02/02/2010

Cabinet 'Misled' On Iraq, Says Short

A former 'rebel' cabinet minister has said her colleagues were "misled" into believing the Iraq invasion was legal.

Appearing before an inquiry into the war today, Clare Short claimed Attorney General Lord Goldsmith's legal assessment had been "leaned on".

She said Tony Blair "and his mates" were determined to press ahead with the invasion, claiming "everything was done on a wing and a prayer".

Ms Short resigned from her role as International Development Minister two months after the March 2003 conflict began.

Appearing in front of a panel chaired by Sir John Chilcot, Ms Short denied the cabinet had been a "decision-making body" and referred to Parliament as a "rubber stamp".

She was highly critical of her former boss Tony Blair and said she had been "conned" into holding off on resigning until May 2003.

The public gallery applauded Ms Short while hearing her evidence.

In January 2003 Lord Goldsmith warned Mr Blair invading Iraq could be illegal without a second United Nations resolution.

However, a month later he advised the prime minister on a loop hole within previous resolutions which could sanction a war, after speaking to US diplomats.

Cabinet was informed of the decision to take action against Iraq three days before the conflict began.

Ms Short said she was not made aware of any earlier doubts over the legality. She said she was "jeered" by colleagues after inquiring why the Attorney General's decision was revealed so late.

Ms Short said that, when she repeated the question to Lord Goldsmith, he had replied: "Oh, it takes me a long time to make my mind up."

Now aware of the legal chief's "doubts and his changes of opinion", Ms Short said: "I think for the attorney general to come and say there's unequivocal legal authority to go war was misleading."

She said: "I think he misled the cabinet. He certainly misled me, but people let it through."

Ms Short also said the government had put out an "untrue" claim that France had vetoed a second UN resolution.

"I believed them at the time. You don't want to disbelieve your prime minister in the run-up to war and you want to believe the leader of your party. You want to be loyal".

She said requests for an intelligence briefing on Iraq in 2002 "didn't come" despite continued calls.

Ms Short branded Mr Blair's version of events, presented to the inquiry on Friday, as "historically inaccurate".

He said fears had been heightened in the wake of the 9/11 New York attacks.

However, according to Ms Short: "There was no evidence of any kind of an escalation of threats."

She added: "The American people were misled to suggest that al-Qaeda had links to Saddam Hussein.

"Everybody knows that is untrue - that he had absolutely no links, no sympathy, al-Qaeda were nowhere near Iraq until after the invasion and the disorder that came from that."

The inquiry continues.

(PR/BMcC)

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