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Illegality of Iraq war

One small news item that got lost in the crush of other recent stories deserved more play than it got. It made it more clear than ever that there are serious doubts in Britain about the legality of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister of Britain, caused a stir in Parliament last week when he said, referring to Jack Straw, who was foreign secretary in Tony Blair’s Labor Government: "Maybe he one day – perhaps we will have to wait for his memoirs – could account for his role in the most disastrous decision of all, which is the illegal invasion of Iraq."

Clegg is leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, the junior coalition partner of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party, which supported Britain’s role in the invasion. After Clegg’s remarks some Conservative leaders including the current foreign secretary distanced themselves from Clegg, but there was no clear statement by the British government as what its current position is. A spokesperson for Clegg’s office said the government would not state its position on the legality of the war until after an official investigation known as the Chilcot Inquiry is completed.

The Chilcot Inquiry is the latest in a series of postmortems about the war, this one focusing on the background and aftermath of Britain’s participation. Among witnesses who have testified recently is Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5, Britain’s internal security services. She said the Iraq war was a major mistake and one that had helped make Britain less secure against home-grown terrorism: "Our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people – not a whole generation, a few among a generation – who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as being an attack on Islam."

The Chilcot panel also released a previously classified document Lady Manningham-Buller had written a year before the invasion in which she said Saddam was not likely to use chemical or biological weapons unless "he felt the survival of his regime was in doubt." She added: "We assess that Iraqi capability to mount attacks in the UK is currently limited."

Lady Manningham-Buller testified to the Chilcot panel that there had been only a low risk of a direct threat to Britain by Iraq and no credible evidence of an Iraqi link to al-Qaida, and she revealed that she had refused a request by Blair’s office to contribute low-grade intelligence to the dossier his office put together to justify the war. She said she didn’t think the intelligence was reliable.

Why aren’t U.S. news media focusing more attention on this? At the time of the war, the Bush administration repeatedly cited British support to justify the invasion, and now it’s increasingly clear that senior British officials had major doubts as to its legality at the time.

Author, lecturer and former CNN correspondent Tony Collings discusses current news coverage at his blog, Capturing The News. Follow Tony on Twitter.

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Tony Collings

Tony Collings

Tony Collings is the author of Capturing the News, a journalist's memoir and critique of journalism. He was a CNN correspondent for sixteen years, joining the network within its first year. He was based in Rome for five years, covering the Middle East, Europe, Russia and Africa. Then he was based in Washington for eleven years, covering a variety of assignments, from the White House to the Pentagon and the Justice Department.

Earlier in his career he was a Wall Street Journal reporter in New York, and an AP reporter in Moscow, London and Bonn, and the Newsweek bureau chief in Bonn and London.

Today he is a lecturer in communication studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. His previous book was Words of Fire, about courageous journalists around the world.