Tony Blair continues to court controversy as more revelations emerge about his decisions to take the country to war.
The official inquiry into the Iraqi war, headed by senior civil servant John Chilcott, finally began on 24th November, six years after the invasion.
Set up by Gordon Brown in June of this year after mounting public concern over the continuation of the war, the inquiry was originally to be held private examining the UK’s involvement in Iraq from mid-2001 to July 2009, but is now open to public scrutiny after accusations of a government stitch-up.
The inquiry, whose findings won’t be published until after the next election, will interview all the major players, including Tony Blair, who will give evidence of the UK’s involvement in the run-up to the conflict, the subsequent military action and its aftermath to establish, according to the brief, the way decisions were made, to determine what happened and to ensure that in a similar situation in future, the government is “equipped to respond in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country”.
Already information is being revealed that confirms what many anti-war activists have always advocated – the war was not legal and reasons for going to war was based on fraudulent information intended to deceive parliament and the British public. Regime change was the driving force behind George Bush’s decision to go to war, although its legality was never established, and which Tony Blair was complicit in despite the warnings.
Sir William Patey, head of Middle East policy at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) at the time, told the inquiry: “We had at the end the regime-change option. We dismissed that at the time as having no basis in law.”
Sir Peter Ricketts, then the political director at the FCO, went on to confirm: “We quite clearly distanced our self from regime change. It was clear that was something there would not be any legal base for.”
A Cabinet Office paper drawn up at the time warned: “A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to law officers’ advice, none currently exists. This makes moving quickly to invade legally very difficult.”
The final justification for going to war came in Tony Blair’s speech to the Commons where he described Saddam’s weapons programme as “active, detailed and growing” and said the picture emerging was “detailed and authoritative”.
Sir William Ehrman, the Foreign Office’s director of international security at the time, told the inquiry that ministers were repeatedly warned over the limits of intelligence on Iraq. “We did get a report that chemical weapons might have remained disassembled and Saddam hadn’t yet ordered their assembly. There was a suggestion that Iraq might lack warheads capable of effective dispersal of agents.”
A senior law lord, Lord Steyn, has already demanded an interim report for “the inquiry to conclude that in the absence of a second UN resolution authorising invasion, it was illegal”.
Blair himself is to face the inquiry earlier next year, although Gordon Brown, the then Chancellor who bankrolled the war, has not be called to give evidence.