Oliver Miles: The key question – is Blair a war criminal?

The terms of reference for the new Iraq inquiry allow for the big unknowns to be tackled. And we might just get to the truth

Share
Related Topics

The Iraq inquiry will start hearing evidence in open session on Tuesday, and it will almost certainly lead to fireworks. Let us hope the media cover it properly; five months ago, there was a sharp debate on Iraq in the Commons which the media ignored.

"Anyone with information" has been invited to get in touch, which includes serving officials and military. Some officials resigned because they disagreed with the war, but most stayed on. But there is plenty of evidence, including leaked documents, to show there was strong opposition to the war, and for good reasons. As a retired diplomat myself, I hope my former colleagues will not be shy.

The situation in Iraq is still horrible. More than 400 people died in violent incidents last month; more than 1,400 were wounded. Millions of Iraqis are still displaced, inside Iraq or in Syria, Jordan or elsewhere, with little prospect of their returning home. Water and electricity are limping along, the vital oil industry will take years to rebuild. British troops sent to train the Iraqi security forces were in Kuwait through the summer marking time, while the Iraqi government quibbled about their legal status.

We've had umpteen Iraq inquiries already, but this one should be different. Its terms of reference are open. Previous inquiries concentrated on the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the misuse of intelligence to make the case for war, the "dodgy dossier" and so on. But there are plenty of other questions, starting with the big one: was this a war of aggression and therefore a war crime? There were two views about its legality, and the then attorney general seems to have held both of them.

What about the alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida? – it seems there were no such links. What happened to the civil planning for after the fighting? – according to Clare Short, who was a member of the Cabinet, there "were preparations that were then all junked, because of the hubris and deceit that went into preparing for war". Were the arguments for and against war ever assessed by the FCO, and was formal advice submitted to the then secretary of state, the Cabinet and the prime minister? Here is Clare Short again: "All the Cabinet meetings were little chats: they were never a proper consideration of all the options." Is it true that the Iraq experts invited to No 10 in November 2002 (two of whom also took part in the seminar organised by the inquiry on 5 November) decided not to tell Tony Blair whether they thought an invasion was wise or not because they thought he wouldn't listen? We have heard a lot recently about the freedom of experts to give advice which is unpalatable to the Government, so why the self-censorship?

We need to know more about the exchanges between George Bush and Tony Blair. According to Colin Powell, the then US secretary of state, he and Jack Straw sometimes tried to get Blair to hold Bush back. "Jack and I would get him all pumped up about an issue. And he'd be ready to say, 'Look here, George'. But as soon as he saw the president he would lose all his steam." Can this be true?

When Bush tried to persuade President Chirac to go to war, Bush compared Saddam Hussein with Gog and Magog, obscure legendary figures named in the book of Ezekiel as enemies of the people of Israel. This sounds like a joke, but seems to be true. Chirac was baffled and his staff consulted a professor of theology who spilt the beans. Blair told his Iraq experts that Saddam was "uniquely evil"; the inquiry should ask him whether Bush mentioned Gog and Magog to him, or he to Bush.

The Prime Minister's choice of the members of the committee has been criticised. None is a military man, Sir John Chilcot was a member of the Hutton inquiry and has been closely involved with the security services, Baroness Prashar has no relevant experience, Sir Roderic Lyne was a serving ambassador at the time of the war, and so on.

Rather less attention has been paid to the curious appointment of two historians (which seems a lot, out of a total of five), both strong supporters of Tony Blair and/or the Iraq war. In December 2004 Sir Martin Gilbert, while pointing out that the "war on terror" was not a third world war, wrote that Bush and Blair "may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill" – an eccentric opinion that would se em to rule him out as a member of the committee. Sir Lawrence Freedman is the reputed architect of the "Blair doctrine" of humanitarian intervention, which was invoked in Kosovo and Afghanistan as well as Iraq.

Both Gilbert and Freedman are Jewish, and Gilbert at least has a record of active support for Zionism. Such facts are not usually mentioned in the mainstream British and American media, but The Jewish Chronicle and the Israeli media have no such inhibitions, and the Arabic media both in London and in the region are usually not far behind.

All five members have outstanding reputations and records, but it is a pity that, if and when the inquiry is accused of a whitewash, such handy ammunition will be available. Membership should not only be balanced; it should be seen to be balanced.

Tony Blair's responsibility for the Iraq war was a strike against him as a candidate for the role of president of the European Council. Perhaps the launch of the inquiry helped to kill the idea off. No European democratic institution has entertained the idea of electing someone under the shadow of a war crime charge since Kurt Waldheim became President of Austria in 1986.

Oliver Miles is a former British ambassador to Libya

Bush's biblical justification for war: secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=haught_29_5

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory