The declaration of a semi-closed, semi-open, no-blame inquiry into the Iraq war is said to be part of British prime minister Gordon Brown’s strategy to secure his position as leader of the Labour party.
Interestingly, the announcement also hampers any thoughts the Conservatives may have of initiating their own inquiry with a broader remit if they win the next general election (the most likely outcome at this point) .
More important than these power games is the opportunity the inquiry gives anti-war activists to try to retrieve some important facts from the wastebin of history.
One crucial point was made in January 2003 by British vice-admiral sir James Jungius, who wrote to The Times: “Even if the weapons do exist, where is the evidence of intent to use them? War is too important and unpleasant a business to be undertaken on the basis of a hunch, however good that hunch may be.”
It was widely assumed by mainstream left-liberal anti-war critics that if weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were found in Iraq, this would justify military action. The argument (in the mainstream) turned on whether he had them – so that the liberals felt vindicated when no weapons were found, and Blair’s big lie was exposed.
The genuine anti-war position was that military action was not justified even if Iraq was found to have WMD, as Jungius pointed out.
The forgotten inspectors
Just in relation to the WMD, there was, of course, a nonviolent method of resolving the issue – the UN weapons inspectors. The weapons inspections were progressing at the time of the US invasion, and had resulted in the destruction of 34 al-Samoud missiles and related warheads and equipment before the ejection of inspectors – by the United States.
Bush’s ejection of the inspectors was merely the culmination of a long US campaign to undermine UNMOVIC. The evidence is reviewed in Regime Unchanged.
See the then US secretary of state Colin Powell’s statement on 22 January 2003: “The question isn’t how much longer do you need for inspections to work. Inspections will not work.”
Days before the first missile fell, on 9 March 2003, Tony Blair’s official spokesperson stated: “We believe the Blix process is now complete.”
In fact, Blair knew full well that UNMOVIC was just about to propose a final and conclusive round of inspections lasting mere months, in a report submitted on the day US president George W. Bush delivered his ultimatum to Saddam Hussein. The deliberate undermining of the inspectors, with British support, will not be part of the inquiry’s investigations.
Veto power needed
Quite frankly, what many of us want is not yet another whitewash inquiry, but a war crimes tribunal. Given that this is not on the cards, the next best thing would be to see the fulfilment of one of Gordon Brown’s promised constitutional innovations: a parliamentary veto on the declaration of war. Once we get that, we will need to build a lively peace movement powerful enough to exert the necessary pressure on British MPs – the kind of pressure that forced Turkish MPs to vote down participation in the 2003 invasion, despite Turkey’s considerable financial, economic and military dependency on the US.
In other words, we will have to push British democracy up towards the level of Turkish democracy. Let’s give Brown and Cameron more to worry about than their relative positions.