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article imageBlair told by 27 lawyers Iraq invasion was illegal

By Chris Dade     Jan 27, 2010 in World
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was told by all 27 lawyers working in the Foreign Office in January 2003 that invading Iraq would be illegal under international law unless the UN passed a second resolution sanctioning such an act.
Tony Blair is scheduled to appear on Friday at the inquiry currently being held in the U.K. - the inquiry is frequently referred to as the Chilcot Inquiry after its Chairman Sir John Chilcot and is taking place at the Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Conference Centre in London - in to the events leading up to and subsequent to the country's participation in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
And the Daily Express reports that the revelation on Tuesday that Mr Blair, who worked in the legal profession prior to his career in politics, ignored the advice of the Foreign Office legal team, led by Sir Michael Wood, likely means that he will face "a mob of protesters" when he appears at the inquiry at the end of the week.
Sir Michael, senior legal adviser at the Foreign Office from 2001 through 2006 and until yesterday reportedly silent on the subject of the Iraq invasion, is quoted as saying by the Irish Times:I considered that the use of force against Iraq in March 2003 was contrary to international law. In my opinion, that use of force had not been authorised by the UN Security Council and had no other legal basis in international law
Indicating that he had considered resigning when the advice he and his team offered to Mr Blair and then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was ignored, his deputy Elizabeth Wilmshurst did actually resign, Sir Michael added:He [Straw] took the view that I was being very dogmatic and that international law was pretty vague and that he wasn’t used to people taking such a firm position
In her evidence to the inquiry, which began its public hearings in November and is due to conclude those initial hearings in early February, Ms Wilmshurst referred to the dilemma facing Lord Goldsmith, Attorney General at the time of the invasion and appearing at the inquiry himself on Wednesday.
Ms Wilmshurst explained:It was clear that the Attorney General was not going to stand in the way of the Government. For the Attorney to have advised that the conflict would have been unlawful without a second resolution would have been very difficult at that stage I would have thought, handing Saddam Hussein a massive public relations advantage. It was extraordinary, frankly, to leave asking him so late in the day. The process that was followed in this case was lamentable
With regard to Lord Goldsmith eventually accepting the invasion was legal, the Irish Times notes that in August 2002 Sir Michael Wood advised Mr Straw, at present Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, in writing that British soldiers and officials were “potentially liable to charges of murder” if the Attorney General did not accept the legality of the invasion.
In reporting on the appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry of Sir Micheal Wood, ANI provides details too of the explanation given for the invasion of Iraq by Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff.
Speaking at the inquiry Mr Powell talked of there being an "assumption' that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), based on the fact he was believed to have possessed them in 1998.
Mr Powell, later acknowledging that he could not substantiate the claim made by the man he served that the Iraqi dictator was expanding his WMD program, stated:We were wrong. Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction. We had an assumption that because Saddam Hussein had used WMDs, he had lied about getting rid of WMDs. We had bombed Iraq in 1998 on that basis and it would have taken some quite strong evidence to ­suggest he had got rid of them.
We didn't really have any doubts about it and I don't think other people had any doubts about it. We were confident he had weapons of mass destruction
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Foreign Secretary for two years during the 1990s when John Major was the Conservative Prime Minster, has called the stance taken by Mr Straw “intolerable”.
While Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey claimed the evidence from Sir Michael Wood and Elizabeth Wilmshurst was “the final nail in the coffin of the case for a legal war”.
Left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell, an outspoken critic of the invasion of Iraq, is suggesting that Tony Blair and other officials serving when it was decided that the U.K. would join the invasion could be forced to defend their actions in court.
According to the Daily Express Mr McDonnell asserted:The net is clearly closing in on those who took us into the illegal and immoral war. The time is coming when the Crown Prosecution Service will be forced to consider the prosecution of those who perpetrated this act of unjust aggression
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