Chilcot Report: Will Tony Blair Face Trial as a War Criminal?

Tony Blair
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Sedgefield, April 7, 2015. Tony Blair said his future was an 'open question' in an interview with British Esquire. Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Is Tony Blair a war criminal? The charge has been levelled against the former U.K. prime minister countless times, especially by those on the far left of British politics, since he led the nation to war in Iraq in 2003.

With the publication of the report of the Chilcot Inquiry into the war on Wednesday, the issue of the war's legality has surfaced once again. The inquiry looked into Britain's involvement in the conflict between 2001 and 2009, and according to reports is likely to criticize Blair and other senior politicians for decisions taken during that time.

Some have even suggested that Blair's successor as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a stalwart of the British anti-war movement, may call for the former prime minister to be put on trial following the report's publication. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor and a close ally of Corbyn, did not rule this out as an option in an interview on Sky News on Sunday.

The legitimacy of the coalition invasion of Iraq in international law was a subject of heated debate before, during and after the intervention. In 2004, then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said it was "illegal," as it was not sanctioned by the U.N. security council or in accordance with the U.N.'s founding charter. But Blair himself has never faced any charges.

Those who think Blair should be censured had two separate hopes for the report. One is that the International Criminal Court might use it as a prompt to put the former premier on trial.

That seems unlikely to happen. The court said in a statement that it would consider the report as part of a "preliminary examination" into whether it should open an investigation into the war. But it said that "the specific question of the legality of the decision to resort to the use of force in Iraq in 2003—or elsewhere—does not fall within the legal mandate of the Court."

The other possibility for Blair's opponents comes via former SNP leader Alex Salmond. Salmond is expected to lead a group MPs calling for Blair to be impeached, using an old law whereby he could be summoned for trial in parliament and barred from holding public office by the decision of a majority of MPs, The Guardian reported.

Even if the process were triggered, it seems unlikely a majority of elected MPs would officially condemn a former prime minister for the war in this way.

Blair has strenuously denied breaking the law. "I'm accused of being a war criminal for removing Saddam Hussein—who by the way was a war criminal—and yet Jeremy is seen as a progressive icon as we stand by and watch the people of Syria barrel-bombed, beaten and starved into submission and do nothing," he told Bloomberg last month.

The former prime minister has also apologized for some aspects of the invasion and its aftermath, including "mistakes" in planning for what would happen after the dictator Saddam Hussein was removed. But, he told CNN last year, "I find it hard to apologize for removing Saddam."