Monday, 8 February 2010

The Last Straw?

Round Two for Jack Straw. Having given evidence earlier, then the Chilcot Inquiry heard from Tony Blair and two of Straw's legal advisers, it seemed things did not add up so he was called back to explain himself further.

Today Mr. Straw got a second grilling in which he described himself as a 'broken record' when talking about UN Resolution 1441. It seemed that he, and the Government's legal team, had actually gone back over and read the resolution to help them 'clarify' their story - suddenly he claimed to be an expert on the matter having 'intense history' on the subject. It seemed that there had been a good deal of legal advice from Civil Servants advising Straw which pointed to a an invasion as being an 'Act of Aggression' and that Straw had 'ignored' this evidence. He denied this and pointed out that there were two views on this - his, and the supporting evidence for it, could be read in the papers of the time, he claimed.

His main trail was that, while a second resolution validating an invasion was preferable, Straw argued that UN 1441 had a second stage which did not require a second resolution which allowed the use of force. This is interesting, as I have researched the resolution and looked for any second stage and while it points toward Iraq meeting its obligations at no point does it mention, or does any further stage document, the result of non-compliance allowed any state to use force - that is absolutely clear to be seen.

Breach of UN 1441 did not give anybody the right to use force in any way. Such was the intrigue at the time that the US admitted they had kept taps on the communications of the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Anan.

Of course, this also presupposed that all the intelligence regarding WMD and imminent threats of a 'rogue state' like Iraq actually existed when Hans Blix's team had found no evidence. We had the stupid circular argument at the time that Saddam had blocked the Inspectors and lied about the WMD but Blix could not find any evidence - therefore Saddam was hiding them and lying. No one bothered to attempt to believe Saddam or Blix as the convenience of a liar and an apparently duped person was all they needed to justify their case - that and a dossier that could have been compiled by a 10 year old. OK, so I exaggerate on the dossier but the evidence was clear. The Resolution had not been technically violated as there were no WMD found anyway.

Straw was asked about why March 2003 of all dates? Chilcot seemed fascinated by that particular date as no new evidence had been found, diplomacy had not been exhausted and there had been no imminent or new threats? What galvanised the UK and US around that specific date and why had it become so important?

Straw was visibly flummoxed as if this was not a question he had anticipated. He stammered a little before whining on about rogue states, destabilisation of the region and testing international authority. While all this seemed vaguely relevant, it did not address the question - what was special about that date and time? What had happened that had put a deadline of 'compliance' to UN 1441 and why had the US and UK stopped working to a new resolution, which in Straw's own words would have 'toppled Saddam without a war'? Too late, Straw waffled his way around the subject and gave us nothing. All he could then offer was that the purpose of the war was not regime change, but echoing the rewriting of history and rejustification offered by Blair, he claimed that most Iraqis would not want to now go back to pre-March 2003. That is a fine position now but UN 1441 gave no mandate for regime change alone, let alone violence of any sort.

I cannot read Chilcot - he summed up the proceedings so far as if he meant business but he had clearly probed Straw but asked no follow up questions or challenged any assumption. It was as if he had asked the scripted question because it was on his piece of paper and that was all that was required. In those brief minutes of Straw's reply, there was not a single piece of insight as to why March 2003 had been important to the US and the UK as the rally point or deadline. There was no follow up as to why it had been deemed necessary to pull out Blix and his team when they pleaded for more time, the pursuit of second resolution was dropped, and diplomacy with Iraq ceased. War had become inevitable but there was no earthly reason why. Even the most rudimentary intelligence officer should have realised Saddam's capability to launch anything more than a rubber band at the West was trashed and he was a spent force. Why was there a need to talk him up as if he had re-armed under our noses, defied sanctions to gain a huge new capability and be of danger to our sovereign territory? And why in March 2003 was it most important of all to take action above any other date?

Chilcot is in danger of becoming another joke Inquiry which has been fully briefed what to ask and, crucially, what not to ask. As if to answer my question, in his summing up, Chilcot said that the hearings were merely the visible surface of an enormous Inquiry, the core of which were thousands of documents, many of which have been published but many will remain classified. In other words, we would have to trust him that within those documents lie the answers to the questions he did not ask Straw.

If you believe Chilcot then you will easily believe it was necessary to invade Iraq in March 2003 - no sooner, no later. If, like me, you believe Iraq was a spent force and that the whole WMD charade was just a convenient excuse to invade a country rich in oil and convenient to be a new staging post in the Gulf then you will find no satisfaction in this or any other Inquiry.

The question of why March 2003 was one of the most crucial to be answered and we got waffle. This could about sum up the whole Chilcot Inquiry. Another missed opportunity to get anywhere near the truth. There simply had to be a compelling answer to that question or none at all.

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