The key questions Blair will face over Iraq

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair makes his long-awaited appearance before the Iraq Inquiry tomorrow. These are some of the key questions he is likely to face.

When did you commit troops to the invasion? What was the extent of the commitment you made about British involvement when you met Bush in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002?

Throughout the hearings, the inquiry team have asked repeatedly about the controversial meeting between the two leaders at President Bush’s ranch. Sir Christopher Meyer, who was the British ambassador in Washington at the time, suggested that the pair may have “signed in blood” a commitment to participate in any invasion. That was denied by Sir David Manning, Blair’s foreign affairs adviser. But doubt remains as Bush and Blair shared a private dinner together, during which the conversation is unlikely to have been restricted to the Texas weather. However, the fact that no one else attended the meeting means that Blair cannot be contradicted on the evidence he gives.

When you visited President Bush in January 2003, did you tell him that Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, had advised that an invasion would be illegal without further permission from the UN? If not, why not?

Lord Goldsmith, Blair’s chief legal adviser, concluded in a draft of his legal opinion handed to the Prime Minister on 14 January 2003 that an invasion was not lawful without further permission from the UN. Before Blair visited Bush again at the end of that month, Goldsmith sent him another memo “to make sure” Blair was clear on his view. Despite his legal warning, a secret minute of the Blair/Bush meeting written by Sir David Manning is said to show that the former Prime Minister did not reveal Goldsmith’s legal advice. However, the peer’s draft advice has not been released by the Government, leaving it to Blair to interpret what he was and was not permitted to say to the President.

What did you write in your secret notes to George Bush and when were they sent?

Alastair Campbell, Blair’s director of communications, told the inquiry that the former Prime Minister sent a letter to Bush in 2002, assuring him that Britain was “absolutely with you” should military action become necessary. The letter has not been released, but it is known that it was not the only letter sent by Blair to the President. It appears that Blair wrote in candid terms about his willingness to allow British troops to participate in military action in the notes, but it is unlikely that they will ever be declassified and published.

Was the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) simply used as an excuse to topple Saddam Hussein?

Jack Straw, the former Foreign Secretary, said that he had made clear to Blair that regime change could never be used by Britain as a reason for invading Iraq. “A foreign policy objective of regime change I regard as improper and also self-evidently unlawful,” he told the inquiry. “The case therefore stood or fell on whether Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security by reason of its weapons of mass destruction.” While Blair played lip service to this view, it appears from his subsequent remarks that he supported regime change all along. In an interview last month, he said that he “would still have thought it right to remove” Saddam even if he had known that the Iraqi leader did not have any WMD. When asked if those comments showed that Blair actually backed regime change, Straw recommended that “the best way to find that out is to ask him”. No doubt, the committee will take his advice.

Did you instruct Sir Jeremy Greenstock and Jack Straw to lobby Lord Goldsmith to change his decision over legality?

When Goldsmith delivered his draft verdict in January 2003, explaining that he believed military action to be illegal, Blair reassured him: “I do understand that your advice is your advice”. Yet that draft was immediately sent out by No.10 to Sir Jeremy Goldsmith, then Britain’s ambassador to the UN, and Straw. The two men lobbied Goldsmith to change his advice, which the peer eventually did – after a meeting with US lawyers suggested by Sir Jeremy. Blair will be quizzed on whether he deliberately launched a campaign to change Goldsmith’s mind. He is likely to argue that it was right for Goldsmith to hear from Greenstock, Straw and the US lawyers as they were involved in drafting the crucial UN resolution used by the Government as legal cover for the invasion.

Why did you choose to ignore the advice of experienced international law experts in the Foreign Office that the invasion was illegal?

Foreign Office lawyers said that every legal expert in the department believed military action to be illegal unless explicitly sanctioned by the UN. Sir Michael Wood, the chief legal adviser, said he almost resigned over the issue when his deputy, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, left her post in protest. But while the lawyers clearly put Straw in the frame for overruling their advice, it was never made clear that Blair was informed that Sir Michael and his team had ruled that military action would be illegal. When a note was written to Downing St by Sir Michael, No.10 demanded to know: “Why has this been put in writing?” While the disagreements are damaging for Blair, he is likely to fall back on his loyal Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, who concluded shortly before the war began that it was legal.

Why didn’t you delay the invasion after you were told that plans for the reconstruction effort were not ready?

Just two days before troops moved in to Iraq, Blair was met by Maj Gen Tim Cross, the most senior British military figure involved in post-war planning. Maj Gen Cross informed him that US plans for the reconstruction effort were a shambles and that military action should be delayed. Yet the invasion took place as planned and Iraq duly descended into chaos in its aftermath. Maj Gen Cross did not make a fuss and attempted to help the reconstruction effort as best he could. But Blair will be confronted over why he ignored such a stark warning that proved to be accurate.

What did you say that it was “beyond doubt” that Saddam had WMD when intelligence was never certain?

In the Government’s September 2002 dossier, which set out the case against Saddam, Blair said that it was “beyond doubt” that the Iraqi leader possessed WMD. However, the inquiry has repeatedly heard that intelligence was actually “patchy” and “sporadic”. Witnesses have admitted that, in any case, intelligence could never be described as giving a certain view. So did Blair exaggerate the reliability of intelligence in the crucial dossier? He is expected to point out that while Saddam’s access to WMD was “beyond doubt” in his own mind, the claim made in his foreword was always presented as a personal opinion. Expect the inquiry team to be tough with Blair on this point.

Do you now agree that the “45-minute” claim should not have been used in the dossier? Do you regret that it was?

The most explosive claim in the September dossier was the assertion that Saddam had missiles that he could launch within 45 minutes. However, it was not made clear that this was only meant to refer to battlefield weapons, not those that could be used against other countries. Senior security figures have already admitted the claim got “lost in translation”. Blair is likely to repeat his plea, used in the Hutton inquiry into the death of David Kelly, that the Government honestly intended for the dossier to make the case within “the bounds of what was right and proper”. He is sure to claim that the dossier was compiled and signed off by intelligence advisers.

Did you crucially mislead parliament by saying that the threat from Saddam was “growing”?

Sir Roderick Lyne, the former ambassador and the inquiry’s lead inquisitor, has become very concerned about statements made by Blair to parliament, especially his claim, made on 24 September, that Saddam’s WMD programme was “active, detailed and growing”. Crucially, saying that the WMD programme was “growing” allowed Blair to claim that the policy of simply containing Iraq had failed. Unfortunately, none of the thousands of documents handed to the inquiry have confirmed that Saddam’s WMD resources were growing. Expect the former Prime Minister to suggest that the statement was meant to mean that there was growing evidence that Saddam continued to develop a WMD programme.