"On March 20, 2003, prime minister Tony Blair ordered British Forces into action against Iraq after telling us Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to Britain and the world.
Thirteen years later, we know the full consequences of Mr Blair’s decision: 179 brave British servicemen and women were killed, and hundreds more were maimed or suffered psychological trauma.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis died as the fall of Saddam led to a vicious sectarian war between the country’s Shia majority and Sunni minority.
President Barack Obama has pointed out that the destruction of Saddam has led to the rise of Islamic State, the most vicious and terrifying terror group the world has known.
So Iraq has turned into one of the greatest disasters in modern history. It is a far bigger error than Sir Anthony Eden’s infamous decision to attempt to reclaim the Suez Canal from Egypt in 1956.
In retrospect, it can be seen as the worst mistake in British foreign policy since Neville Chamberlain struck his notorious deal with Hitler in Munich in 1938.
Indeed, the way in which Tony Blair’s government took us to war in so dishonest a fashion surely marks 2003 as the point when the British people’s already shaky faith in the political class began to crumble into dust.
Now, we need desperately to learn the lessons. And yet for 13 years, the British establishment has covered up the truth about Iraq.
There have been four botched inquiries (including the infamous judicial report chaired by Lord Hutton into the still mysterious death of David Kelly, the government scientist who was found dead in July 2003 after being exposed as the source of claims by the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan that New Labour had ‘sexed up’ the threat from Saddam Hussein).
The fifth inquiry, Sir John Chilcot’s report, was announced by the then prime minister Gordon Brown in June 2009.
It was meant to reach a definitive judgment on the war — and was supposed to last for little more than a year. Then it ran into the sands of bureaucratic inertia and obstruction.
Tomorrow, this monumental investigation, which is said to run to 2.6 million words — almost five times longer than Tolstoy’s War And Peace — will finally see the light of day. Yet there are already reasons to doubt whether Sir John is capable of reaching the fair-minded verdict that will enable the nation — and above all the families of the heroes who died serving their country — to put the Iraq tragedy behind us.
According to advance leaks, Sir John will apportion the blame very widely with several dozen ministers, officials and military figures coming in for criticism.
These same reports also suggest a great deal of the report will concentrate on mistakes made during the occupation of Iraq rather than the decision to go to war in the first place.
If these leaks are true, they suggest that Sir John’s report, like the whitewashed reports that have already been published, will lack focus.
By A dark irony, the timing of the Chilcot report now that it’s finally with us could not be more appropriate. It comes against the sombre background of the total collapse of trust in the governing class.
This came to a head in the decision of the British people to defy all the main political party leaders and vote Britain out of Europe two weeks ago.
Faith in politics has never been lower, and this collapse in trust can be dated very precisely to the decision to go to war in 2003.
The British people and Parliament believed the claims made by its most senior politicians and foreign policy advisers.
It followed them blindly to war, with consequences we still have to live with today.
This is why the Chilcot Inquiry matters a great deal. It is the last chance for the British Establishment to show it can learn the lessons of its failures — and hold those who fail to account.
If Sir John Chilcot and his inquiry fail to achieve this, it will be the final proof that our system of government is broken."