by Chris Ames
Former deputy prime minister John Prescott has already said that, although he supported the invasion of Iraq at the time, he no longer believes it can be justified. Now, writing in the Mirror, he admits that, despite what Tony Blair said at the time, it was all about regime change.
As Tony’s Deputy Prime Minister at the time, I know I must carry my share of responsibility.
His recent statements on Iraq have clearly increased the demand for the early publication of the Chilcot Report into the war.
That’s something I totally support.
At the Iraq Inquiry I made clear Tony always told us the invasion was not about regime change and he was determined to push US President George W Bush down the UN route, rather than rush to war. To his credit, that’s what he tried to do.
But it’s clear now, from his recent statements, it was all about regime change.
For the former deputy prime minister to say that Blair lied to him is pretty significant. Given all the statements Blair has made since and the extensive documentation available, it’s surprising it has taken him so long.
Prescott’s main point is in fact that, despite what Blair has said recently, the invasion did bring Iraq to where it is now.
I cannot agree our invasion of Iraq did not contribute to the chaos and violence we see in the Middle East today.
The truth is it did.
So let’s learn from the past and leave Iraq and its neighbours to sort out this mess.
The current condition of Iraq will clearly be a relevant issue when the Inquiry finally reports. Who knows what that will be?
by Andrew Mason
Quite possibly, the Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell, read Simon Heffer’s Daily Mail piece published yesterday. Today, Sir Peter raised the same issue at Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons.
The process for impeachment of a high official (be they a peer or a commoner) has long been a statutory tool. First used in the Parliament of England in 1376 against William Latimer, 4th Baron Latimer, for the long string of crimes, this legal remedy fell out of use beyond the unsuccessful trial of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, the first Secretary of State for War, in 1806. According to the book ‘Royal Dukes’ by Roger Fulford (1933), it was said that Dundas was “so profoundly ignorant of war that he was not even conscious of his own ignorance.” One further attempt at impeachment was made in 1848, when Lord Palmerston was accused of having signed a secret treaty with Imperial Russia and of receiving monies from the Tsar.
However, Palmerston survived a vote in the House of Commons and the Lords did not hear the case.
In recent times (1967 and 1999) the question of the obsolescence of the impeachment procedure has been discussed. Despite this, in 2004 Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price attempted to move for the impeachment of Tony Blair for his role in involving Britain in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
At this time, Price consulted with the then Leader of the House of Commons, Peter Hain, as to whether the power to impeach was still available. Hain informed him that, based on the 1999 Joint Committee’s report, and with the advice of the Clerk of the House of Commons, that impeachment “effectively died with the advent of full responsible Parliamentary government.”
This situation arises because it is normally in the House of Lords that the case would be heard. The procedure used to be that the Lord Chancellor presided (or the Lord High Steward if the defendant was a peer) – but this was when the Lord Chancellor was both the Lords’ presiding officer and head of the judiciary of England and Wales.
Since both these roles were removed from that office by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which created the Lord Speaker to preside over the Lords and made the Lord Chief Justice head of the judiciary, it is not certain who would preside over an impeachment trial today.
If Parliament was not in session, then the trial could be conducted by a “Court of the Lord High Steward” instead of the House of Lords (even if the defendant was not a peer).
(The technical and legal differences between this court and the House of Lords are that in the House all of the peers are judges of both law and fact, whereas in the Court the Lord High Steward is the sole judge of law and the peers decide the facts only – this bearing in mind that the bishops are not entitled to sit and vote in the Court.)
Whilst no legislation has been produced to abolish the remedy of impeachment, and it is argued by some that it remains as part of British constitutional law, it would appear that other (quite likely considerably time-consuming) legislation would be required to bring this power into the modern age. In particular this could possibly require the re-establishment of a formal “Court of the Lord High Steward”; also the election of a suitable Lord High Steward in person. Alternately, a new mechanism in the House of Lords would have to be established whereby more than one judge could oversee the proceeding, namely the Lord Speaker and the Lord Chief Justice plus necessarily one other high-ranking Lord in order to form a decisive quorum.
by Andrew Mason
According to the Mirror, a source has (presumably) told the paper that “the official verdict on the 2003 invasion will find that failure to plan for the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s regime led to horrific insurgency.”
The source said: “They (the Chilcot team) see the failure to plan for the aftermath as the biggest failing.
“The question of what Blair told Bush is a bit of a diversion and the intelligence failings have already been exposed.
“But having decided to go in they should have planned properly for what came next. The inquiry think thousands of lives were needlessly lost because that did not happen.”
by Andrew Mason
Consummate blairite John Rentoul has published a new post at his regular haunt this afternoon entitled ‘RIP the Iraq dossier distinction’. He opens the piece by writing:
All right, I’ll admit defeat. In debating the Iraq war I can no longer hold the line. I shall have to give up trying to maintain the distinction between the main dossier of September 2002 and the “dodgy” dossier of February 2003.
Some of us who were paying attention at the time and who think that facts and details matter have sought to keep the two separate.
In fact Brendan O’Neill first coined the phrase ‘dodgy dossier’, using it as the title of his article ‘Blair’s dodgy dossier’, which was first published at Spiked on the same day as the 24 September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s WMD was itself presented.
This article is still available here.
Mr Rentoul then goes on to claim with reference to the second dossier:
…it was discovered that six paragraphs had been copied and pasted without attribution from an article by Ibrahim al-Marashi, a California graduate student.
A quick recap of Glen Rangwala’s 5 February 2003 Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq posting reveals:
For reference, here are a few other summary comments on the British document.
Official authors are (in Word > Properties) P. Hamill, J. Pratt, A. Blackshaw, and M. Khan.
p.1 is the summary.
pp.2-5 are a repetition of Blix’s comments to the Security Council on the difficulties they were encountering, with further claims about the activities of al-Mukhabarat. These are not backed up, eg the claim that car crashes are organised to prevent the speedy arrival of inspectors.
p.6 is a simplified version of Marashi’s diagram at:
p.7 is copied (top) from Gause (on the Presidential Secretariat), and (middle and bottom) from Boyne (on the National Security Council).
p.8 is entirely copied from Boyne (on the National Security Council).
p.9 is copied from Marashi (on al-Mukhabarat), except for the final section, which is insubstantial.
p.10 is entirely copied from Marashi (on General Security), except for the final section, which is insubstantial.
p.11 is entirely copied from Marashi (on Special Security), except for the top section (on General Security), which is insubstantial.
p.12 is entirely copied from Marashi (on Special Security).
p.13 is copied from Gause (on Special Protection) and Marashi (Military Intelligence).
p.14 is wrongly copied from Boyne (on Military Security) and from Marashi (on the Special Republican Guard).
p.15 is copied from Gause and Boyne (on al-Hadi project / project 858).
pp.15-16 is copied from Boyne (on Fedayeen Saddam).
A final section, on the Tribal Chiefs’ Bureau, seems to be copied from a different piece by Cordesman.
by Andrew Mason
A selection of comments gleaned from the web over the past 24 hours:
BORIS JOHNSON (presently water cannon champion of London)
“I have come to the conclusion that Tony Blair has finally gone mad. He wrote an essay on his website on Sunday that struck me as unhinged in its refusal to face facts. In discussing the disaster of modern Iraq he made assertions that are so jaw-droppingly and breathtakingly at variance with reality that he surely needs professional psychiatric help.”
GENERAL SIR MICHAEL ROSE (formerly UNPROFOR commander, Bosnia, 1994)
“He remains in complete denial over the disaster he inflicted not only on the people of Iraq, but also on many millions throughout the Middle East as a result of the 2003 invasion…”
LORD PRESCOTT (former Blair’s deputy PM)
“He says he’s disappointed with what has happened in Iraq, it wasn’t as he thought it might happen, but he wants to invade somewhere else now.”
SIR CHRISTOPHER MEYER (the UK’s US ambassador 1997-2003)
“We are reaping what we sowed in 2003. This is not hindsight. We knew in the run-up to war that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would seriously destabilise Iraq after 24 years of his iron rule…”
CLARE SHORT (former DFID minister)
“… (Blair) “is absolutely, consistently wrong, wrong, wrong and of course he has become a complete American neocon who thinks military action, bombing, attacking will solve the problems when it is actually making more and more tension, anger, division, bitterness in the Middle East.”
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND (chairman of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee)
“Tony Blair is preoccupied with the assumption that people will say that he, his actions, had at least some part in this.”
LORD ASHDOWN (former Liberal Democrat leader)
“I’m having a bit of a difficulty getting my mind round the idea that a problem that has been caused or made worse by killing many many Arab Muslims in the Middle East is going to be made better by killing more with western weapons.”
SIR MENZIES CAMPBELL (Lib-Dem grandee)
“I think Mr Blair actually admitted today that the purpose was regime change. Well that’s not what he was telling us back in 2003.”
LORD MALLOCH-BROWN (former Labour Foreign Office minister)
“One wishes someone would tell him to just stay quiet during moments like this, because it does drive a great surge of people in the other direction.”
ALEX SALMOND (Scotland’s First Minister)
“Tony Blair has now claimed that the invasion of Iraq was about whether or not Saddam Hussein remained in power. Eleven years ago he said it was about weapons of mass destruction.”
“No reinterpretation of history will absolve the former prime minister of a direct line of responsibility for this sequence of disasters.”
PAUL FLYNN (Labour MP)
“Tony Blair lives in a fantasy world where he is infallible. He was warned by most of the Labour Party in 2003 that slavishly following the warmonger Bush would create a more dangerous world.”
CHARLOTTE LESLIE (Tory MP)
“Believing Blair on the Middle East feels about as safe and wise as referring patients to Harold Shipman.”
JOHN BARON (Tory MP)
“There is no doubt we went to war in Iraq on a false premise and made grave errors in the immediate aftermath in leaving a power vacuum. A large part of the troubles today can be traced back to that period.”
NIGEL FARAGE (man about Europe)
“In almost every country in which the West has intervened or even implied support for regime change, the situation has been made worse and not better.”
“This is true of Libya, Syria and of course Iraq. Tony Blair’s state of outright denial of the obvious consequences of his disastrous decision-making on Iraq is making increasingly uncomfortable viewing.”
“Mr Blair has long since become an embarrassment on the international stage and his remaining political friends would be well advised to urge an extended period of silence on his behalf.”
There are sure to be many other similar statements made over the coming days, please feel free to add any you may come across (or your own) to the comments section below…
by Andrew Mason
IRAQ, SYRIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST – AN ESSAY BY TONY BLAIR
The civil war in Syria with its attendant disintegration is having its predictable and malign effect. Iraq is now in mortal danger. The whole of the Middle East is under threat.
We will have to re-think our strategy towards Syria; support the Iraqi Government in beating back the insurgency; whilst making it clear that Iraq’s politics will have to change for any resolution of the current crisis to be sustained. Then we need a comprehensive plan for the Middle East that correctly learns the lessons of the past decade. In doing so, we should listen to and work closely with our allies across the region, whose understanding of these issues is crucial and who are prepared to work with us in fighting the root causes of this extremism which goes far beyond the crisis in Iraq or Syria.
By Andrew Mason
At very rare times such as this, it is practically impossible to keep up with the Google news feed when using the search term ‘Iraq’. As I write, six full pages of results have been generated in just the last ten minutes or so.
President Obama has stated that: “We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq” and former Secretary of State and potential 2016 presidential election nominee Hillary Clinton has said that: “…the United States should not provide military assistance – particularly airstrikes – to the Iraqi government “at this time” in response to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other militants.”
There are rumours that Iran has deployed three battalions of its ‘Qods Force’, which are part of the Iranian Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (otherwise known as ‘Revolutionary Guards’), into Iraq, and other reports that Kurdish pershmerga forces have moving to militarily secure and protect the regional multi-ethnic Northern capital of Kirkuk.
The ‘blame game’ has begun in earnest, with the word ‘legacy’ being frequently repeated in relation to Messrs Blair and Bush. In the US, partisan attacks by Republican senators and representatives accuse Obama of pulling out of Iraq too quickly, and of failing to negotiate and secure a ‘status of forces’ agreement, whereby US forces might have remained in Iraq.
In all likelihood, we are now witnessing the first stages of the disintegration of the Republic of Iraq as a homogeneous (although already long-fractured) nation state.
by Andrew Mason
As was recently reported here on the Digest in the posting Committee to ask questions, Bernard Jenkin MP, the chairman of the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, was quoted as stating (with regard to the delays that have beset the Iraq Inquiry) that:
“We may well call for the minister or indeed for the cabinet secretary to come and give us evidence to explain how they’re going to sort this out.”
The PASC has now announced that Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, will be appearing to give evidence to the committee as part of its inquiry into Civil Service impartiality tomorrow morning, 11 June 2014, at 9:30 AM. The hearing is likely to be recorded and televised by the Parliament TV service, I will add a link in due course.
The link for viewing the hearing is as follows:
By default, the Parliament TV service uses the Microsoft Silverlight media player, there is a link to a Windows Media Player version on the same page.
by Chris Ames
John Major’s comments on the Inquiry this morning are interesting for two reasons beyond his main point – that it is now for Tony Blair to facilitate the disclosure of the relevant documents and not just the quotes and gists we are promised.
Firstly, that a former prime minister should implicitly reject the idea that disclosing what a British PM says to a US president will cause serious damage takes the wind from the sails of that establishment contention.
Secondly, Major has articulated what many other people have said since the compromise agreement was announced – that many people will still feel they are not being told the whole truth and leave the issue festering. For the Inquiry to leave this impression would be a truly lamentable outcome.
by Chris Ames
Reading between the lines of John Chilcot’s expression of “pleasure” that an “agreement” has been reached over the disclosure of the most controversial material, it seems that Chilcot himself gave quite a lot of ground some time back and the Cabinet Office has finally accepted his compromise offer.
Chilcot records in his letter that, having accepted that there was no prospect of the documents themselves being published, even in redacted form,
the requests submitted by the Inquiry last summer were for permission to disclose quotes or gists of the content
This explains the frustration expressed in last month’s Independent article:
Sources close to Sir John and his four colleagues say they now regard the Cabinet Office’s attitude towards to their requests as “ridiculous and intransigent”.
It seems pretty clear that, having watered down their demands, Chilcot and co were furious that the Cabinet Office still wouldn’t play ball. Now the Cabinet Office seems to have been given a kick up the backside and told to accept the compromise. As to where that leaves us, I think Gary Gibbon’s analysis is excellent:
The letter from Sir John Chilcot to the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood shows two seasoned mandarins in slow motion protocol wrestling.
The younger one, Sir Jeremy, a worthy successor in the mandarin dynasty, is clinging on to the old rules Sir John used to preserve on confidentiality.
The end result is a compromise reached through a process of glacial pace.
Some are reporting this latest letter as “agreement reached on documents.” What they’ve actually agreed is “agreement on the principles” for what will be seen by us of the Tony Blair/George W. Bush phone call transcripts and notes of conversations.
The detail of what will be shared is something that will now be discussed.
There was a similar “principles” agreement on Cabinet minutes and what we could see of them.
It came around July 2013. It wasn’t until about five months later that the older and younger mandarin and their respective teams agreed what exactly would be redacted and what would be published.
The documents they’re now going to clear for (very) partial publication or paraphrasing are even more sensitive. Maybe they’ll get through this lot at breakneck speed but the precedents don’t suggest that.
Chilcot also says in his letter that the Inquiry has concluded that the quotes and gists will be “sufficient to explain our conclusions”. But that requires a huge leap of faith from the rest of us that there isn’t something in the material that isn’t being published that might lead us to reach different conclusions. Based on previous experience of establishment inquiries on Iraq, that is perhaps asking too much.