Dutch inquiry concludes the Iraq war 'was illegal' as Tony Blair’s spin doctor presents evidence at Chilcot inquiry

A Dutch inquiry concludes the Iraq war ‘was illegal’ as Alastair Campbell presents his evidence before the Chilcot inquiry. Afghans express anger over alleged desecration of Quran. Yemen kills ‘al-Qaeda cell leader.’ Obama expected to ask $33billion more for wars in February. Israel apologises to Turkey for breaching diplomatic manners. All this and more in today's update.
Rukeyya Khan
13 January 2010

The British government's justification for launching the Iraq war has been dramatically undermined by two separate inquiries casting new light on the build-up to the invasion in 2003. Delivering the first independent assessment of the legality of the conflict, an official Dutch inquiry yesterday concluded that 'the military action had no sound mandate in international law.' In a 550-page report, it concluded that: 'The UN Security Council resolution on Iraq from the 1990s did not give a mandate to the US-British led military intervention in 2003.' The report added that 'in its depiction of Iraq's WMD programme, the [Dutch] government was to a considerable extent led by public and other information from the US and the UK.'

These findings were delivered as details of Tony Blair's support for the invasion of Iraq emerged in testimonies given by Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's director of communications from 1994 until 2003, to the Chilcot inquiry in London. During five hours of questioning about the relationship between Washington and Downing Street in the months before the invasion, Campbell revealed that Blair had assured President Bush in a series of letters during 2002 that Britain would support a US-led war against Iraq. Campbell said that he stood by 'every single word' in the Blair government's now largely discredited dossier on Iraq's banned weapons programme,  adding that Britain should be 'proud' of its role in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

The openSecurity verdict: Though they may be criticised for being irrelevant to the facts on the ground in today's conflict zones, such inquiries have serious security implications and prompt us to question of whether, in the aftermath of the invasion, American and British citizens are safer. According to opponents of the war, Britain’s involvement in Iraq has served to intensify home-grown extremism.

The failure to find any weapons of mass destruction and the subsequent loss of civilian life in Iraq which, according to some estimates, stands above one million, has brought into question the entire reasoning for war and whether Britain in fact faced a security threat. These questions, together with the reasons for the continuation of the war in Afghanistan, will play a significant role in the British general elections, especially since Gordon Brown is now facing calls to give evidence at the Iraq inquiry in order to ascertain his role in the decision to go to war.

The findings of the Dutch inquiry are particularly significant given that there has been no other independent assessment of the legality of the war in Iraq. The report provides the authoritative view of seven commissioners including the former president of the Dutch Supreme Court, a former judge of the European court of justice, and two legal academics. The Dutch inquiry is therefore likely to influence analysis of events in Britain, particularly as the Chilcot inquiry lacks expertise on issues of legality.

Meanwhile, Alastair Campbell’s unapologetic performance at the Chilcot inquiry has come as no surprise. Campbell blamed the media for creating a frenzy around the notorious claim that Saddam could launch weapons within 45 minutes. He also dismissed the overwhelming evidence of government papers and his own diaries that he pressured spy chiefs to harden the ‘dodgy’ dossier on Iraqi weapons. Critics have slammed his performance with many pointing out inconsistencies in his testimony.

Influential as Campbell might be, he was only making the case for war, not the decisions. It is becoming increasingly clear that only the testimony of Tony Blair himself will truly matter. The former prime minister will need to justify his style of government, which, from the informal decision-making, to the secret memos, to the only sporadic consultation with cabinet ministers, been exposed in a damning light by the Chilcot inquiry. Blair will need to answer questions about the presentation of the case for war and in particular why he deemed the September 2002 dossier on Iraq's weapons was 'beyond doubt.' He will also need to explain his post-invasion plan and more importantly, explain the timing of his decision to support a military invasion by the US.

The outcome of the Chilcot inquiry is not yet clear, though many opponents of the war have were disappointed when it was announced that the inquiry had no power to apportion blame or establish criminal or civil liability. Although Sir John Chilcot has insisted the inquiry will not be a whitewash, it will do little to allay the despair of many given the outcome of previous limited inquiries (Hutton, Butler, ISC, FASC) which have not led to significant revelations of the British government’s misdemeanour or cover-up. There are also questions surrounding Sir John Chilcot himself and whether he can be a credible investigator of the flawed intelligence produced on Iraqi WMDs by MI6 between 2002 and 2003 given he acted as a 'staff counsellor' to MI6 between 1999 and 2004.

Afghan anger over alleged desecration of Quran

Villagers in southern Afghanistan have claimed that Afghan and NATO forces killed thirteen demonstrators and wounded another twenty after a group of people took to the streets to protest the alleged desecration of the Quran. Residents of Garmsir district in the turbulent Helmand province said on Tuesday that NATO-led forces raided a house in the area on Sunday and destroyed copies of the Quran in a local mosque.

The NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has rejected the allegations saying Afghan forces backed by coalition troops had conducted an operation in the area on Sunday, but did not fire a shot or detain anyone. On Wednesday, some 100 to 200 Afghans were invited into a Marine combat outpost to hold a shura - a traditional Afghan meeting - with local Marine commanders to look into the allegations and ascertain the facts.

Elsewhere, the UN’s Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported a 14 percent rise in civilian deaths in 2009, up from 2,118 a year earlier. The rise makes 2009 the worst year for Afghan civilians since the US-led invasion in late 2001. UNAMA figures also showed a significant rise in the deaths of foreign forces stationed in the country.

Yemen kills ‘al-Qaeda cell leader’

The leader of a Yemeni al-Qaeda cell has been killed in clashes with security forces,  Yemen's state news agency claimed on Wednesday. The governor of the eastern province of Shabwa reported that Abdullah Mehdar was killed overnight by security forces after being besieged in a house where he had been hiding. Mehdar was reportedly the leader of an al-Qaeda cell in al-Houta region, 600km east of the capital Sanaa.

In a separate incident in Shabwa on Wednesday, two Yemeni soldiers were killed in an ambush. Earlier, the interior ministry reported that at least fifteen Houthi fighters were killed in clashes with security forces in their stronghold in northern Yemen. On Wednesday, Iranian and Omani officials said that Yemen should turn to dialogue to end a conflict with the Houthi fighters. The conflict between the government and the Houthis has intensified since August 2009 when Yemen's army launched Operation Scorched Earth in an attempt to crush Shia insurgents in the northern province of Saada.

Obama expected to ask $33billion more for wars

The Obama administration plans to ask the US Congress for an additional $33billion to continue operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, on top of a record request for $708 billion for the defense department next year. The Associated Press has learnt that the administration intends to use the money for counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are expected to testify to Congress about the budget and the administration’s Quadrennial defense policy review in February.

Top military commanders have already been briefed this week about the administration’s budget plans through to 2015. The four-year review has outlined six key mission areas with priority being given to the use of pilotless drones for surveillance and attack in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Obama’s request for more war spending is likely to receive support on Capitol Hill though it may expose a rift between the administration and Democrat leaders responding to the increasing tide of public opinion against the military campaign in Afghanistan.

Israel-Turkey diplomatic row deepens

Turkey has said it will recall its ambassador unless a row over his treatment by Israel's deputy foreign minister, Daniel Ayalon, is rapidly resolved. The revelation came after Ayalon issued a special statement on his treatment of the Turkish ambassador to Israel in which he attempted to diffuse the row by saying that he meant no disrespect and that in future he would behave ‘in a diplomatically acceptable manner.’

The diplomatic row broke out after Ayalon summoned the Turkish ambassador, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, to rebuke him over a Turkish TV series that Israel considers offensive. In doing so, Ayalon made clear in televised remarks that he would not shake hands with the ambassador, ensured no Turkish flag was displayed on the table and made the envoy sit on a low couch, confronted by three Israeli officials in higher chairs, in order to ram home his displeasure with Ankara. On Wednesday, Ayalon conceded that whilst his protest against the attacks on Israel in Turkey remains valid, his manner ought to have been clarified. Turkey however has renewed its demand for a formal apology from Israel.

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