Iraq: Opposition calls for judicial inquiry


The Conservative Party chose to debate the following motion in the House of Commons on 22 October 2003 (see here):


“That this House is concerned at growing public confusion since the summer adjournment as a result of increasingly conflicting accounts of intelligence relating to and events leading up to the recent Iraq war and what has happened since; and calls for the setting up of a comprehensive independent judicial inquiry into the Government's handling of the run-up to the war, of the war itself, and of its aftermath, and into the legal advice which it received.”


This was the third time a motion calling for a judicial inquiry was debated in the Commons (one was proposed by the Liberal Democrats on 4 June 2003, and an earlier one by the Conservatives on 16 July 2003), and the third time it has been heavily defeated.  On each occasion the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats supported the motion.  But few of the Labour opponents of the war did so, some because they want to forget about the war, some because they think Parliament should do any investigating that needs to be done, and some because they refuse on principle to support opposition motions (at least that’s what they say).  Without some dramatic event or dramatic new revelation, there isn’t going to be a judicial inquiry.


The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives make strange bedfellows in asking for such an inquiry, since the former opposed war after a fashion, whereas the latter were, with a few honourable exceptions, cheerleaders for war, urging the Government on in a mindless fashion, rather than demanding that the Government justify its action at every turn as an opposition is supposed to do.


Mindless behaviour

A prime example of this mindless behaviour was an article by the leader of the opposition in the Sunday Times on 1 September 2002, when he wrote:


“We can choose to act pre-emptively or we can prevaricate.”


“Those who genuinely seek evidence in support of potential military action in Iraq will find there is plenty of it: those who oppose intervention at all costs will never find enough.”


“The only question remaining is will he choose to strike against Britain. I believe so.”


IDS didn’t need any intelligence dossiers, dodgy or otherwise, to convince him.  As a consequence, his party is disabled in expressing scepticism now about the Government’s handling of intelligence then.  He didn’t need intelligence, doctored or otherwise, to tell him that Britain should attack Iraq, so what is the point of inquiring if intelligence was doctored?


And even though the Conservatives now suggest that the Prime Minister may have doctored intelligence, they still insist that he was right to go to war and they were right to support him in going to war.  As Michael Ancram told the Commons on 22 October:


“I want to make it clear that in moving this motion I am not resiling in any way from our support for the Government's decision to go to war. The war in Iraq was justified, and we were right to support it. … We backed the Prime Minister because what he was seeking to do was right.”


So what is the point in having an inquiry into his handling of the run-up to the war?


Lots of facts

A judicial inquiry is normally employed to unearth facts, and bring them into the public domain.  But in the case of the Prime Minister’s handling of the run-up to the war, there are lots of facts already in the public domain, which demonstrate that the Prime Minister told a great deal less than the whole truth.  Many of these were on the public record before the war.  Others have come into the public domain as a result of the Hutton Inquiry and the report of the Intelligence & Security Committee (ISC) published on 11 September 2003.


To give a few examples:


1.       To explain away his failure to get a second Security Council resolution, the Prime Minister lied about the attitude of France as expressed by President Chirac in a TV interview on 10 March 2003, asserting that Chirac had said that France would veto a second Security Council resolution in all circumstances, when he said no such thing (see here).


2.       He omitted to tell us that Hussein Kamal, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, told UN inspectors in 1995 that he had ordered the destruction of all of them (see UN interview notes here).


3.       He (and Jack Straw) lied repeatedly that UN inspectors were expelled by Iraq in December 1998, when in reality, he and President Clinton forced them out by bombing Iraq.


4.       He continually distorted UN inspectors’ findings that weapons and related material were “unaccounted for" to imply (or assert) that the weapons actually existed.


5.       He omitted to tell us that many of Iraq’s chemical and biological agents produced before the Gulf War would be ineffective as warfare agents a decade later, if they hadn’t already been destroyed.


As far as the famous dossier was concerned, the ISC Report blew a large hole in his repeated assertion that it was soundly based on the (flawed) intelligence at the time.  To take just one example: claims about current weapons production were grossly exaggerated.  He said in his foreword to the dossier that it was “established beyond doubt” that Iraq was producing chemical and biological weapons in September 2002.  In other words, it wasn’t just a matter of getting rid of stuff left over from before the Gulf War, rather Iraq’s capacity, and therefore the threat from Iraq, was growing all the time as more weapons were produced.  This grand claim was based on an intelligence assessment which contained the modest conclusion that “some” production had taken place, but there was no intelligence on what had been produced or how much.


The ISC also revealed that, while citing the danger that Iraq’s weapons would fall into the hands of “terrorists” as a reason for war, he omitted to tell us that he had an intelligence assessment in his back pocket which said that invading Iraq would increase the danger of that happening – and, incidentally, would increase the threat from al-Qaeda and related groups.


Bit of a problem

And last but not least, the Hutton Inquiry revealed that he intervened through his Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, to remove the impression in the dossier, when it was in draft form, that Iraq would use chemical and biological weapons only if it was under threat.  To quote from Powell’s e-mail to John Scarlett on 19 September 2002:


I think the statement on page 19 that ‘Saddam is prepared to use chemical and biological weapons if he believes his regime is under threat’ is a bit of a problem. It backs up the … argument that there is no CBW threat and we will only create one if we attack him.  I think you should redraft the para.”


John Scarlett did as he was told and redrafted the paragraph to remove the Prime Minister’s “bit of a problem”, that is, the implication that Saddam Hussein would use chemical and biological weapons, only if his regime is under threat.  That was a major enhancement to the assessed threat from Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons, as expressed in the dossier.  It was made at the instigation of the Prime Minister.


We are not short of facts to demonstrate that the road to war was paved with Government lies, half-truths and omissions.  What we are short of is a political opposition that is willing and able to exploit the facts.  Clearly, the Conservative Party is neither willing nor able to do that because it believed in March that the Prime Minister was right to lead the country to war, and it still believes he was right.


And as for the Liberal Democrats, they’re congenitally incapable of exploiting facts.



Labour & Trade Union Review

November 2003