Otoom home page

Back to Parallels


The Report of the Iraq Inquiry

The Report of the Iraq Inquiry [1] would easily be the most comprehensive description of the West's involvement in Iraq so far, although its main concern is the role the United Kingdom played. Over 6,200 pages, it provides details on a vast range of areas covering the initial planning, the political and military build-up, the invasion itself and its aftermath, and the surrounding governmental and social initiatives.

From the perspective of cognitive dynamics the content provides a rich source of information as well. This article makes use of that information to illustrate the patterns which had emerged from the underlying behaviour performed in so many contexts. Since now the focus is on dynamics, the appropriate methodology requires the references to represent functionalities, ie, types of behaviour, and the references point to the locations in the text where they occur. They are examples of a particular type, and their individual listing means they are not the only ones of their kind that can be found in the Report. In complex dynamic systems, such as the wider human activity system encompassing the Iraq conflict in this case, some content here or there does not constitute a pattern; only a recurrence of such content does. Due to the interdependent nature of those systems a specific content may continue to exert its influence in the 'back of people's minds' as it were. Should its manifestation recur we have the proof, provided we have remained with the same system. Those patterns then define its nature. Hence the citations do not necessarily follow the timelines across the entire event. Just as the Report is largely sectioned according to the particular topic under discussion, so does this article group the representative markers standing for their types of functionality.

Specific names had been omitted on purpose since they would refer to a particular content; it is the functionality which is of interest here, representative of the content.

The Report found no evidence of a wilful and improper influence by officials on subsequently published texts (section 4.2, page 281). Yet the mental imagery built around preconceptions, acquired experience along the way, and the feedback mechanism involving action and observed response, is ultimately what constitutes the view we have of the world. As the Report shows, without due care there can be a considerable difference between that and reality.

When the arms build-up in Iraq began to be noticed and suspicions of weapons of mass destruction were raised (s. 1.1, p. 24), the UK's mindset, already preprogrammed by this country's earlier engagements with Iraq (annex 1, p. 221), led British officials once again towards the idea of an engagement which would rectify the situation according to Western ideals as well as its domestic political preferences. Previous experience regarding a tenuous appreciation at best on the side of the British population (a. 1, p. 226) as well as the volatile character of the local demographics (a. 1, p. 224) should have mitigated the enthusiasm; it evidently did not. (At one stage the UK offered Iraq military hardware and even a nuclear reactor (a. 1, p. 232))

From the very beginning the incoming information reinforced the notion that some action was necessary. The manner in which the latter was couched is significant because it points to the wider purpose, expressed in terms of a vision which satisfied a mindset situated within the cognitive space of Western culture.

We find the notion of turning Iraq into a "beacon of democracy in the Middle East" (s. 3.2, p. 411). The prospect of a stable and law-abiding nation (s. 3.3, p. 18), the idea that "the people of Iraq can shake off their captivity" and one day can join a "democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Pakistan" and by doing so inspire "reforms throughout the Muslim world" (s. 3.4, p. 187) formed a mindset that wanted to 'shape a new world' (s. 3.5, p. 252). Whatever would happen "the territorial integrity of Iraq will be absolute" (s. 3.5, p. 354), and it was assumed that after the removal of Saddam Hussein the "skilled and educated people" of Iraq would serve as a "dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region" (s. 3.7, p. 321) and "could make Iraq prosperous and a force for good in the Middle East" (s. 4.2, p. 273). The envisaged "quick and relatively clean victory" (s. 3.8, p. 509) would bring "security to Afghanistan" (s. 3.8, p. 520), although there were warnings that a war could "destabilise the international system in general" (s. 3.8, p. 527). Quite literally Iraq became the target of a "vision" (s. 6.4, p. 218).

With such a construct in place the situation on the ground only fuelled the ambition.

There were the internal unrest and the Kurdish uprising (s. 1.1, p. 30); developments of biological agents such as pneumonic plague and anthrax (s. 1.1, p. 41); an Iraqi plot to assassinate former United States President George HW Bush during a visit to Kuwait which was foiled (s. 1.1, p. 54); the extent of the weapons available to the Iraqi regime raised serious ongoing concerns (s. 1.1, p. 169); smuggling and black markets, always prolific in such an environment, were observed, particularly in oil (s. 1.2, p. 209, 210), as well as the illegal trade involving other Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan and Syria (p. 1.2, p. 254). "Relatively minor, but highly significant, quantities" of proscribed items remained "unaccounted for" (s. 1.1, p. 62). All these combined to produce an increasingly convincing argument for interfering in that nation's affairs.

In addition the Iraqi regime's use of murder and torture and Saddam Hussein attacking other nations provided proof that the country was indeed a source of considerable instability in the region. The perception against Iraq hardened, and the accumulating pieces of information, as incomplete as they sometimes were, filled the overall picture. China's view for example that "three feet of ice could not have accumulated as a result of one day's cold weather" (s. 1.1, p. 97) was also shared by others.

At first a military intervention was not contemplated. Instead, the initiative restricted itself to recommendations and sanctions against the background of the US' commitment to its friends and allies in the Gulf (s. 1.1, p. 71) and winning back "the high moral ground" (s. 1.2, p. 223) to counter a growing antipathy towards the West with Iraq seeing the Security Council as the "pawn" of the US and assisted by the "old imperialist devil, the English policeman" (s. 1.1, p. 115).

Concern was felt, particularly by the US, that the United Nations was not able to provide a solution and that Middle Eastern leaders were blaming the West for the difficulties experienced by the Iraqi people due to the sanctions (s. 1.2, p. 190), a characteristic example of the overall relationship between the Middle East and the West and in itself an example of progression lock where one action prompted another only to reinforce the former in turn. All the while Saddam Hussein positioned himself in the Arab world by selectively supporting Islamic movements (s. 1.2, p. 194). Many countries outside the Islamic realm were connected to some extent (s. 4.4, p. 592), while Western nations used the unfolding events for the opportunities they presented (s. 5, p. 149), (s. 6.1, p. 299), including lobbying for reconstruction contracts (s. 10.1, p. 160).

The idea was not only to get rid of Saddam Hussein but to replace him with someone who would be more in line with Western thinking and governance (s. 1.1, p. 142).

From a cognitive perspective it is instructive to compare the West's formalisms with the fluid mix of disparate ambitions in Iraq.

The entire section 2 demonstrates the formality underpinning the governmental processes and the ongoing attempts to ensure a proper flow of information and adequate responses to such data, a process nevertheless beset with differing political perspectives and agendas. The environment is one of a Western framework with its flowcharts, definitions of scope and chains of responsibility and all wrapped within the self-defining constraints of committees, altogether entirely different from what happens in the Middle East whether on the ground or in centres of power. Within such a structure the information coming from intelligence services (difficult to come by in any case under often highly dangerous circumstances) and its further processing may well resemble a game of Chinese whispers; in fact at one stage the phenomenon has been referred to as such (s. 5, p. 10). Any results from these kinds of processes are bound to be overtaken by events on the ground there (s. 4.3, p. 336), not helped by the sometimes difficult relations between high-ranking officials within the coalition (s. 13.1, p. 459). Under the circumstances this should not come as a surprise.

The attacks in the US on the 11 September 2001 added to the growing urgency to achieve a resolution (s. 3.1., p. 321) and it was still believed the West could bring the Islamic world on its side, paying homage to the by now well-worn concept of the "Middle East Peace Process", while any deeper reflections were dismissed as "wilder pieces of speculation" (s. 3.1, p. 323). They were seen as obstacles, a "trap" even (s. 3.5, p. 204). Those differences continued to be unresolved (s. 3.5, p. 277).

Post 9/11 the perception had begun to solidify to the extent that any other interpretation would be seen as contrary not only to the required definitions but seen as a pullback from the whole enterprise itself (s. 3.8, p. 411). Terrorist organisations like Al Qaida pointed to a geographical extent beyond Iraq and accordingly conceptual hoops had to be jumped through in order to differentiate between types of Muslims where terrorists "profess a perverted and false sense of Islam" (s. 3.8, p. 564). At the same time the constant obstacles thrown up over the years by local demographics based on their religious adherences were overlooked.

The construed differentiation of Muslims necessitated a formal identity that could be associated with terrorism, the "axis of evil" comprising North Korea, Iraq and Iran, and it gelled with the conceptualisation regarding Iraq itself (s. 3.2, p. 391). Hence terrorist organisations were linked to this nation (s. 3.3, p. 39) since this was the entity under focus. Arguments arose therefore as to whether groups such as Al Qaida were associated with Iraq's regime and to what extent (s. 3.5, p. 269), never realising the innate fluidity of Middle Eastern relationships in which that very question becomes virtually meaningless.

Gradually the thoughts moved from containment using sanctions to military action as a viable option to address the overall issue (eg, s. 3.2, p. 421). The view firmed that using force would be the only way to remove Saddam Hussein (s. 3.2, p. 440), although questions were raised whether a new regime would be any better (s. 3.2, p. 472). Increasingly war was seen as unavoidable (s. 3.4, p. 110).

Allowing the phrase 'smoking gun' and "silver bullet" (s. 4.3, p. 320) to creep into the discourse is in line with the need for a more direct conceptualisation of the desired proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was willing to use them (s. 3.6, p. 115). However nuanced the suggestions were among the officials in the US and the UK, it was felt their general populations were informed by a press that translated them into something more superficial and compact (s. 3.2, p. 523). UK and US officials constantly faced the dilemma of trying to be seen as achieving a solution while keeping the regime's brutality in the public awareness. Announcements of this nature became part of the semantic arsenal that drove the coalition towards decisive action (s. 3.4, p. 135). In fact it was recognised that the further towards military action the discussion moved the less did the initial reasons matter (s. 6.1, p. 210).

Nevertheless, the very realistic impression existed among the parties involved in the process, which included the UN, that any resolution would be "very complicated" (s. 3.5, p. 349) and that "ambiguous" language was the best "that could be achieved" (s. 3.5, p. 352). Hence the need to package the available information for the general consumption at street level (s. 4.1, p. 95).

This despite emerging evidence of the manufacture and/or use of chemical and biological weapons (s. 4.3, p.326), of procurement of material for nuclear devices from a number of countries, and of possible linkages with North Korea and Pakistan (s. 4.1, p. 39). Whatever conclusions could be drawn from such information, their interpretation in terms of increasing risks to the US and the UK intensified after 9/11 (s. 4.1, p. 40). The antagonistic actions by the Iraqi regime towards weapons inspectors led to an ever greater conviction that they had something to hide (s. 4.3, p. 307) and (s. 5, p. 53), whether direct evidence existed or not.

In Iraq the situation on the ground provided ample opportunity to assess and analyse the character of this demographic. Although there existed a rather sketchy framework for gathering information before the conflict (s. 6.4, p. 117), certain aspects of life there did come to attention (s. 6.4, p. 134).

A mindset that assumes the US is there to do 'nation-building' in the world (s. 6.4, p. 127) led to the commitment towards an entire range of societal entities (s. 6.4, p. 152) which needed to be 'fixed'. Yet the advice from locals, "anyone who tells you he knows which scenario will unfold doesn't know Iraq" (s. 6.4, p. 186) did not resonate, nor did the thought on the coalition's side that "each population is a complex web of different groups and interests" and the region "could devolve by default to a patchwork collection of tribal leaders and religious figures about whom we know little" (s. 6.4, p. 237).

A materialistic attitude so prominent in the West presents an ongoing problem when dealing with regions where the emphasis is on different matters. The psychological assessment of Saddam Hussein as someone whose first priorities are relative intangibles like reputation and religious and political unity (s. 3.6, p. 10) would be a reflection of the wider demographic. Comments such as "Readers of the paper needed to be reminded of Saddam's unpredictability, and of the fact that his thought processes did not work in a recognisably Western rational and logical way" (s. 4.2, p. 157) and (s. 4.2, p.181) would have been inevitable. Against this background the assumption regarding weapons of mass destruction gained even more importance, especially in the case of a severe threat to Saddam Hussein himself which could prompt him to evoke a kind of cataclysmic conclusion to his own existence (s. 4.2, p. 161), (s. 4.3, p. 376).

The invasion began on the 20 March 2003 (s. 8, p. 19). The military operation, planned and organised with due care despite a lack of comprehensive intelligence about conditions on the ground (s. 8, p. 59) and resistance here and there (s. 8, p. 31), was successful. UK forces entered Basra on the night of 6/7 April (s. 8, p. 69) and by the 16 April "organised Iraqi resistance had ceased" (s. 8, p. 85).

What happened next mirrored the vague definitions used from the outset.

Keeping the overall intent in mind, the US-coined phrase "ignore the Germans, punish the French and forgive the Russians" (s. 9.1, p. 132) could only complicate matters.

For the coalition, justifying the role as an "occupying power" naturally invoked a number of additional goals, on a higher (s. 9.1, p. 145) as well as on a lower scale (s. 9.1, p. 160) and (s. 9.1, p. 192).

That far more ambiguous plan with its long wish list (s. 9.2, p. 301) started to create difficulties (s. 9.2, p. 213) with the list getting ever longer (s. 9.2, p. 353). It spanned a considerable range of infrastructure including "reform of the judiciary, security sector and police reform, demobilisation, reform of government and its institutions, the education system, and the banking system" (s. 10.1, p. 29). There also was the odd lone voice: "It shouldn't have been impossible to work out that we were going to have problems", "It requires quite a complex constitutional political process", and "we should have been thinking about these issues right from the beginning" (s. 9.2, p. 337).

In cognitive terms a modern organised society is so much more than a however well-articulated list of icons. It comprises everything from the broad conceptualisation of governance to brushing one's teeth every morning, all gradually developed over centuries. Yet globally speaking this is an exception.

In Iraq an "increased and vicious sectarianism" (s. 9.4, p. 524) was noted as the months went by, and remarks such as "Criminality, jockeying for patronage and leaders' differing political visions are being exacerbated by tribalism and increasing religiosity" (s. 9.4, p. 534), made in 2005, are telling.

The political instability can be gleaned from comparing the parties participating in the January 2005 elections (s. 9.3, p. 472) with those standing in December 2005 (s. 9.4, p. 577), barely 12 months later (both ordered alphabetically):

January 2005 elections
December 2005 elections
Al-Rafideen National List
Al-Rafidain (Assyrian Christians)
Iraqi List
Al-Risaliyun (Progressives)
Iraqis Party
Iraqi Front for National Dialogue (Hiwar)
Islamic Action Organisation in Iraq
Iraqi Tawafuq (Consensus) Front
Kurdistan Alliance
Iraqi Turkmen Front
Kurdistan Islamic Group
Kurdish Alliance
Liberation and Reconciliation Gathering
Kurdish Islamic Union
National Democratic Alliance
Liberation & Reconciliation Gathering
National Independent Cadres and Elites Party
Mithal Al-Alousi
People's Union (Communist)
National Iraqiya List
Turkoman Iraq Front
Other parties/invalid votes
United Iraqi Alliance/Coalition
United Iraqi Alliance
Yezidi Movement

The sheer number and the sectarian nature of the names is striking, but especially so when considering that these are the ones which had emerged as more or less formal entities out of the entire mix of tribal interests, let alone all those who boycotted the elections in the first place. No wonder a "certain gloom" was being felt about the prospects for the country (s. 9.3, p. 486).

The future, so enthusiastically envisaged by the neat formalisms of Western-style bureaucracy, well-defined political layers, and cultural presumptions was instead moulded by the Iraqis themselves, with most of their "concepts of the future Iraq [being] increasingly defined in terms of their own sectarian interests" (s. 9.5, p. 55). And so, given the overall nature of this demographic, "Violence continues to escalate" (s. 9.5, p. 55), with militias asserting their own claims to power (s. 9.5, p. 92), and sectarian interests from outside also playing a role with Afghanistan becoming more and more a burden (s. 9.5, p. 145). The composition of the militias, supposed to assist with security, turned out to be a mixture of sectarian groups (s. 12.1, p. 304).

In 2005 the question was asked, "A cultural shift (on, eg, abuse, corruption) will take years. Are we prepared to commit mentors and advisers for years to come?" (s. 12.1, p. 265); an opinion that had not occurred for the first time.

By 2007 the newly elected UK government wanted to be seen as developing a "new strategy" because the situation "remained difficult" (s. 9.6, p. 182), the effort "already reaping diminishing returns" (s. 9.6, p. 199). Each event termed a 'success' was tagged as being accompanied by "further complications" because the "knowledge of what is happening on the ground is shockingly thin" (s. 9.6, p. 222). Some of that knowledge did get through: "violence between rival Shia political parties, backed by their militias, is likely to intensify" (s. 12.1, p. 374), and that "the problem was loyalty" (s. 12.1, p. 378).

Loyalty per se did exist but not across a scope that makes for nation-building in a more settled context. Besides, "criminality and gangsterism remain endemic" (s. 12.1, p. 382).

It became apparent that rather than entering a period of peace the Iraqi people were still suffering, but now from different causes (s. 9.3, p. 444).

With these problems on such a wide front the global financial crisis in 2007 did not improve matters (s. 9.6, p. 245); a typical example of a prolonged initiative being overtaken by other events not on the radar at the time when the initiative was being planned.

In 2008 the idea was to be out by 2009 (s. 9.7, p. 387). By 2009 "Fundamental questions about Iraq's future have not yet been settled" although the UK was "no longer in a position to dictate political, economic and security outcomes in Iraq" (s. 9.7, p. 435). The strategic aims had still not been met, some initiatives had in fact exacerbated the situation (s. 9.8, p. 499).

The hazily defined plan for the country's reconstruction was bound to encounter the very real obstacles at street level.

There were problems with identifying who should be included in the de-Ba'athification process due to the complexity of the demographics involved (s. 11.1, p. 3). Similar questions arose when it came to the security situation in general (s. 12.1, p. 71). Remarks such as, "a British withdrawal would 'be followed by chaos sweeping the province like a hurricane'" (s. 12.2, p. 438) are characteristic.

In concrete terms, how does one disband an army when the army has disbanded itself (s. 12.1, p. 95) and now exists amongst the population anywhere, and how to re-form such a body with all the associated problems of rank and skill levels (s. 12.1, p. 98). The criteria (eg, no affiliation with the Ba'ath party, no criminal history, no reported history of immoral or unethical activity, etc) (s. 12.1, p. 105) would have been virtually impossible to ascertain. At the same time, top-level directives (s. 12.1, p. 124) needed to be adhered to regardless of the situation on the ground; a recipe for failure.

In some situations it came down to what exactly was to be done at a given moment when, say, a coalition soldier came across an Iraqi who could not be readily identified, as happened in the Jameat incident in 2005 (s. 12.1, p. 270) when two UK soldiers mistook four men in civilian clothes for attackers and eventually had to be rescued using armed force.

The studious formality favoured by Western bureaucrats does not work in those environments.

Yet the constant optimism in the face of the impossible always re-emerged. "Personnel were 'of a doubtful quality' but plans were being implemented 'to address these shortcomings'" (s. 12.1, p. 223); "malign militia influence, incompetent personnel and weak national control" (s. 12.1, p. 233) being a recurring theme; and the old habits of an essentially brutish demographic came once again to the fore (s. 12.1, p. 257), only now presumably behind a different uniform.

At times a rather euphemistic language was used, such as "asymmetric forces" which stood for "Fedayeen, Ba'ath Party officials and militia", "other regime officials", "opportunists and criminals and the dissatisfied population" (s. 14.1, p. 14). In terms of cognitive dynamics euphemisms are a clear signal that a disparity between perception and the real exists.

That difference manifested itself during the decision-making process surrounding Iraq's reconstruction, the former derived from an ad hoc assembly of an imaginary concept based on the West's vision and not much else. It resulted in comments such as, "I could not believe the shambles before my eyes. There were around forty people in the room, who, somehow or other, were going to be the nucleus of the government of this large, disputatious and traumatised nation" (s. 15.1, p. 257).

In the end the total cost of the intervention in Iraq between the financial years 2002/03 and 2009/10 was GPB9.24bn or GBP11.83bn in 2016 prices (s. 13.1, p. 445) in monetary terms alone. Those figures do not include relatively smaller amounts spent by other departments.

Military fatalities are covered in section 16.3. It must be said that the handling of the deaths seems by no means to have been a perfunctory exercise (s. 16.3, p. 142).

Further estimates include the indirect costs as well, such as "veterans' future costs, (medical, disability and social security); other social costs; military cost adjustments; interest on debt incurred; and other macroeconomic costs"; circumscribed as the "three trillion dollar war" (s. 13.1, p. 446).

While indications are that the money was not spent for its own sake but handled with care on an item-by-item basis, when it came to the wider scale the expenditure followed the grand vision (s. 13.1, p. 540).

A lack of consideration regarding the overall effects contained within any particular situation did not address the volatile and unpredictable population with shifting allegiances, the removal of a strong man, and the vast amounts of spending on re-establishing the infrastructure (something like GBP1,571,515 (s. 10.2, p. 249)). This was money now available to a population which could make use of those facilities to pursue their sectarian agendas using fraud and corruption, all the while being stoked by the infusion of more funds to keep that hotchpotch economy going. As noted in the Report, "The lack of central authority has encouraged protracted, and occasionally violent, local squabbles over power. Multiple sources of authority persist and carry equal weight..." (s. 10.2, p. 281). Yet, despite Iraq having reaped up to "US$20bn a year" from the rising oil price (s. 10.2, p. 284) with officials wondering where all that money went, 'reconstruction' money was poured into the country in any case.

The Iraq invasion represents a typical example of the West's altruistic guilt complex being apparent in so many other areas around the world, at the same time juggling with political self-interests and reinforced by the popular belief that everyone in the world is the same, answering to Western-style concepts of wants and needs.

A side-effect creates the essential error of not recognising that a victim can be just as cruel and barbaric as the aggressor if given the chance.

Disparate ideologies will always find some reason to act against each other, their respective animosity a result of the intensity of their belief. The wilful disassociation of extreme elements from the rest does not solve the underlying problem because it neglects the phenomenon of the social pyramid where a pro-active intent at the top filters down to its lower levels with gradually diminishing significance. Hence concentrating on an individual alone (such as a Bin Laden, and even Al Qaida as a group) leaves the layers below untouched.

The sheer length of the entire series of events provided ample room for a continuous forming and re-forming of self-serving interpretations on all sides, while Western leaders remained blind to the cognitive contingencies of this or that demographic. That led to initiatives which in the end were bound to be futile and considerable resources were wasted. Ultimately the costs were carried by the tax payers.

There are lessons for Western countries in what happens when the ethnic mix undermines plans that rely on cohesion to be carried out safely and successfully, especially when the players respond in terms of their own specific issues.

The correlation between pre-existing thought structures and newly received information would equally apply to critics who concentrate on this or that aspect and disregard the wider context. For that reason it is arguable whether opponents of the Iraq war, had the decisions been made by them, would have been sufficiently circumspect in order to create a more positive outcome (and with Western security still intact).

On the other hand, a familiarity with cognitive dynamics would have been a definite advantage for any leader. Western interests would have been served better, local groups kept busy with themselves, and political crossovers kept to a minimum.

The criticism is often made that our politicians are too self-centred. Yet it seems they also can be too starry-eyed.

See also:
On the origin of Mind, Part II, p. 132 (2003) [2]
Notes on the Iraq Study Group Report (2006) [3]
Notes on Where is Iraq heading? Lessons from Basra (2007) [4]
Entries under Terrorism in the Special Parallels section (ongoing) [5]

The above use a similar analysis under the perspective of cognitive dynamics. The conclusions reached are the same at any time.


1. J Chilcot, L Freedman, M Gilbert, R Lyne, U Prashar, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/the-report/, UK Cabinet Office, 6 July 2016, accessed on internet 7 July 2016.

2. M Wurzinger, On the origin of Mind - Part II, https://www.otoom.net/books.htm, 2003.

3. M Wurzinger, Notes on the Iraq Study Group Report, https://www.otoom.net/notesontheisg.htm, 2006.

4. M Wurzinger, Notes on Where is Iraq heading? Lessons from Basra, https://www.otoom.net/notesonwhereisiraqheading.htm, 2007.

5. M Wurzinger, Terrorism, https://www.otoom.net/parallels1a.htm#Terrorism, ongoing.

16 July 2016

anchor arrow

© Martin Wurzinger - see Terms of Use