Thursday, December 18, 2008

As Britain exits Iraq, calls for an inquiry multiply.

I am pleased to see that politicians of all colours in the UK have reacted in the exact same way as I did to the news that Britain is to withdraw her forces from Iraq by immediately demanding an inquiry into how we got into this war in the first place.

Politicians from across the political divide will today demand an inquiry into the cost, causes and conduct of Britain's operations in Iraq as Gordon Brown returns home after announcing the final withdrawal of troops from the country by July.

Opposition parties believe Mr Brown may allow the long-delayed inquiry to begin next summer but that it will not report until after the next general election, which could be as late as June 2010. Mr Brown will make a statement on Iraq to Parliament today.

Much has leaked out over the past five years regarding the way that the Blair administration cherry picked only the parts of the intelligence which supported Blair's decision to go to war and there have been many people fired and others who resigned over the way the case for war was misleadingly sold to the British people.

Britain's Defense of Intelligence Staff's Deputy Chief John Morrison was fired after he told the BBC, after Blair insisted that Saddam represented a "serious and current threat", that:
"You could almost hear the collective raspberry going up around Whitehall".

"…In moving from what the dossier said Saddam had, which was a capability possibly, to asserting that Iraq presented a threat, then the Prime Minister was going way beyond anything any professional analyst would have agreed."
And, of course, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office, resigned because the attorney general had believed the Iraq war was illegal two weeks before he had his astonishing change of mind. Her resignation letter, in which she made this very point, was censored by the government.

The passage suppressed yesterday has now been seen by this newspaper. In it, Ms Wilmshurst shows that the attorney, Lord Goldsmith, changed his view on the war twice before the invasion.

She says that her view that a war would be illegal was the advice which the FO had consistently given before and after the UN security council resolution 1441, agreed in November 2002.

She says that was also Lord Goldsmith's view until March 7, when he sent a 13-page written legal opinion to Tony Blair.

Ms Wilmshurst does not reveal the content of this advice. However, reports that the attorney warned Mr Blair that British participation in the invasion could be ruled unlawful by an international court have not been denied by the government.

And then, of course, there are the claims by Robin Cook - who also resigned over this war - that Blair knew that Saddam did not have WMD when he ordered the invasion.

Cook continues: "There were two distinct elements to this exchange that sent me away deeply troubled. The first was that the timetable to war was plainly not driven by the progress of the UN weapons inspections. Tony made no attempt to pretend that what Hans Blix [the UN's chief weapons inspector] might report would make any difference to the countdown to invasion.

"The second troubling element to our conversation was that Tony did not try to argue me out of the view that Saddam did not have real weapons of mass destruction that were designed for strategic use against city populations and capable of being delivered with reliability over long distances. I had now expressed that view to both the chairman of the JIC and to the prime minister and both had assented in it.

These are only a few of the questions which have been raised regarding the decision Blair made to take the country to war; there are dozens of other matters which have come to light and gone unanswered as long as the government could hide behind the fact that the country was at war and that such matters would have to wait until the end of hostilities.

But the most important question, and the one which the government has been anxious to avoid any British court from ruling on, is whether or not the invasion was legal.

Lord Bingham, in his first speech since retiring as a law lord, strongly asserted that it was not and called it, "a serious violation of international law".
Adding his weight to the body of international legal opinion opposed to the invasion, Bingham said that to argue, as the British government had done, that Britain and the US could unilaterally decide that Iraq had broken UN resolutions "passes belief".
There have been too many unanswered questions for me to ever to be able to list them all here. But, after five long years, it is long overdue that there should be a public inquiry into (a) the evidence that was presented and whether or not it was presented truthfully, and (b) the question of whether the war was, in fact, legal.

Five years later there are many people who think that the answer to both of those questions is no.

An inquiry is long overdue.

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