An Inquiry Concerning Chilcot Understanding…

iraq inquiry

INQUIRY OR ENQUIRY?

Finally, the Chilcot Inquiry will be published! It brought to mind a blog I wrote when the Iraq Inquiry was first announced. So, here it is, with a few amendments…

Now, I’ve set up a little inquiry as to the difference between inquiry and enquiry. Sure, I could easily consult a dictionary. But why do that when I could set up an Inquiry (or Enquiry?)? It doesn’t seem to matter, anyway, as this Inquiry is fairly pointless. Let’s look at the beginning. For one, it was conceived as a private inquiry to look into our role in the Iraq war. But our then-esteemed Prime Minister Gordon Brown backtracked on that when the Tories and Lib Dems had a hissy. So the inquiry was made public, and according to Brown “no British documents and no British witness [would] be beyond the scope of the inquiry.” Well, that was true until the October Protocol, stating that certain evidence would not be publicized and gave nine reasons why. So Brown lied to us all along! And disputes on what can be released would be resolved by the Cabinet Secretary. No evidence is to be given under oath. No barrister is present to cross-examine the witness. So nothing can guarantee truth.

HOW INDEPENDENT IS THE CHILCOT COMMITTEE?

The committee in charge of the inquiry was chosen by Whitehall, putting in question their independence from the Government. And who, exactly, are the members of the committee? They’ve been described as ‘4 Knights and a Baroness’. The eponymous hero, Sir John Chilcot, was involved in the Butler Inquiry of 2004, which found that intelligence crucial to justification of the Iraq War was unreliable, but Hussein had been trying to buy uranium. Was he really suitable to head the inquiry? Then there’s Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, who advised Blair on his 1999 ‘Chicago speech’ about liberal interventionism (if you go on the Iraq Inquiry website, there’s even a letter from Freedman to Chilcot about this speech). He also predicted that the US and UK would emerge stronger from the Iraq War and have a greater influence in the Middle East. WRONG! Sir Roderic Lyne could possibly be a Russian spy, but he has a few interests in Iraq. He’s a special advisor to BP who acquired the Rumalia oil field in Iraq shortly before the beginning of the Inquiry. Impartiality? Sir Martin Gilbert has written billions of books about Churchill.  He compared Bush and Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill. Okay then…Baroness Prasher of Runnymede…errrr…I’ve nothing on her. Is she there for equality’s sake? So, on the whole, a bunch of biased bastards. And one token female. That’s your lot, I’m afraid.

A flawed inquiry before it even started. Onto the Inquiry in action! It felt like a faux-reality TV show. It had the semblance of being real, but has a scripted air about it. Both the committee members and the witnesses looked embarrassed and awkward in front of the camera. There are a lot of hesitations, a lot of fidgeting, a lot of frantic head movements. And they seem to had trouble grasping English language. For example, I think another inquiry should be requested to understand what Sir Jeremy Greenstock meant when he professed to the Chilcot panel that the Iraq War was “legal but of questionable legitimacy.” What is the difference between the two? The mind boggles. Questions abound about detail, context, and meaning, but equivocal language dominates the proceedings. A straight answer is very hard to find in the morass of stumbles and questions about questions about questions.

WHAT ABOUT THE WITNESSES?

And the witnesses themselves? No Tory gave evidence. Why? The House of Commons voted for war back in 2003. Surely Tory MPs should have given evidence? For example, William Hague, who was adamant in September 2002 that there were 400 Iraqi nuclear sites hidden in farmhouses/schools. He’s certainly changed his tune! He said that “it was only right and proper that all those who played a role in taking the country to war give evidence before the General Election.” Too true, Mr Hague! The Tories voted for the Iraq War! The actual witnesses seem to blame someone else, usually poor Blair. They believed the war to be illegal or the WMD intelligence faulty, yet strangely neglected to mention this back in 2002/2003. Sir John Scarlett, head of the JIC during the period, was a key figure in the construction of the ‘dodgy dossier’. In his testimony, he distanced himself from the ‘overtly political’ foreword to the dossier, where Blair wrote that the danger from Iraq was ‘beyond doubt.’ However, once again, language was debated here, and Scarlett admitted that munitions, not weapons, better described Iraq’s capabilities. So, not WMD, but MMD? Yet Scarlett was not really questioned about this ‘little’ fact, or why he allowed Blair and Alastair Campbell to amend the dossier.

Two senior Whitehall lawyers told the committee that Blair acted illegally in invading Iraq. However, it was all quiet on the Whitehall front before and during the invasion! Sir Christopher Meyer, ex-Ambassador to the US, said that the military timetable took precedence over diplomacy, and Blair had decided to invade Iraq during his meeting with Bush in Crawford, Texas. Strange, I don’t remember hearing his reservations in 2002. But I do remember him saying that invading Iraq was the right thing to do. Then Sir Jonathan Powell denied a deal was made in Crawford. Lies? He revealed that there was no evidence of a growing threat from Iraq in 2002. But Powell also said that ‘Intelligence isn’t hard evidence. It suggests things. It’s not something that proves something.’ Fact! He also said that just because the Cabinet never debated the war in Iraq in the Commons, it doesn’t mean there was no opposition to the PM’s decisions. So, they all were unsure of Blair’s convictions, yet voted for them in Parliament? Oh right!

AN OPPORTUNITY TO RIGHT PAST WRONGS?

Jack Straw, after waxing lyrical about Kierkegaard, acted as if he could have single-handedly stopped a war he called ‘self-evidently unlawful.’ Again, I never remember him vocalising this in Parliament, and neither did his chief legal advisor at the time, Sir Wood. Straw told his American counterpart that he was ‘entirely comfortable’ making the case for war. He confessed to ignoring legal advice during his stint at the Home Office! It’s seems the law is an ‘either/or’ question for Mr. Straw! Lord Goldsmith appeared and told the Chilcot inquiry that in 2002 he was certain that there was no evidence to justify thwarting an imminent threat from Iraq. But isn’t this the same man who dismissed his initial concerns with the legality of the Iraq War and gave advice to Blair that the invasion would be illegal? Political pressure or not, the then-Attorney General sat back and allowed things to proceed.

Geoff Hoon took the opportunity to pour some of the blame onto his worst enemy (and target of the failed Winter Coup), Gordon Brown. The Treasury’s refusal to give the Ministry of Defence the full amount of requested funds led to shortages of helicopters, ammunition, boots, etc during the Iraq War. Blair prevented him from ordering new equipment as suspicion would have been aroused, and hearing about the UK arming for war would have affected the UN resolution. But it seemed during his testimony that the then-Defence Secretary didn’t know much of anything. And in reference to an interview with Jonathan Dimbleby where Hoon said that the invasion would be legal without permission from the UN, Hoon blurted out “I was trying quite hard not to answer any questions.” This is the problem with the Chilcot Inquiry. That sentence was the modus operandi  for all the witnesses.

WHAT IS THE POINT OF THE INQUIRY?

With that in mind, let’s return to the original question: What’s the point? It seems like an expensive (and tax-payer financed, remember!) and lengthy research into a book about the Iraq War. If it is to “enable us to learn the lessons of the complex and often controversial events of the last six years”, then surely our MPs could read any of the books available concerning the Iraq War? For example, they could startAlastair Campbell’s diaries, ‘Blair’s Wars’ by John Kampfner, ‘Lawless World’ by Phillippe Sands, and John Gray’s ‘Heresies.’ Let’s face it, the Chilcot Inquiry won’t tell Brown (or the public) anything that he/we didn’t already know. That’s the point, isn’t it? The newspapers lapped up all of the evidence, flouting each reference to ’45 minutes’ or the ‘dodgy dossier’ as some new piece of information (while, funnily enough, saying the Inquiry is a waste of time). In reality, however, we’ve heard it all before.

Did Brown wants to distance himself from the fiasco that was Iraq. April 30th, 2009, Brown formally ended combat operations in Iraq. Half a month later, he announced this inquiry. Coincidence? I think not. Pull out the troops and then shift the blame onto anybody else but himself, especially the devilish Tony Blair. Obviously, Brown is not PM anymore, as the Inquiry has taken an absurd amount of time. Brown knew he and Labour would be brutalised in the 2010 General Election, so Brown did everything possible to scrape a few more votes. One way of doing this is showing the public that he wass willing to examine one of the major Labour pitfalls of their past three terms. It maybe a token gesture, but the general public are dying for blame to be apportioned in relation to the Iraq War. The main man they want is none other than the great traitor, Tony Blair.

On July 6th this year the Chilcot Inquiry will be published. I doubt we, or our Government, will learn anything new…or learn from past mistakes.

Leave your thoughts/comments below…

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