The elephant in the Commons chamber

by Chris Lamb

Toby Dodge’s arguments that Iraq had been effectively disarmed by 1998 and that the UN sanctions regime imposed in the 1990s paradoxically achieved the opposite of its intentions by refocusing and strengthening Saddam’s power base and weakening opposition constituencies reinforces, in my opinion, the view that regime change by military methods was the real purpose of the 2003 invasion.

The content of key Cabinet meeting deliberations on 13 and 17 March 2003 may give further insight to this. The government has blocked my request for the notes of these meetings to be published. But interesting questions are raised from the Parliamentary debate of 18 March, voting for military invasion on the imposition of New Labour and Conservative party three line whips.

Given that the two Government motions involved made allegations about the imminent threat of Iraqi WMD and breaches under UN Resolution 1441, it is very curious that no space was made available in the debate for the latest UNMOVIC report presented by Hans Blix on 7 March 2003 reporting significant progress in the disarmament of remaining Iraqi weaponry.

Blix reported Iraqi co-operation and movement on a number of weaponry fronts. His report contained the memorable quotation, “The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament, indeed the first since the middle of the 1990s. We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed”.

Blix ventures that, although Iraqi co-operation in complete disarmament was not immediate, such could be expected in a matter of only months. Defiance remaining from Saddam was built on bluff and not threat.

Once the emptiness of his arms cache became known domestically, there would arguably have been a time limit on his power base without outside intervention.

This vital report was available to Parliament but not presented as evidence nor properly debated. Was this because the two main party leaderships had already struck their position of support for Blair and the Government’s resolution and blotted out with the three line whip any inconvenient countervailing evidence?

Anyone now reading the hyperbole and rhetoric of Blair’s introductory speech in support of the 18 March war motion and the responses by Duncan Smith and Hague would appreciate that regime change was the elephant in the room while alleged WMD breaches of the UN were secondary unsubstantiated pretexts.

An argument could even be made that timing of the military invasion was driven by the narrowing of the window of opportunity for regime change by the findings of Blix’s report that Iraqi disarmament would be decisive and demonstrable within months. If that occurred, the grounds for an invasion would be entirely removed.

One of the lessons the Inquiry may draw from its investigation – if it looks at how the Parliamentary vote for war was constructed on 18 March 2003 – is the malign effects of party control and the process of party whipping over the full presentation of relevant evidence and the scope and freedom of deliberation and decision making.

4 comments to this article

  1. Stan Rosenthal

    on November 10, 2009 at 12:12 pm -

    Chris, your line of argument puts me in mind of someone pouring over the tax evasion charge that finally nailed Al Capone in order to prove that it did not stand up, while completely ignoring the crimes that Capone got away with.

    It may be a satisfying intellectual exercise, particularly if you’ve got it in for the judge, but in the great scheme of things surely it was right for Capone to be finally put away, even if there may have been question marks about the manner in which it was done.

  2. chris lamb

    on November 10, 2009 at 9:06 pm -

    Stan, I suggest that you either become more open minded or see a therapist.

  3. Iain Paton (former RAF)

    on November 11, 2009 at 11:10 pm -

    Stan’s analogy falls down as Capone was ‘nailed’ for actually evading taxes rather than ‘nailed’ because it was claimed he was evading taxes when he was not.

  4. chris lamb

    on November 12, 2009 at 8:15 pm -

    The Al Capone analogy is completely spurious because what is at stake here is neither gangsterism nor tax evasion but the upholding of international law.

    Nobody is denying that Saddam was an evil dictator or that he should have faced justice. What is at issue is that the disarming of Iraq was, before its disruption by military invasion, under the control of an international tribunal, the UN, and its weapons inspectorate and being dealt with through the principles of collective security.

    The final report on Iraqi disarmament of Hans Blix and his weapons inspectorate presented on 07 March 2003 was almost completely at variance with Bush and Blair’s interpretation of UN Security Resolution 1441. Whilst Blix’s report produced evidence of its findings, no substantiating evidence has ever backed Blair’s WMD claims put to Parliament on 18 March 2003.

    Regime change by external military intervention is prohibited under international law. This was even the view of Lord Goldsmith’s favoured lawyer, Professor Christopher Greenwood, as presented in a paper on legality of war with Iraq to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee in October 2002.

    If regime change was the real motive, international law was breached, whether supporters of Blair approve or disapprove of this.

    There could be good reasons behind the prohibition under international law of regime change by external force. These could include preventing the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians (via “shock and awe bombing”); the complete destruction of infrastructure; the fomenting of internecine religious and tribal conflicts; the conversion of friends to foes because they are perceived as foreign invaders. Indeed, the breach of one international law could lead to others such as degrading treatment, torture and unlawful killing of civilians in a combat zone.

    Stan should critically consider whether regime change- the breach of an international law he evidently holds in contempt- was worth it after all.