A seven-year public inquiry ordered by the British government into the circumstances and "lessons" of the 2003 invasion of Iraq has concluded that the country's leadership went to war "before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted" and based on flawed intelligence and "wholly inadequate" planning.
The move also undermined the UN Security Council's authority because it failed to get council majority support for military action, the so-called Chilcot Inquiry found.
The 2.6 million-word "report for publication" casts a harsh light on former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, who joined the U.S.-led invasion to unseat Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein warning of a "real and present danger" of "terrorist groups [coming] in possession of WMD," a reference to weapons of mass destruction.
The committee concluded that Blair had confided to U.S. President George W. Bush eight months before the invasion that "I will be with you, whatever" and took the United Kingdom into the conflict despite no imminent threat from Iraq.
Outgoing Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron responded to the Chilcot Inquiry report by saying that those who voted for military action at the time should share the blame, and he called for a two-day debate next week in the House of Commons. He also said that military success is not guaranteed in such ventures even if policy makers get "the process" right.
The inquiry, named after former civil servant John Chilcot, who led the probe, heard from 150 witnesses and analyzed 150,000 documents.
Presenting the conclusions in London on July 6, Chilcot said "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." He added that the Blair government's evaluation of the threat from Hussein's weapons projected "certainty that was not justified."
It is an unwelcome spotlight for Blair, who left power in 2007 and last year publicly apologized "for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime." But the 63-year-old former face of "New Labour" in Britain added that he "find[s] it hard to apologize for removing Saddam" Hussein.
Chilcot said that the legal basis for British military action in Iraq was "far from satisfactory."
Blair responded to the report's findings by saying he acted in Iraq "in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country."
He added that he accepts "full responsibility for any mistakes without exception or excuse."
Blair also expressed "profound regret" at the loss of life and paid tribute to the U.K.'s armed forces.
The Iraq war remains a divisive political topic in the United Kingdom and in many of the dozens of other countries that participated -- overtly or covertly -- in the U.S.-led coalition that invaded Iraq in March 2003.
The dissemination of the report on July 6 attracted antiwar demonstrators -- some of whom are clamoring for Blair to be tried for alleged war crimes -- to the London convention center near Parliament where Chilcot was presenting the findings.
Relatives of some of the 179 U.K. service personnel who died in the 2003 Iraq war also gathered in London to hear the committee's conclusions.
The UN's unanimously approved Resolution 1441 in 2002 gave the Iraqi leader "a final opportunity" to declare all weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and disarm or possibly face "serious consequences," a phrase that many interpreted as a green light for military action.