24 June, 2012

The 2003 Iraq War - legality

Shock and Awe
The legality of the 2003 Iraq War - a war embraced enthusiastically by Prime Minister Tony Blair - is a controversial question and, following the publication of diaries by Alistair Campbell, it has been raised again by an article in The Independent 24th June 2012.  It is claimed in the article that the Attorney-General of the day - Lord Goldsmith QC - was prevented by Blair from informing the Cabinet of the complete legal advice.

At the time, Robin Cook MP resigned from the government and a Foreign & Commonwealth Office Legal Adviser Elizabeth Wilmshurst resigned.

The Chilcot Inquiry is preparing its report but there are now some calls for it to reconvene to hear evidence of this matter.

The Chilcot Inquiry has published many documents relating to the Iraq War, including advice given by the Attorney-General to the Prime Minister.  The Inquiry also invited international lawyers to make submissions about the legality of the war - Watching the Law 30th June 2010.

See "The invasion of Iraq was lawful" - Head of Legal blog - 27th January 2010.  The view of Lord Bingham of Cornhill (1933-2010) was expressed at the annual Grotius Lecture delivered at Lincoln's Inn on 17th November 2008.  As a judge - (Bingham was formerly Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice and Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary) - he had remained silent on the question of legality.  After his retirement, he expressed the view that the invasion was a "serious violation of international law."

Law and Lawyers - Lord Bingham of Cornhill

Extract from the Independent article - Blair's road to war
29 July 2002
Lord Goldsmith writes to Blair that regime change in Iraq is "not a legal basis for military action".
24 Sept 2002
"Dodgy dossier" in which Blair claims it is "beyond doubt" that Saddam has WMD.
22 Oct 2002
In submission to Chilcot, Lord Goldsmith says "my advice was not sought" after this date.
January 2003
Blair tells MPs there were some circumstances where a second UN resolution "not necessary".
30 Jan 2003
Goldsmith warns Blair lawfulness of invasion debatable without UN Security Council determination.
February 2003
Goldsmith advises the "safest legal course" was to gain fresh UN approval.
17 Mar 2003
Lord Goldsmith publishes advice declaring military action "legal", giving "green light for military action".
21 Jan 2011
Blair tells Chilcot inquiry he "did not understand how Lord Goldsmith could reach the conclusion that a further [UN] decision was required" in January 2003.


James Wilson said...

The legality of the war is a valid question, but essentially a sideshow. The important questions are:

1. For what reasons did the government believe war was the best option? Presumably this was a combination of intelligence regarding Iraq's threat and a general policy that it was in Britain's interest to follow the United States regardless.

2. To what extent did 1 above vary from the reasons presented to Parliament and the general public, and why?

3. What preparation was made for the aftermath of the fall of the Saddam regime?

Point 3 is actually the most important. The first three weeks of the campaign were a blinding success, the disaster started the day after the regime fell. I wrote about this for the New Law Journal (see http://timesandotherthings.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/chilcott-again.html). The fact is that if post-war Iraq had turned into the Switzerland of the Middle East no-one would care less about questions 1 and 2 above.

ObiterJ said...

James, thank you for your comment and link to your interesting article:

New Law Journal article and

A(nother) lawyer writes

Personally, I have always believed that there would have been no real interest in Iraq but for oil. Also, the personality of Tony Blai played a huge part given his passion to be some sort of saviour of the world!

I entirely agree with 3. The outcome of shock and awe was never in doubt. (I am not sure that the casualties were minimal but we don't actually have figures). The planning for the aftermath was abysmal.

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