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Tony Blair faces legality blow over Iraq war

Source:timesonline.co.uk
Author:Richard Woods and Michael Smith
Date:24/01-2010

A top adviser is expected to tell the Iraq inquiry that he warned Blair the war was illegal

TONY BLAIR is expected to face damaging new claims that the invasion of Iraq was illegal when he appears before the inquiry into the war this week.

The inquiry is to hear evidence from Sir Michael Wood, former chief legal adviser to the Foreign Office, who is understood to have consistently told the government that there was no legal basis for war.

Wood is to appear on Tuesday, the same day as Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the former deputy legal adviser at the Foreign Office. Previously attention has focused on Wilmshurst, who resigned at the outbreak of the war, declaring it amounted to a “crime of aggression”.

In public, Wood has always guarded his views and last week he refused to comment before he testifies to the inquiry. However, according to legal sources, he advised “throughout” the run-up to war that invasion would breach international law, unless there was a new United Nations resolution authorising military action.

According to the sources, Wood provided his advice “in writing and orally” and “couldn’t have been clearer” that there was no legal basis for the war. The inquiry has documents detailing his view.

It is already known from an earlier inquiry that intelligence on the Iraqi threat to Britain was “sporadic” and “patchy”, thus undermining self-defence as a justification for war. The only UN resolution authorising military action related to the Gulf war in 1991.

While some Blairites now try to dismiss the issue of legality, it was of vital importance to both Blair and the armed forces as war loomed. Senior military officers demanded confirmation that they and their troops would be acting within international law if they invaded Iraq.

In a desperate bid to ensure legality, Blair sought a “second resolution” from the UN authorising the use of military force. He failed to get it.

After that failure, the opinion of Foreign Office legal advisers remained unchanged: that war would be illegal. This advice was given to Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, and copied to the attorney-general, Lord Goldsmith.

After initially expressing grave doubts about the legality of war, Goldsmith eventually gave Blair and parliament a one-page memo claiming that military action would be legal on March 17, 2003 — just before war started. Goldsmith, who will also appear before the inquiry this week, is widely suspected of being pressurised by Downing Street into giving a ruling in favour of war.

The issue remains highly charged among relatives of the 179 soldiers who died in Iraq, some of whom will attend Blair’s appearance before the inquiry. Peter Brierley, whose son Shaun died in Iraq in 2003, said of Blair: “He’s said recently that he would have got rid of Saddam without WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. But that would have been illegal. He’s condemned himself out of his own mouth.”

Brierley, who confronted Blair last year at a memorial service, added: “I told him he’s a war criminal. He’s got the blood of all the soldiers who died, and thousands of Iraqi civilians, on his hands.”

Reg Keys, whose son Tom was one of six military police killed by a mob in Iraq in 2003, said of Blair’s appearance at the inquiry: “I’d like them to press him on the legal issues. How much pressure did he put on Lord Goldsmith to say it was legal?

“I’d like to know whether Tony Blair feels proud of what he did. How can anyone feel proud of such mass slaughter on the basis of dubious WMD?

“I’d like them to ask him about his interview with Fern Britton when he said if there hadn’t been WMD he would have found another way of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. In February 2003, Tony Blair addressed the House of Commons and he said if Saddam Hussein gave up his WMD he could stay in power. So was it regime change, or was it WMD?”

Earlier this month, a Dutch inquiry into the war, led by a former head of the Dutch Supreme Court, concluded that the invasion had “no sound mandate under international law”. It effectively blamed the British for luring the Dutch into supporting the war on false pretences.

It examined witnesses and evidence from both Holland and Britain, and revealed that Blair had sent a secret personal letter to the Dutch prime minister urging him to support war.

THE DAMNING DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE

Did Tony Blair “sign in blood” to support the US toppling Saddam Hussein almost a year before war started? That is one of the key questions onlookers will want to hear Blair answer when he appears before the inquiry on Friday.

Despite various denials that Blair agreed to “regime change” when he met President George W Bush in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, leaked documents suggest otherwise.

A memo from Sir David Manning, a close aide to Blair, was sent shortly before the Crawford meeting. In it, Manning told Blair of his talks in the US: “I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change.” The most damning evidence comes in a Cabinet Office briefing paper of July 2002. The paper, leaked to The Sunday Times, said: “When the prime minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April, he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change.”