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Legal advice on Iraq

Apparently the best ways to increase your audience is to post a lot and to link to the story of the moment.

Why then did I fail to make any comment Channel 4 News' big breakthrough? Basically bullying Blair into releasing the legal advice given to him by the Attorney General on March 7th 2003, ten days before Parliament was briefed with a completely different document which contained no hazy grey areas at all.

I've just been reading the two side by side and its pretty damaging to Blair as leader of the Labour party, going into the final week before the election. I'd imagine its pretty damaging to the reputation of Lord Goldsmith too, but he stands by his assertion that there was legal basis to go to war:

Authority to use force against Iraq exists from the combined effect of resolutions 678, 687 and 1441. All of these resolutions were adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which allows the use of force for the express purpose of restoring international peace and security

as described in the March 17th note. That, unqualified position is very different to that set out in the summary of his March 7th note:

29. However, the argument that resolution 1441 alone has revived the authorisation to use force in resolution 678 will only be sustainable if there are strong factual grounds for concluding that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity. In other words, we would need to be able to demonstrate hard evidence of non-compliance and non-cooperation. Given the structure of the resolution as a whole, the views of UNMOVIC and the IAEA will be highly significant in this respect. In the light of the latest reporting by UNMOVIC, you will need to consider extremely carefully whether the evidence of non-cooperation and non-compliance by Iraq is sufficiently compelling to justify the conclusion that Iraq has failed to take its final opportunity.

The Survey Group has found all the "hard evidence" that there ever was following an exhaustive search and its reports have done little but allow Hand Blix the opportunity of saying "told you so", not that he would, far too mature for that. See the NYTimes:

The final report of the Iraq Survey Group, headed by Charles Duelfer, has now declared any mass transfer of illicit weapons improbable. That judgment came in a 92-page addendum that was released this week to tie up loose ends from the comprehensive no-weapons-found report issued by the investigators last fall.

But even with that little problem push to the side, the final words of Lord Goldsmith's note are on proportionality of response:
36. Finally, I must stress that the lawfulness of military action depends not only on the existence of a legal basis, but also on the question of proportionality. Any force used pursuant to the authorisation in resolution 678 (whether or not there is a second resolution):

- must have as its objective the enforcement the terms of the cease-fire contained in resolution 687 (1990) and subsequent relevant resolutions;

- be limited to what is necessary to achieve that objective; and

- must be a proportionate response to that objective, ie securing compliance with Iraq's disarmament obligations.

That is not to say that action may not be taken to remove Saddam Hussein from power if it can be demonstrated that such action is a necessary and proportionate measure to secure the disarmament of Iraq. But regime change cannot be the objective of military action. This should be borne in mind in considering the list of military targets and in making public statements about any campaign.

Military action undertaken during the course of the war just doesn't fit with that advice as far as I can see. Didn't we ("the coallition") do things like bomb restaurants because we had had intelligence that suggested Sadam was planning to visit? I find it hard to justify that sort of action as necessary for Iraq to meet its disarmament obligations as laid out in resolutions 678, 687.

Goldsmith states at the beginning of the note that he had consulted with Sir Jeremy Greenstock, a man whom I've seen speak and met very briefly. He is an extremely bright man with a great insight into international relations. Reading the March 7th note, I feel his influence in the cautious tone.

What happened in those ten days?


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