In the wake of the Chilcot report, I thought I would add to the evidence that the UK was largely impotent when it came to influencing the events that led to the invasion of and Iraq. A month after 9/11 I was invited to attend and speak at a meeting of senior business leaders in New York. The meeting went ahead as a show of defiance to the terrorists. Members of the group came from North America and the UK and were chairs of Fortune 500 companies or held a similar rank.
On the final day of the meeting, we were addressed by General Wes Clark, then very senior in the Pentagon and to become a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004. In this closed-door session we were given the details of forthcoming invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by US and other forces. We were told outline strategies, troop numbers and dates which were being rapidly set in place. We were told that there were no contingency plans for what would happen to Iraq after the invasion, except that US policy was to leave it unstable and chaotic so that it did not pose a powerful threat in the region, and the US could control the oil assets and establish a large forward military base in .
At the end of the briefing the room was silent apart from one question on the effect on oil prices from the chair of one of the world’s largest oil companies. It was clear that these two invasions would go ahead and that discussions that might take place in wider society, local or global, would be minor distractions to the plan, which already had enormous momentum in terms of planning, resources and support across the political-military establishment in the US. The seduction of UK prime ministers by the US has been the norm since the end of the second world war, and Blair was just the latest victim. The only PM not to be quite so seduced was Harold Wilson.
• To me, as a democratic socialist who spoke in parliament, marched across London and wrote in the Guardian against the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, Elizabeth Wilmshurst has always been one of my heroines after her brave resignation. Her excellent article (, 7 July) could be extended at one crucial point. When the attorney general was meditating (March 2003) on whether to advise the prime minister that an invasion would be lawful under UN resolution 1441 (he thought not to invade was “the safest legal course”), he asked for the facts on whether Iraq had not complied. To discover these facts he asked … the prime minister! In other words, Blair advised himself that an invasion was lawful. The attorney general promptly decided that an invasion was “the better view” (nb not “the lawful view”). Thus a serious violation of international law was casually committed, with no written record kept. An illegal act surely needs the recourse to a court of law.
• It is right that Tony Blair should be held to account after the Chilcot report. However, Blair did not invade Iraq single-handedly. The cabinet, the House of Commons and the armed forces all went along with the war. The Chilcot report says: “The primary impetus to maximise the size of the UK contribution [to the invasion] … came from the armed forces” (executive summary, paragraph 811). Elsewhere, this call is identified particularly with Admiral Michael Boyce, then chief of the defence staff (section 6.1, paragraph 968).
It’s important we hold military commanders to account as well as politicians. The Iraq invasion led to declining support for war among the public. Since then the government has whipped up support for the armed forces – with initiatives such as Armed Forces Day and increases in cadet forces – encouraging support for war by proxy. Democracy is not served by the existence of a large body of people who are required to obey orders without question, even orders to kill. No institution should be beyond criticism. The armed forces – rooted in violence, hierarchy and the recruitment of vulnerable teenagers – must be challenged.
• Re “” (7 July): Lord Goldsmith, Sir John Scarlett, Sir Richard Dearlove, Admiral Lord Boyce, Gen Sir Mike Jackson, Gen Sir Nicholas Houghton. Yet another indictment of the honours system. They should all be stripped of their titles.
• The contrast between the preparations for post-conflict administration in the Iraq conflict and the second world war is stark. In the 1940s, my father, holding the rank of brigadier, was appointed chief civil affairs officer in four countries, following the defeat of the Axis forces – Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tripolitania (Libya) and Italy. In each case he was designated for his role up to a year in advance so as to make preparations and assemble his team; he took the surrender along with the military commanders (Gen Montgomery in Tripoli) and was ready to attend to immediate needs in re-establishing civil administration. In Tripoli and Naples, this was to provide food for the starving populations. Territories were handed back to the individual governments as soon as appropriate.
• You say opposed the Iraq war. She came to oppose it, but on the fateful night of the vote, as I hovered outside the voting lobby, she was inside the lobby door, accompanied by her parliamentary private secretary, the late Dennis Turner. Clare urged me to vote in favour as she intended to do.
The greatest mistake in Iraq was to underestimate the depth of the schism in Islam. Instead of rejoicing in the downfall of Saddam and their resulting liberation, the so-called Marsh Arabs, who are Shia, engaged in settling deadly scores with the minority Sunnis of Saddam’s reign of terror.
• Your extensive Chilcot coverage completely ignores the role of the late – and indeed all the Liberal Democrat MPs of the time – in opposing the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Kennedy spoke strongly against an invasion, placing him at the head of a body of opinion in the country which grew as the overthrow of Saddam Hussein – and – was followed by bloody, ongoing carnage. His reasons are precisely vindicated by the Chilcot conclusions.
• Could the executive summary of the Chilcot report please be rewritten, eschewing English understatement and mandarin subtlety? Irony-free Americans and blunt-speaking Germans should not be misled into thinking that the Iraq fiasco was anything less than a global catastrophe.