Andrew Grice: The Week In Politics

Why scrutiny of war in Iraq has been negligible
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The Independent Online

Eighteen months ago, senior ministers assured me that a withdrawal of US and British troops from Iraq would be well under way by the American midterm elections because George Bush would need to show significant progress then. Now the elections have come and gone, Iraq seems to be going from bad to worse and the troops are still there.

The fallout from the Iraq disaster is markedly different in Britain and America. Donald Rumsfeld has resigned as US Defence Secretary and many of the neocons who called for Saddam Hussein to be toppled queue up to denounce the Bush strategy. In Britain, the only people to resign were among those who opposed the war - the ministers Robin Cook and Clare Short and the officials Elizabeth Wilmshurst and Carne Ross. Ministers who had private reservations keep their heads down.

In America, there will be some rigorous congressional probing of what went wrong in Iraq now that the Democrats are in control. In Britain, there has been no proper inquiry. Mr Blair claims there have been four investigations.

He is wrong. The scope of the inquiries by Lord Hutton, Lord Butler of Brockwell, the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee, was deliberately limited to prevent the over-arching inquest Britain deserves - notably into the lack of planning for the aftermath of the 2003 invasion and the mistakes made since.

The feebleness of Parliament was illustrated two weeks ago when the Commons, with Labour MPs whipped into line, voted against an immediate inquiry. Parliament's limitations were also shown this week when Mr Ross, a former British diplomat at the United Nations who resigned over the war, appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee. His evidence to the Butler inquiry has never been published but when he offered to present it to the committee so it could see the light of day, Mike Gapes, the chairman and a Blair loyalist, urged him not to.

An independent, all-embracing investigation is also needed because fresh material has come to light. There is growing evidence that President Bush decided to oust Saddam a year before the invasion and that Mr Blair privately promised in April 2002 that Britain would take part. Throughout that year, he insisted no decision had been made.

The inquiry should also look into a Downing Street meeting on 23 July 2002 when Sir Richard Dearlove, the then head of MI6, reported back on talks in Washington. "Military action was now seen as inevitable," says a leaked internal memo. "Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." It added prophetically: "There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."

A reassessment of the strategy is under way in Washington. The vehicle for a change will be next month's report by the Iraq Study Group.

In his annual foreign affairs speech at the Lord Mayor's banquet on Monday, Mr Blair is expected to admit a recalibration is needed but to say this was always envisaged. He thinks that, in a changing world in which countries such as China and Russia are becoming more powerful, Britain must retain a close partnership with both North America and Europe because they share its democratic values.

The Prime Minister believes there are two camps within the America-EU family: those like the US, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Poland prepared to use military force for progressive means if necessary, and those such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain who will join peacekeeping operations but not intervene militarily. Despite his bruising experience in Iraq, he is adamant that Britain should remain in the first camp.

Blair aides insist Britain can help to shape the new US strategy in Iraq. But following President Bush's electoral drubbing, the danger is that Britain will enjoy as little influence over the exit strategy for Iraq as it had over the entry strategy. Mr Blair has his own exit strategy to think about and, much to his chagrin, it will be implemented before British troops leave Iraq.

a.grice@independent.co.uk

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