Britain’s Iraq inquiry reveals more

As we await the appearance of Britain’s ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair before the Iraq Inquiry, recent witnesses have revealed more about the manner in which he made the decision to join President George W Bush to invade Iraq in March 2003.

Former Cabinet Secretary Lord Turnbull, Britain’s most senior civil servant between 2002 and 2005, told the inquiry that those cabinet members who had concerns about invading Iraq were given almost no time to discuss the issue. Lord Turnbull said Prime Minister Blair surrounded himself with those who would not disagree with him. With the exception of Leader of the House of Commons Robin Cook, who resigned after the decision to invade Iraq, “none of [the Cabinet] suggested a serious change of direction … They were all conditioned to buy the intelligence presentations.” Blair had been a ‘regime changer’ from the outset, but felt ‘obliged’ to seek UN permission for the invasion.

The British government’s senior law officer, Lord Goldsmith, had given advice to the Cabinet that was different to the version he gave Prime Minister Blair. All along, Blair has argued that the brief statement Goldsmith subsequently gave the cabinet on the eve of the invasion was a ‘fair summary’ of the attorney general’s latest legal advice. However, it is now known that the only official legal opinion Goldsmith drew up was the one which contained serious caveats about the lawfulness of an invasion.  

Earlier, Blair’s former communications director Alastair Campbell revealed to the inquiry that:  

  • Blair told President George W Bush: If [disarming of Iraq] cannot be done diplomatically, and it has to be done militarily, Britain will be there.
  • The message was contained in letters written by Mr Blair personally and kept “pretty private” among a small group of aides and ministers, and not made part of the normal Whitehall system of document-keeping.
  • Clare Short, the international development secretary, was excluded from key meetings on Iraq, because she could not be trusted to keep sensitive information secret. She did not fully support the government’s position on Iraq.
  • Campbell said the claim that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45-minute was not very significant. “In the discussions [producing the dossier], it wasn’t that big a deal.”
  • The current prime minister Gordon Brown, then chancellor of the exchequer in Tony Blair’s cabinet, was closely involved in discussions on Iraq in the run-up to the war.

These revelations reinforce the following questions –

1 What about the constitutional requirement of collective decision-making and responsibility in cabinet government and legality of a decision reached without an informed and full discussion among all cabinet members?  

2. Did Blair mislead the British Paliament and his Cabinet when they went along with his recommendation to join the US-led invasion of Iraq?

3. If the Iraq invasion was illegal, then should war reparations to the injured parties be paid and by whom?

Meanwhile, an investigation into the Dutch government’s political support for the invasion of Iraq has found that the invasion violated international law. The Dutch inquiry was chaired by former Supreme Court judge Willibrord Davids.