The world and its wife broadly agree that the Iraq war
turned out to be a disaster on multiple fronts. Not only was it cooked up on
false pretexts, it robbed the lives of over a million civilians, insurgents and
military personnel. It has cost coalition countries up to one trillion dollars.
It has also been judged illegal by the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
while a recent Dutch probe found that it had �no basis in international law.�
Its repercussions are even more far-reaching. Saddam Hussein
didn�t have too many fans inside Iraq or abroad but his regime stood as a
buffer to Iranian ambitions, which are now enjoying free rein throughout the
This was a war of aggression equating to mass murder yet,
until now, nobody has been made to pay. Indeed, the invasion�s main instigators
US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have simply
been allowed to stroll away from the carnage untarnished -- Bush to
semiretirement in Texas while Blair was rewarded with the post of the Middle
East Quartet�s envoy.
George Bush is wisely keeping a low profile but ahead of his
exit from the White House in 2008, he did admit that Iraq was his biggest
regret while disingenuously blaming �intelligence failures� for his mistake. I
use the word disingenuous because, as we now know, there was no hard
intelligence on Iraq�s WMD, only presumption.
Blair, on the other hand, has consistently maintained that
he did the right thing. �It was what I believed in and I still do believe it,�
he told the London Times in 2007. More recently, in December, he provoked cries
for war crimes prosecution when he admitted that he would have invaded Iraq
even if there were no evidence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
Saddam Hussein�s regime was reason enough to invade, he insisted, even though
regime change is not considered a legal casus belli.
This coming Friday, Tony Blair will be called upon to
justify his actions before Britain�s Iraq inquiry held under the chairmanship
of career diplomat Sir John Chilcott. It will be fascinating to see whether
Blair�s natural boyish charm, sincere demeanor and self-deprecating humor will
work its magic on the five-member panel.
Blair may be a master manipulator but he has, thus far,
failed to convince the thousands of anti-war demonstrators planning one of the
biggest political demonstrations in years around London�s Queen Elizabeth
Conference Center during Blair�s five-hour question session. These include
angry families of Britain�s fallen soldiers.
On this occasion, �Teflon Man� may be in for a rough ride.
In recent months, his ministers and closest aides have been running like rats
from a sinking ship trying to dissociate themselves from their former boss.
Many are speaking out loudly after the fact whereas, at the time, they behaved
more like rabbits, preferring to publicly back an illegal war rather than risk
losing high office.
Only three had the guts to stand up to be counted: the late
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, former Secretary of State for International
Development Clare Short and former Foreign Office lawyer Elizabeth Wilmshurst,
who quit after telling her superiors that invading Iraq without UN blessing
would be �a crime of aggression.�
Katharine Gun, who was a translator for British
Intelligence, was also courageous. She blew the whistle on the illegal
US/British push to invade Iraq -- in particular a plan to bug the offices of
six UN member countries whose votes were uncertain. She was charged under the
Official Secrets Act but the case was eventually dropped due to fears that
sensitive documents submitted to trial would be leaked to the public. Gun has
since become an anti-war movement icon.
The biggest turncoat has been former Foreign Secretary Jack
Straw, who used his powers of persuasion to full effect in the UN Security
Council in an attempt to bring France and Germany on board. On April 1, 2003,
he had this to say to the world: �Until his long reign of terror is ended,
Saddam Hussein will remain a scar on the conscience of the world . . .�
However, just a year earlier, Straw wrote to Tony Blair questioning the war�s
legality and expressing strong doubts as to the wisdom of invading. Last week,
he told the Chilcott inquiry that backing military action was one of the
hardest decisions he ever had to make. He also admitted that the 45-minute
claim in one of Blair�s dodgy Iraq dossiers �was an error that has haunted us
ever since.� Straw says he knew that his support was critical and suggests
without it Britain could not have joined with its American ally. Yet,
selfishly, the thought of resignation never once occurred to him.
Likewise, letters from Blair�s former close friend former
Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith to Downing Street have been leaked which prove
that Goldsmith realized the potential illegality of the invasion. �I see
considerable difficulties in being satisfied that military action would be
justified on the basis of self-defense,� he wrote on March 28, 2002. He also
wrote that he was unaware of an imminent threat �from Iraq of the sort which
would justify military action without support of a Security Council Chapter VII
A UN resolution sanctioning the use of force was
unobtainable but that did not prevent Goldsmith insisting publicly that the war
was legal. He was later to claim he had been browbeaten by Blair�s aides into
submission and excluded from Cabinet meetings as punishment for his initial
Former Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told the inquiry that he
wrote to the prime minister in 2002 saying he believed Iran was a greater
threat than Iraq, and former intelligence chief John Scarlett heaped blame for
the �Dodgy Dossier�s� misleading foreword firmly on Blair�s lap.
What a lily-livered shower!
On Friday, Blair will have no one to blame but himself and
his pal George Bush. He will no doubt put on his holier-than-thou face and
bluff his way through and will probably escape with little more than a rap on
the knuckles. For, when push comes to shove, the establishment always takes
care of its own.
As a taster of a potential cover-up, Lord Hutton who chaired
an inquiry into the death of Dr. David Kelly -- the government scientist who
claimed evidence against Iraq had been �sexed-up� and was found dead in the
woods shortly after -- has ordered Kelly�s postmortem to remain under wraps for
the next 70 years! Hmm!
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.