British Prime Minister’s Iraq War Decision: Secretive, Deceptive, Misleading

Clare Short, former Cabinet minister for international development in British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet at the time Iraq was invaded in March 2003, testified before the Iraq inquiry today (February 2, 2010).

Short confirmed a picture of exclusion and secrecy in official deliberations prior to Britain’s decision to launch the invasion of Iraq with the United States and minor allies in what President George W Bush called the ‘coalition of the willing’. She was the second member of Tony Blair’s Cabinet to resign in May 2003, two months after ex-foreign secretary and then leader of the House of Commons, Robin Cook, walked out on the eve of the invasion.

Clare Short said that Blair and ‘his mates’ decided war was necessary and everything was done on ‘a wing and a prayer’. She accused Blair’s personal friend and Attorney General Lord Goldsmith of misleading the Cabinet. She said Cabinet was not a ‘decision-making body’ and called Parliament a ‘rubber stamp’.  

She said the Cabinet was not told that Goldsmith secretly asked Blair on March 14, 2003 to give a written confirmation that Saddam Hussein was in breach of previous UN resolutions.

Meanwhile, the senior legal adviser at the British Foreign Office, Sir Michael Wood, whose objections about the legality of going to war were vetoed by government, submitted a second written statement to the inquiry.  Entitled The Rights and Responsibilities of Occupying Powers, the statement made clear that, after Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, the United States and Britain as occupying powers were legally responsible for maintaining public order and safety; and respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in Iraq.

These provisions are stipulated in the 1907 Hague Regulations and the Forth Geneva Convention of 1949.

Sir Michael said: “While some changes to the legislative and administrative structures may be permissible if they are necessary for public order and safety, more wide-ranging reforms of governmental and administrative structures are not lawful … The Forth Geneva Convention prohibits, subject to limited exceptions, any alteration in the status of public officials.”

The implications of actions by occupying powers in violation of these duties and responsibilities under international law are enormous. Regardless of them, Paul Bremer, the first administrator of Iraq, dissolved the country’s administrative structure, the armed forces and the police by Orders Number 1 and 2 in the wake of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Those actions, more than any other, created a vacuum in Iraq with disastrous consequences.

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