The Iraq Inquiry: Imperialists clean their stables - FRFI 213 February/March 2010

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Iraq war protest

On 21 January it was announced that the long awaited inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq war of 2003 would be delayed until after May's general election. Sir John Chilcot, who has led the inquiry, explained that the delay was due to the time taken for those criticised in the report to respond. Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair has denied that he has any role in holding up the report. The inquiry began its work 6 years ago in 2009 and has interviewed countless key figures in British imperialism's drive to war. No doubt the results of the inquiry - if they ever come to light - will further undermine any remaining confidence in the major ruling class political parties, and the very notion of bourgeois 'democracy'. Below we republish an article from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 217, first published in 2010, which sets out the context of the inquiry.

‘The general leaning towards barbarity acquires a certain method, immorality becomes a system, lawlessness gets its law givers and club law its law books.’ Karl Marx.

It was noted that the four politicians who took Britain to war against Iraq – Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Lord Falconer and Lord Goldsmith – were all lawyers (Henry Porter, The Guardian 28 January 2010). For them the law is their personal property or it is an obstruction to be shoved aside.

The terms of reference of the Chilcot Inquiry were decided by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and agreed by the House of Commons. Since the 2005 Inquiries Act government ministers and not judges control public inquiry proceedings, set the terms of reference, determine public access and access to evidence submitted to the inquiry. If ministers do not like the direction an inquiry is taking they can withdraw funding. If ministers do not like the content of the resulting report they can withhold part or all of the publication. The Inquiries Act was passed in response to a demand that there be a public inquiry into Royal Ulster Constabulary and British intelligence collusion in the loyalist murder of Irish solicitor Pat Finucane. During the parliamentary debate on the legislation it was hardly mentioned that the Finucane case was the motive for the bill.

In Sir John Chilcot the ruling class chose a safe pair of hands. He is chair of the Police Foundation and a Trustee of the Police Rehabilitation Trust. Chilcot conducted a review of Royal and VIP security, sat on an inquiry into an alleged IRA break-in to the Police Service of Northern Ireland Special Branch HQ and the Lord Butler 2004 Review of (Iraq’s non-existent) Weapons of Mass Destruction. He is a former Staff Counsellor to the Security and Intelligence Agencies and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. Chilcot’s four fellow Inquiry panellists are equally reliable representatives of their class and include a noted Zionist. This Inquiry will certainly not call any representative of the Iraqi people.

Whatever acuity the panel displayed when questioning senior civil servants, it escaped them when confronted by Tony Blair, who was allowed to stick to his well-rehearsed script and was not questioned on details such as misleading Parliament on weapons of mass destruction and whether he put pressure on the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to give the legal advice Blair wanted. Instead, Blair was able to propose targeting Iran.

One of the more revealing episodes of the Inquiry came when Lord Goldsmith explained how he changed his mind from considering an invasion of Iraq illegal without a second UN resolution to considering it legal. Three days before the attack Goldsmith responded to a question from British military chiefs and told the Cabinet and Parliament that an invasion would be legal. He explained that lunch with the French ambassador and a private meeting in the US with US security adviser Condoleezza Rice and US government lawyers had persuaded him that France had privately admitted that the invasion could go ahead without a further UN resolution. No new legal interpretations, no new evidence presented; France privately said it would be alright and the Attorney General changed his mind.

The division in the British ruling class over allying with the US or Europe lies behind many of the machinations of the British state over Iraq. If the ruling class were united they would not have had to circumvent established procedures which has so infuriated the senior civil servants.

On 25 January the Daily Mail reported that Lord Hutton, who headed the 2004 inquiry into the death of the government scientist  Dr David Kelly, had placed a 70-year ban on the release of medical records of Dr Kelly’s post-mortem. The Hutton inquiry concluded that Dr Kelly had committed suicide. Thirteen eminent doctors have now challenged the Hutton verdict and elicited a letter from Oxfordshire County Council revealing the ban. One of the doctors said, ‘I am shocked but not surprised by this. It fits in with the subversion of due process we have seen for six years.’ Dr Kelly had accused the Labour government of manipulating evidence to draw Britain into the invasion of Iraq. He had close ties to the British intelligence services, debriefing Soviet defectors and serving as a weapons inspector in Iraq. He was found dead in woods not far from his Oxfordshire home and did not leave a suicide note. Recognising that the 70-year classification suggests there is something to hide, Lord Hutton quickly recanted and has said he will lift the ban.

The World Health Organisation estimated that UN sanctions imposed on Iraq before the invasion killed half a million children, 5,000 babies died because of them every month. How many people have the invaders killed in Iraq: 600,000? a million? And Tony Blair says that he has ‘no regrets’. ‘A woman was seen sobbing as he left the room’ (Financial Times 30/31 January 2010).

‘The most important questions – war, peace, diplomatic questions – are decided by a handful of capitalists, who deceive not only the masses, but very often parliament itself.’ VI Lenin.

Trevor Rayne