LONDON — Britain joined the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 despite flawed intelligence, "wholly inadequate" planning and no imminent threat from Iraq's then-leader Saddam Hussein, a long-awaited inquiry concluded Wednesday.
The 12-volume, 2.6-million-word report took seven years to complete and was highly critical of formerPrime Minister Tony Blair, but it stopped short of accusing him of going to war illegally.
John Chilcot, the retired British government official who led the inquiry, told a news conference in the British capital that "the U.K. chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort."
While the inquiry did not express a view on whether the military action was legal, it found that the circumstances the U.K. used to decide that there was a legal basis for such action "were far from satisfactory."
"It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments," said Chilcot.
Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007, responded by saying that the report "should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit."
"Whether people agree or disagree with my decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein; I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country," he said.
The inquiry judged the failures in the military operation, from the invasion to the planning of the war with President George W. Bush to the occupation, after which Iraq descended into sectarian violence from which it has yet to emerge.
Blair has been accused of exaggerating intelligence about Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction in order to build support for the war. By the time British combat forces left Iraq in 2009, the war had killed 179 British troops, almost 4,500 American personnel and more than 100,000 Iraqis.
The inquiry is based on public hearings between 2009 and 2011, evidence from more than 150 witnesses and 150,000 documents. It was launched in 2009 by Prime Minister Gordon Brown but was delayed in part because of attempts to include classified intelligence and private correspondence between Blair and Bush.
Eight months before the invasion, the report revealed that Blair told Bush, "I will be with you whatever."
Anti-war protesters demonstrated outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference center in central London where the report was being unveiled and families of service members killed in the conflict also expressed disappointment with its findings.
Matthew Jury, a lawyer for the families, said they were "saddened that it appeared to be confirmed that their loved ones died unnecessarily." He said that some families were considering launching legal action. Sarah O'Connor, whose brother Bob was killed fighting in the conflict, called Blair a "terrorist."
Chilcot told the BBC ahead of the report's publication he hoped "it will not be possible in future to engage in a military or indeed a diplomatic endeavor on such a scale and of such gravity without really careful challenged analysis and assessment and collective political judgement being applied to it."
Hjelmgaard reported from Berlin