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Analysis Last Updated: Jan 27th, 2010 - 00:36:07

Blair faces the hot seat
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 27, 2010, 00:21

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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 region.

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 authorization.�

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 nonsupport.

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!

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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