Iraq: The war was illegal

Then Attorney General Goldsmith was 'pinned to the wall and bullied into keeping quiet' while the Prime Minister kept the Cabinet in the dark

Tony Blair will be quizzed over a devastating official memo warning him that war on Iraq would be illegal eight months before he sent troops into Baghdad, it was claimed last night.

The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war will consider a letter from Lord Goldsmith, then Mr Blair's top law officer, advising him that deposing Saddam would be in breach of international law, according to a report in The Mail on Sunday.

But Mr Blair refused to accept Lord Goldsmith's advice and instead issued instructions for his long-term friend to be "gagged" and barred from cabinet meetings, the newspaper claimed. Lord Goldsmith apparently lost three stone, and complained he was "more or less pinned to the wall" in a No 10 showdown with two of Mr Blair's most loyal aides, Lord Falconer and Baroness Morgan. Mr Blair also allegedly failed to inform the Cabinet of the warning, fearing an "anti-war revolt".

Lord Goldsmith allegedly threatened to resign over the issue, but was "bullied" into backing down. He eventually issued carefully drafted qualified backing for the invasion.

But according to The Mail on Sunday, his advice was radically different in July 2002, when ministers were allegedly told the US and UK planned "regime change" in Iraq. Then Lord Goldsmith reportedly wrote a letter to Mr Blair on 29 July, flagging up the legal difficulties of the plan of campaign he had apparently thrashed out with President George Bush. The letter pointed out: (1) Although UN rules permitted "military intervention on the basis of self-defence, they did not apply in this case as Britain was not under threat from Iraq; (2) While the UN allowed "humanitarian intervention" in certain cases, that too was not relevant to Iraq; (3) It would be very hard to rely on earlier UN resolutions in the Nineties approving the use of force against Saddam.

Lord Goldsmith ended by saying "the situation might change" – although, in legal terms, it never did. The advice, and the decision to commit it to an official record, reportedly caused great friction between the two men, as it was feared publication of the details could undermine the case for war and damage Mr Blair's credibility.

The revelations follow testimony from a series of by figures at the Chilcot inquiry who have questioned Mr Blair's judgement and honesty, and the legality of the war. The Independent on Sunday understands, after only four days of testimony, the former prime minister was already furious that his reputation could be "shredded" by senior civil servants taking revenge on him during the inquiry into the Iraq conflict, it emerged last night.

Mr Blair has been appalled by the high-profile evidence given by mandarins who have appeared before the Chilcot inquiry since the first round of public hearings began last Tuesday, close friends have revealed. His image has taken a battering over the past six days, as a series of current and former public servants have given evidence that conflicts with the Government's account of the intelligence assessment of Iraq's weapons capability before the invasion in March 2003.

Among the devastating details presented to the inquiry was the revelation that British spies reported 10 days before the invasion that Iraq had "disassembled" what chemical weapons it had – but Mr Blair went ahead and sent troops into battle. Britain's former ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, claimed Mr Blair and Mr Bush had signed a secret deal "in blood" to remove Saddam almost a year before the invasion. He said the agreement in effect left officials scrabbling to find "a smoking gun" to justify going to war.

Mr Blair's friends claimed last night that he has found some of the evidence given so far "distasteful", and potentially damaging to his reputation. "It is clear that the headlines so far have not been helpful to him," a former minister said. "But more troubling is the sense that some of the people involved are so keen to stick the knife in. It is quite distasteful."

Another Blair ally said the former leader had made clear his concern that "his reputation could be shredded by the Chilcot process". "He is furious that mandarins are seeking revenge and discovering their principles after the event," one friend added.

Sir Christopher Meyer has attracted much criticism from Blairites following a flamboyant appearance during which he claimed Mr Blair's view on "regime change" in Iraq hardened after a private meeting with Mr Bush in 2002. He also compared Mr Blair unflatteringly to Margaret Thatcher. The former diplomat told the inquiry on Thursday: "She would have insisted on a clear, coherent political/diplomatic strategy and I think she would have demanded the greatest clarity about what the heck happened if and when we removed Saddam."

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who worked beside Mr Blair in his attempts to gain UN blessing for the invasion, said the war was of "questionable legitimacy" even though it is unlikely to be proved illegal. The former UK ambassador to the UN said the invasion did not have the backing of most UN members or the British public.

Mr Blair assured MPs in the run-up to the invasion that "extensive, detailed and authoritative" intelligence showed "beyond doubt" that Saddam had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons; tried to develop nuclear weapons; and that he had already produced chemical weapons – and used them on his own people. His government produced two dossiers on Saddam's weapons capability, to back up the case for war.

It has since been shown that much of the intelligence received by the Government in the run-up to the war was confused and inaccurate. Sir William Ehrman, the Foreign Office director general for defence and intelligence at the time, told the inquiry that a report suggested Saddam may not have been able to use chemical weapons. A separate report suggested Iraq might also "lack" warheads capable of spreading chemical agents.

Tim Dowse, the director of counter-proliferation at the Foreign Office between 2001-2003, said most evidence suggested Iraq's chemical and biological programme was largely "destroyed" in 1991. He said intelligence in late 2002 suggested Iraq was rebuilding its capability, although its actual position was unclear after weapons inspectors were expelled in 1998.

And now it appears the inquiry could become more uncomfortable for Mr Blair. It is understood the Chilcot panel has already been given Lord Goldsmith's letter. The two are both likely to be interrogated about it when they give evidence in the new year.

Critical evidence from key figures to Chilcot inquiry

Sir Peter Ricketts "We quite clearly distanced ourselves from talk of regime change... that was not something we thought there would be any legal base for."

Sir William Patey "We were aware of those drumbeats from Washington [about regime change]. Our policy was to stay away from that end of the spectrum."

Sir Michael Wood "[Establishing no-fly zones over Iraq] was very controversial ... The US government was very careful to avoid taking any real position on the law."

Sir William Ehrman "We did, on 10 March, get a report that chemical weapons might have remained disassembled and Saddam hadn't yet ordered their assembly."

Sir Christopher Meyer "Suddenly, because of the unforgiving nature of the military timetable, we found ourselves scrabbling for the smoking gun."

Sir Jeremy Greenstock "I regarded our participation in the military action against Iraq in March 2003 as legal, but of questionable legitimacy."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam