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Iraq war inquiry opens up possibility of legal action against Blair

Long-awaited report delivers damning verdict on Iraq invasion

6 July 2016

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The legal basis for UK military action in Iraq was 'far from satisfactory', Sir John Chilcot has said today, opening the way for potential legal claims from families and opposition parties.

Chilcot's long-awaited inquiry into the UK's involvement in Iraq from 2001 to 2009 delivered a damning verdict on the actions taken by former prime minister Tony Blair's government before and after the invasion.

Speaking prior to the report's publication, Chilcot said: 'We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.

'It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been.'

Chilcot added: 'The circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory'.

However, he had not been asked to rule on the legality of the Iraq war.

Legal basis

Section 5 of the report detailed how, in March 2003, the then attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, had failed to provide the cabinet with written advice which outlined whether the UK had a legal basis to take military action based on United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1441.

The decision centred on whether the failure of Iraq to comply with UNSCR 1441 - a declaration offering Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein a 'final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations' - could authorise UK military action without a further resolution of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

On 7 March, Lord Goldsmith had formally set out the alternative interpretations of resolution 1441, namely that 'the safest legal course would be to secure a second resolution', but he accepted a reasonable case for military action existed by reviving a previous resolution that authorised military force (UNSCR 678) without the need for a further resolution.

However, he failed to provide ministers and senior officials with such information and later concluded in a written statement that there was a lawful basis for the use of force without the need for a further resolution beyond resolution 1441, which was approved by Blair.

Chilcot said that Blair's decision to invade before peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted had undermined the UNSC's authority.

Blair accepted 'full responsibility without exception' for the consequences of his actions and accepted that the intelligence assessments 'turned out to be wrong', but said his decision to send the UK to war 'was made in good faith'.

More than 200 British citizens and at least 170,000 Iraqi citizens died as a result of the conflict in Iraq, while many more were injured.

Whether legal action will be taken against Blair or the UK government remains to be seen. While the actions would most likely fall under the crime of aggression - a military act that violates the UN Charter - the International Criminal Court said earlier this week that the crime does not fall within its jurisdiction.

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