Many people feared that the Iraq inquiry, which opened last week, was going to be a whitewash.
While that is still a strong possibility, the inquiry’s first week has revealed the continuing crisis in the establishment over the invasion in March 2003.
The inquiry, chaired by former senior civil servant John Chilcot, has seen former government officials, advisors and ambassadors queuing up to denounce Tony Blair and the preparations for the war and occupation.
Many ordinary people want the inquiry to rule that the war was illegal and that Blair and George Bush planned the invasion almost a year before it was launched.
As he left his post, Sir William Patey, the British ambassador to Iraq from 2005-6, told Blair that the continued occupation of Iraq would make civil war “likely”. He also disclosed that Britain had discussed “regime change” in 2001.
Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s former ambassador to the US until 2003, avidly supported the war. He sat in on many of the talks between Bush and Blair in the run-up to the invasion.
He revealed that the two leaders spent a “large chunk” of time alone together during their talks in Texas in April 2002. An agreement between the two appeared to have been “signed in blood”.
Meyer was instrumental to the forging of the relationship between Bush and Blair.
But in 2005 he spoke out against the Iraq strategy, showing the growing divisions among Britain’s ruling elite as the fall out from the war got worse.
He said that British “home-grown terrorists” were “radicalised and fuelled by what is going on in Iraq. Don’t tell me that being in Iraq has got nothing to do with it. Of course it does.”
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations between 1998 and 2003, told the inquiry, “I regarded our invasion of Iraq as legal but of questionable legitimacy.”
David Manning, who was part of Blair’s inner circle, appeared before the inquiry on Monday this week. Manning frequently met with US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice and others central to the Bush regime.
On 14 March 2002, Manning sent Blair a memo reporting on a recent conversation he’d had with Rice.
He wrote, “I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States.
“And you would not budge either in your insistence that, if we pursued regime change, it must be very carefully done and produce the right result. Failure was not an option.”
Bush and Blair sent each other memos in March 2003 stating that they were both prepared to go to war with or without a second United Nations resolution.
New leaks keep on coming. Lord Goldsmith, the then attorney general, wrote a letter to Tony Blair in July 2002 warning him that going to war with Iraq had no basis in international law and would be illegal.
Shortly afterwards, Goldsmith was banned from attending cabinet meetings.
Whether the public will ever get to see the documents that will be referred to in the inquiry is open to question.
Witnesses and civil servants can cite seven different reasons for material being too sensitive to be released to the public.
This is a recipe for more cover-ups and more questions left unanswered.
The information disclosed so far in the inquiry has confirmed the arguments of the anti-war movement—that removing Saddam Hussein lay at the centre of the US and Britain’s plans.
One group desperate for answers are the families of British soldiers killed in the conflict.
Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon died in 2004, told Socialist Worker, “I want to know why we went into Iraq in the first place. Where are the weapons of mass destruction?
“I’ve always doubted the legality of the war. There have been so many lies, so many secret documents—the war was a whitewash from the beginning.”
The inquiry continues.