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Will Britain's Iraq War Chilcot inquiry lead to consequences for Tony Blair?

The findings of Britain’s inquiry into the Iraq War are expected to be released Wednesday, bringing former Prime Minister Tony Blair under renewed scrutiny. 

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    Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, shown here in 2009. His decision to commit British forces to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq was hasty and ill-reviewed, said a report released on Wednesday after a seven-year inquiry.
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The findings of the Chilcot Inquiry, an investigation into the British government's handling of the Iraq War, are expected to be released Wednesday. Experts say the decisionmaking of former Prime Minister Tony Blair will likely be highlighted in the report, and critics of Mr. Blair have said they will be considering legal and political action against him following the report's release.

In 2003, Blair and Britain joined then-President George Bush and the United States in invading Iraq to overthrown Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair had argued that the war was necessary to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, but none were found. The war was very unpopular in Britain, as 750,000 people protested the war in 2003: what was believed to have been the country's largest-ever protest at the time. 

The 2.6 million-word report expected Wednesday is the result of a seven-year investigation overseen by Sir John Chilcot, a member of the Queen's Privy Council and a former civil servant. Blair's critics hope the report could lead to civil, criminal, and political consequences for the former prime minister.

Blair will be the "primary target" of the report and his reputation will probably be "severely damaged" as the result of the report, George Joffe, a Middle East expert and visiting professor at King's College London, tells The Christian Science Monitor. 

"It's going to give fuel to those who believe that he should be held personally responsible for what occurred," Dr. Joffe says. 

Family members of some of the soldiers killed in Iraq have retained legal counsel and are considering legal action against Blair, as The Telegraph reported. Many are frustrated by the International Criminal Court's assertion that it will consider the report in studying possible war crimes committed by British soldiers, but that it is outside its realm to examine Blair's push for war. 

"Only after a full and unhurried examination of the reports contents and conclusions, will the families decide what further steps should be taken," Matthew Jury, a lawyer representing the families, told The Telegraph. "However, if it is determined that government officials have acted unlawfully, the families will consider taking whatever action is appropriate and necessary." 

The families' argument revolves around the way intelligence was handled before the war and how the Blair government misused that intelligence to make the case for war, Joffe says. They hold Blair personally responsible, and will likely take civil action against him.

"I doubt whether the report is going to give them the kind of ammunition they need," Joffe says, noting the report is not specifically focused on Blair and not meant to make a ruling on his actions. 

Richard Whitman, director the Global Europe Centre and professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent, tells the Monitor that the lengthy report is significant as it will be the first major in-depth examination of the decisions that lead to Britain's involvement in a war.

Although the findings will likely raise questions about Blair's handling of the situation, he "would be surprised" if it recommends prosecution. "I think it will be a dispassionate, laying out of the facts," Professor Whitman says. 

Although civil cases against Blair "may have some effect", Joffe says criminal action against Blair is unlikely: it's unclear whether he violated any British laws, and the International Criminal Court announced the decision to go to war is outside their jurisdiction. 

Members of the House of Commons, however, are considering pushing for Blair's impeachment, under a British law not used in over 200 years. Although Blair left office in 2007, Britain puts no time limit on impeaching political leaders, and such a move could result in a ban on his ever holding office again, or possibly imprisonment. 

"When the Chilcot report is published, if it’s proved that Tony Blair misled everyone, I personally am determined to see justice prevail and to see him impeached," Sir David Amess, a Tory MP, told The Telegraph. 

Blair apologized for the faulty intelligence in October, but stands behind the decision to use military force to remove Saddam Hussein and has said he would use the inquiry to address his critics. He told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that he was sorry "for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime," but found "it hard to apologize for removing Saddam. I think, even from today in 2015, it is better that he's not there than that he is there." 

"Chilcot has done a thorough piece of research, which means the inquiry certainly is not going to criticize Blair for taking us to war on a lie, because he didn't," John Rentoul, Blair’s biographer, told Time. "Nobody can draw that conclusion from studying the facts."

The report could play into the anti-elite sentiment shown in Britain's vote to leave the European Union, Whitman says.

"It would have had a different complexion if you didn't have the EU referendum issue hanging around," he said. "It could well be that it plays into a narrative that the elite are out of touch and they were taking decisions that weren't in the wider interest."

In February 2003, one month before British lawmakers voted 412 to 139 to authorize the invasion, 29 percent percent of British respondents in a Guardian/ICM poll said they supported the war, while 52 percent opposed it. 

Whitman says the report will "cast a shadow" over future decisions by Britain's leaders, and Jofee agreed the report would have a long-term impact. 

"The longer term consequences, are going to be to make it very much more difficult for any prime minister to be able to take Britain into a foreign conflict on the same basis again," he says. 

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