Britain's Iraq war inquiry resumes

18th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's inquiry into the war in Iraq resumes Tuesday with former prime minister Tony Blair set to deal with claims about the legal basis for the invasion when he gives evidence later this week.

Documents released ahead of the resumption of public proceedings, following a six-month break, showed the government's top legal advisor criticised Blair for publicly suggesting Britain could invade without further UN backing, despite his advice to the contrary.

Lord Peter Goldsmith, the former attorney general, was "uncomfortable" with statements Blair made before the March 2003 US-led invasion.

Blair will appear before the inquiry panel on Friday after being recalled to give evidence for a second time.

In January 2003, Goldsmith advised Blair that the existing United Nations Security Council resolution was not enough to justify an invasion.

But the following day, Blair told parliament there were "circumstances" in which a second resolution explicitly backing military action was not necessary.

Goldsmith gave evidence to the inquiry a year ago but was asked to provide a further written statement, which was released ahead of Tuesday's resumption.

Asked whether Blair's words were compatible with the advice he received, he wrote simply: "No", adding: "I was uncomfortable about them".

"My concern was that we should not box ourselves in by the public statements that were made, and create a situation which might then have to be unravelled."

Goldsmith eventually changed his mind about the legality of an invasion.

Blair's defiant first appearance 12 months ago, when he said he had no regrets about ousting Saddam Hussein, turned into "a trial of judgement and even good faith" he wrote in his memoir.

The former premier has been recalled to explain gaps in his earlier evidence and apparent discrepancies between his account and official documents and other witnesses' testimony.

Anti-war campaigners are set to protest again outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre venue where the hearings take place.

Referring to Goldsmith's written evidence, Blair's spokesman said the former premier would "deal with all these issues" on Friday.

"The basis (for the invasion) was that given in the attorney general's advice, which he has confirmed in the statement," he told the BBC.

"What Peter Goldsmith's statement does is make it categorically clear that there was a proper legal basis for the military action taken."

Air Chief Marshal Glenn Torpy, the former head of the Royal Air Force, is the first witness scheduled to appear on Tuesday.

Ex-foreign secretary Jack Straw, former armed forces chief Admiral Michael Boyce, and former top civil servant Lord Andrew Turnbull have also been recalled.

The inquiry, launched in July 2009, aims to identify lessons that can be learned from the conflict.

© 2011 AFP

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