Menzies Campbell: Iraq was always wrong. Now we have proof

The Chilcot inquiry confirms what most suspected – the reasons for war were bogus. In future, such decisions must be transparent

Sunday, 25 July 2010


Not in our name: Thousands of
voters marched against the war in Iraq on 15 February 2003, but their
convictions were ignored by politicians

    It was almost exactly eight years ago that
    the public beat of the Washington war drums became so loud and insistent
    that it could no longer be ignored. But we now know that for quite some
    time before July 2002 Tony Blair and George Bush had been engaged in a
    dialogue of the determined with regime change in Iraq at the top of
    their agenda.

    Before Chilcot, we had to rely on leaked
    documents such as telegrams from diplomats, accounts of meetings held
    round the sofa at No 10, and, for lawyers, the crown jewels of the
    Attorney General’s written advice to the Prime Minister. The Hutton and
    Butler inquiries helped to fill in some of the blanks, though qualified
    by their restricted remits and security considerations. But slowly and
    with only occasional fanfare the whole sad, sorry story is being
    systematically laid out in evidence before the Chilcot inquiry. Chilcot
    has not been about surprises but rather about confirmation, less about
    revelation and more about corroboration of what we thought we knew.

    John Chilcot has made it clear that his committee is not a court of law
    and that no findings of legality will be made but just by exposing to
    public scrutiny the process by which legal advice was tendered and
    disregarded, he has provided more than enough evidence in support of the
    proposition that military action against Iraq was illegal.

    This was the central plank of the Liberal Democrat
    case against war as Nick Clegg reminded the House of Commons on
    Wednesday. In the aftermath, the attention was upon whether he made that
    statement as an individual or as a member of the Government. Much more
    telling was the lack of reaction of the Labour benches in the Commons,
    including the candidates for leadership, not one of whom will now
    endorse the decision to go to war in March 2003 which they then
    supported. Every one a denier, a Simon Peter.

    illegality was then and is today easily stated. Article 2 (4) of the
    United Nations Charter prohibits regime change. It is hardly surprising
    that a treaty formed immediately after the Second World War should do so
    since the Axis powers ignored the sovereignty, territorial integrity
    and political independence of those whom they sought to annexe or
    conquer – just as the action against Iraq did.

    Charter of the UN is not the only source of international law. Custom
    and convention also play a part. It is a principle of customary
    international law that military action can only ever be justified when
    all other political and diplomatic alternatives have been exhausted.
    Until they were forced to leave Iraq by the impending military action,
    the UN inspectors were still doing their job, as were those of the
    International Atomic Energy Agency. They were still receiving sufficient
    co-operation from the Iraqis in the search for WMD. In short, all the
    diplomatic alternatives had not been exhausted. Military action breached
    both the UN Charter and customary international law.

    has been most instructive about Chilcot is the fact that all of these
    arguments were before the Prime Minister, although not, apparently,
    before the Cabinet! But notwithstanding the legal objections or the
    predicted consequences for the security of British citizens– as we
    learned last week from the former head of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller –
    the Prime Minister and those immediately close to him were determined to

    When one considers the public
    opposition in the street, the opposition of so many in the House of
    Commons, the illegality of what was being proposed, the risks to life
    and limb, the threat of terrorism at home and abroad, the potential
    damage to reputation and the rule of law, and the unknown consequences
    of toppling Saddam Hussein, two things stand out. First, the unshakeable
    determination of Tony Blair to press ahead regardless and, second, the
    unwillingness of Cabinet to assert its authority and rein him in. Were
    they supine, seduced or submissive? Why did Robin Cook’s brave stand not
    encourage others?

    We have, in effect, left
    Iraq. Its tribulations no longer make the front page. Its current
    political impasse seems none of our business, although both the ambition
    of its neighbour Iran, and Turkish resistance to Kurdish aspirations in
    northern Iraq, should compel us to bear in mind Iraq’s regional
    strategic significance.

    So does Iraq matter in
    Britain? Will Chilcot’s conclusions change anyone’s views? Will there be
    concerted cries of mea culpa? Should we lay in stocks of sackcloth and
    ashes? Hardly, but it does matter because its influence, overt and
    subliminal, has been profound.

    As Baroness
    Manningham-Buller pointed out in her carefully weighed evidence last
    week, a generation of young British Muslim men became susceptible to
    radicalisation (you could argue that it is remarkable so few succumbed)
    because of their distaste for the Iraq adventure. But the consequences
    for the security services have been enormous in terms of resources,
    public exposure and scrutiny.

    British forces, and the Army
    in particular, were put under unexpected and unsustainable pressure. We
    squandered reputation and resources. We lost too many fine young men
    and women. But the impact goes wider than that. The reaction against
    sofa government has produced a commitment to transparency far beyond
    anything previously seen. Iraq has provoked a debate about the
    prerogative powers of the Prime Minister, not least in relation to the
    power to take this country to war. A War Powers Act, akin to that which
    the Commander-in-Chief and President of the United States has to
    observe, may yet be the outcome.

    Nor are
    domestic matters only affected. The debate in recent years about our
    relationship with the US, sharply focused by David Cameron’s visit last
    week, is framed not only by the changed priorities of the Obama administration but also by British reticence to be so close to our principal ally. Iraq casts a long shadow.

    In The Independent on Sunday
    on 16 February 2003, the day after a million people marched through
    London, I wrote "… most of those who were marching almost certainly
    understand the deception and ambition of Saddam. What they don’t accept
    is that military action is justified. They are not persuaded that
    containment and deterrence need to be abandoned. They do not accept that
    all diplomatic and political alternatives have been exhausted to the
    point that military action as a last resort is legitimate. They fear the
    consequences of war in the Middle East and they want justice and a
    homeland for the Palestinians. In short, public opinion in this country
    has arrived at a credible foreign policy. This is not anti-Americanism
    but a lack of confidence in the Bush administration – and a fear that
    the United Kingdom might end up acting like the 51st state of the

    The public got it right. It is a great pity the politicians got it wrong.

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