Leading article: To learn from history we need the facts

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The Iraq war is history. Our troops have been withdrawn. And the government that committed Britain to taking part in that invasion has been expelled from office. Yet we make no apology for returning today to an analysis of the political, diplomatic and legal machinations that helped propel Britain into that disastrous conflict seven years ago.

The nature of the legal advice of the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, to the former government was one of the central debates that raged in those febrile months before the March 2003 invasion. We already knew that Lord Goldsmith changed his mind on the legality of the invasion. But thanks to the release by the Iraq Inquiry yesterday of the Attorney General's original legal advice we can now see just how extreme that reversal was. Lord Goldsmith's original unequivocal judgment that "military action would be unlawful" without a second United Nations resolution became "a reasonable case can be made" for the authorisation of military action under existing UN resolutions.

Lord Goldsmith denies that he bowed to pressure when he changed his advice to Tony Blair. Posterity will judge how convincing that claim is. And the Chilcot Inquiry will deliver its own verdict.

But whatever judgment is reached, we should applaud the fact that these documents have finally been released into the public domain. The previous government suppressed this document on the grounds that the advice of the chief legal officer must remain forever confidential. That was always a self-serving argument. And it is to be hoped that (despite the Cabinet Secretary's arguments that this particular release is an exception) we are entering a new era of official openness.

The Iraq war is history. But we have a responsibility to learn from history. And to do that we need to be in full possession of the facts. Today, we are substantially closer.

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