this was a war not just against Saddam Hussein, but sort of a larger war against terrorist groups. The whole message, you know - let's defeat them abroad, so we don't have to defeat them at home. I mean, is this report somehow going to settle this debate? Or is it being seen as sort of just a really harsh criticism of that decision?

FRAYER: Well, Tony Blair has just issued a statement saying that this report should, quote, "lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit." Now some of those families of troops killed might not think so. In fact, the sister of a slain soldier spoke moments ago. She was in tears. And she called Tony Blair, quote, "the biggest terrorist of all." So emotions really run deep here. We're waiting to see if those families do take legal action.

As you mentioned, this report has 2.6 million words, 6,000 pages. It's going to take a long time to digest and figure out its impact on British history. As you mentioned, the backdrop is ongoing violence in Baghdad and in Iraq. I mean, the Iraq evasion - invasion is often blamed for laying the groundwork for the birth of groups like ISIS. That started in Iraq. It moved to Syria, and sadly, we see its effects, now, around the world.

GREENE: OK. We've been speaking to Lauren Frayer in London on the morning of this big report coming out dealing with Britain's involvement in the Iraq War. Lauren, thanks a lot.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.