John Chilcot, the Chairman of the Iraq I
John Chilcot, the Chairman of the Iraq Inquiry

So what did you think of the Chilcot Report? I know. So much has happened over the past few weeks or so, it’s difficult to keep up and all Chilcot did was tell us what we already knew. Blair pursued a war that was arguably illegal and has had disastrous consequences, not least for the 179 British servicemen and women killed and their loved ones, but also for Iraq and the fight against terrorism.

I was staggered by the rush to say Chilcot’s report was hard hitting. It wasn’t. It simply laid out the facts in a narrative format and let the reader decide. Those facts were of course damning but I struggle to find anything in the report that a well informed reader of British newspapers wouldn’t already know.

It was a very workmanlike narrative of what happened taken from secret documents and witness testimony and therefore providing far more detail than had been previously available but it was not anything like a proper inquiry in the real sense. It was more like a neutral court report than the solid analysis which was required, and what we actually got from the curiously much derided Butler report.

As a result of the Chilcot’s failure to carry out any detailed analysis of the evidence presented to his inquiry, it completely missed the extensive and conclusive evidence of a ten-month illegal air war by Britain and the US designed to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse to go to war in Iraq.

All modern wars begin with an air war in which the enemy positions on the ground are ‘softened up’ to make them easier to overcome. The Iraq War was no different in many ways. Except there was a difference George W Bush and Tony Blair didn’t tell us it was happening.

So why does this matter now?

It matters because the Iraq War didn’t begin on 20 March 2003 as everybody thought, it began ten months earlier on 20 May 2002 when the allies started the secret air war. It was definitely illegal because it started six months before the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1441 which Tony Blair’s government later used to claim the war was legal.

I know it probably sounds mad – how could we not know? But it’s true and I shall be laying out that evidence over a series of three blog posts. You can see the evidence on the links provided. More detail of where to look for each point is at the bottom of each page.

The air war, codenamed Operation Southern Force, was carried out under cover of the UN-authorised operation under which US and RAF aircraft patrolled the skies over southern Iraq to protect the Shia minority from Saddam’s forces.

Lt-Gen Michael Moseley, the US Air Force commander of allied air operations over Iraq, told a conference at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada in July 2003 that during Operation Southern Force allied aircraft dropped more than 600 bombs on “391 carefully selected targets”. [1]

British and US officials claimed at the time that the reason behind the increased US and UK air strikes was an increase in Iraqi attacks on allied aircraft. But Lt-Gen Moseley said the bombing of Iraqi positions in southern Iraq paved the way for the invasion and was the reason the allies were able to begin the ground campaign without first waging an extensive air war as they had done during the 1991 Gulf War.

Planning for the illegal air war began shortly after Tony Blair attended a summit with George Bush at the US President’s ranch in Crawford, Texas on 6 and 7 April 2002. Chilcot confirmed evidence from a Cabinet Office Briefing Paper leaked to me as part of the “Downing Street Memos” back in the spring of 2005 that Mr Blair agreed at Crawford “to support military action to bring about regime change” in Iraq.[2]

But although he missed the air war completely, Chilcot’s inquiry did provide plenty of evidence which helped to fill in the details that we didn’t know.

Read Part II to see this evidence and more


[1] U.S. Air Raids in ’02 Prepared for War in Iraq, New York Times, 20 July 2003

[2] Cabinet Office Briefing Paper dated 21 July 2002