Today saw the first day of a public inquiry taking place in London into the events surrounding the British Governmentâ€™s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. The hearing, conducted by retired civil servant Sir John Chilcot, aims to help answer key questions such as whether the government put pressure on legal experts, notably the then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith,Â to declare that the conflict was in fact legal.
Serving and former Cabinet ministers, as well as former Prime Minister Tony Blair, will be called before the inquiry panel in a series of public hearings that are to be streamed live over the internet. While the inquiry reserves the right to hold proceedings in private when issues of national security are under discussion, the unprecedented level of accessibility given to this inquest is being seen by many as an attempt by the political establishment to finally put a lid on the issue of the 2003 invasion of Iraq – which has already been the subject of four separate inquiries in the UK.
This first day of proceedings focussed on events preceding the invasion and heard evidence from the former head of the Middle East department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sir William Patey, and the former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Sir Peter Ricketts. Perhaps the most notable detail to arise so far is that UK officials felt that, prior to 9/11, the Bush administration was already looking to build a case for regime change in Iraq. Patey stated that while the UK initially ignored the â€œdrumbeatsâ€ coming from Washington, shortly after the 9/11 attacks various policy options where looked at including regime change – but this was dismissed on the grounds that it had â€œno basis in lawâ€.
When called to give evidence, Sir Peter Ricketts stated that regime change in Iraq was an idea mooted by American officials long before the election of George W Bush, but that â€œit was clear from late autumn [of 2001] that Iraq was being considered in a different light in light of the 9/11 attacks.â€ Indeed the main conclusion that can be drawn from the first day of proceedings is that while regime change had been on the minds of foreign policy chiefs in Washington for some time, the catalyst of 9/11 brought the idea to the forefront – forcing officials in London to rethink their policy as the position of their American allies shifted.
Whether this new inquiry will draw any conclusions that the press and public have not already drawn themselves is debatable. What is hoped however is that the process will shed light on exactly who took the key decisions that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, how these decisions were taken and upon what evidence they were based. In this way it is hoped that lessons can be learnt from the events that set in motion what has been, in terms of public opinion, one of the most unpopular wars in British history.
Further information on the Iraq Inquiry, including transcripts and a timetable of the hearings, can be found on the inquiryâ€™s website.
Morys Ireland is an Information Technology student at the University of Portsmouth in the UK and an active member of the British Labour Party.