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Inquiry opens on Britain's role in Iraq war

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-11-24

An inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq war opened in London on Tuesday, with evidence from senior members of the UK’s defence establishment. Tony Blair, who will be the highlight of the inquiry, is due to give evidence after Christmas.

A long-awaited public inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq war opened in London on Tuesday with a top former British intelligence officer telling the inquiry that Britain had no plans to oust former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein back in 2001, but that there were “voices” for regime change in Washington from the new administration of US President George W. Bush.

Speaking before the five-member inquiry commission on Tuesday, Sir Peter Ricketts, who chaired the government's top intelligence committee from 2000 until a week before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, said he was "certainly not aware of anyone in the British government promoting or supporting active measures” to topple Saddam.

Ricketts’ testimony before the commission headed by former British civil servant Sir John Chilcot attempted to shed light on the build-up to British participation in the 2003 US-led Iraq war.

Unlike earlier commissions, the Chilcot Inquiry is sweeping in scope and is charged with examining the reasons for British participation in the war as well as the post-invasion occupation in Iraq.

'A reliable account'

In his opening statements delivered on Tuesday morning, Chilcot stressed that no-one was "on trial" in the probe, due to last one year.

"As I have said before, we are not a court of law, nor are we an inquest,” he said before going on to add, "No-one is on trial here. We cannot determine guilt or innocence. Only a court can do that. But I make a commitment here that once we get to our final report, we will not shy away from making criticisms, either of institutions or processes or individuals, where they are truly warranted."

In the lead-up to the inquiry opening, media attention has been focused on what will likely be the highlight of the inquiry -  an appearance from Tony Blair, pencilled in for January, and the former British premier's arguments for taking the country into the war. 

Reporting from London, FRANCE 24's Benedicte Paviot said that even if Blair is not actually on trial, revelations and media pressure is likely to put Blair, now Middle East peace envoy, in a tricky position.

"Tony Blair has every reason to be concerned," she said. "This could well end up as a trial in the court of public opinion. There will be many criticisms in the media both here and abroad about why he went to war that will not do him any good at all," she added.

Legality of the war

The commission has been criticized by anti-war campaigners, who want a ruling on the legality of the conflict, which was carried out without explicit approval by the United Nations Security Council.

But former BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan, who resigned after famously asserting in 2003 that the British government had “sexed up” Saddam’s military capabilities, told FRANCE 24 that many would be frustrated by the limitations of the Chilcot Inquiry.

“Some people will be disappointed by Chilcot," he said. "He has a huge number of expectations to meet and I’m not sure that he can meet them. A lot of the anti-war movement is hoping that the court will pronounce the war a disaster and call Tony Blair a liar, but he’s not going to do that.

“I don’t think he could ever hope to satisfy the people who want Tony Blair to be dragged in front of the court in chains,” he added.

Date created : 2009-11-24

  • UK

    Tony Blair to be publicly grilled in Iraq war inquiry

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