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What the Chilcot inquiry says about Britain’s decision to invade Iraq

Former British prime minister Tony Blair reacts to the sweeping Chilcot report of Britain's role in the Iraq War, which blamed the country’s political, military and intelligence leadership for a conflict that could have been avoided and that ended “a very long way from success.” (Video: AP)

LONDON — British investigators on Wednesday released a damning report on Britain's decision to invade Iraq with U.S. allies in 2003 to topple the regime of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. The report — which runs a staggering 2.6 million words — is based on seven years of work led by the retired civil servant, Sir John Chilcot.

It offers a highly critical look at the government's prewar preparations and the consequences of the invasion that led to the deaths of roughly 150,000 Iraqis when British soldiers departed in 2009.

Long-awaited British inquiry into Iraq war finds failure at multiple levels

Some of the report's main findings include:

• Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush as an "essential demonstration of solidarity" with the U.K.'s principal ally. The decision allowed the United States to dictate the terms and timing of the military invasion.

• At the time of the invasion, in March 2003, the diplomatic options by both Blair's government and the international community to eliminate Hussein's alleged chemical and biological weapons had not yet been exhausted. "Military option was not a last resort," the report says.

• The intelligence material used to support the case for war was limited, but prepared in a way to bolster government statements in favor of the invasion. The intelligence did not prove Hussein's weapons capabilities, and it was not challenged by senior government officials.

• In the run-up to the ground invasion, there was not enough time to prepare three British military brigades for deployment. The poor preparation led to "serious equipment shortfalls" among British troops on the ground.

• Clear warnings about the risks and consequences of an invasion of Iraq were ignored, including the possibility of sectarian violence, civil war, and the rise of jihadist-style groups like al-Qaeda.

• The complete lack of planning for the post-conflict period meant that the U.K. was setting itself up for "strategic failure" in Iraq. Throughout the planning process, the U.K. "assumed that the U.S. would be responsible for preparing the post-conflict plan."

• As a result, the U.K. "failed to achieve the goals it had set for a new Iraq," the report says. Political, economic, and social reconstruction were severely hampered.