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Science, People & Politics

Science, People and Politics, issue 4, Volume i, Volume II, published 6th July, 2009.

The Iraq War Inquiry.

By Alice Mahon

It was clear from the moment Gordon Brown announced that there would be an inquiry into the Iraq War based on the Frank's Inquiry into the invasion of The Falkland Islands that this would be unacceptable to those who had fought long and hard to lift the lid off one of the most shameful episodes in New Labour's hold on power.

What the anti-war movement wanted -- and wants -- was an inquiry that would establish the truth. Open and transparent, held in public. An inquiry with terms of reference that would allow it to apportion blame. An inquiry that would decide what legal avenues could be pursued if guilt was apportioned. We wanted - and want - full consultation, across party lines with experts from all political perspectives, military experts and high-ranking civil servants expert in the region, and one or two good lawyers we could trust to put the questions on the legality of the war. Instead we have officials who may not have the establishment clout they need to bring before the Inquiry the witnesses with the greatest insight into the days and months leading to the war.

A full, open inquiry is the very least we can do for the people of Iraq whose country we destroyed, for the tens of thousands of Iraqies who died, for the millions of refugees the war created and for our own armed forces who were killed and injured fighting this war.

In Parliament I was very involved in opposing the war. I put down the first Early Day Motion (EDM) warning of the possibilty that Bush was preparing to attack Iraq. It was clear to many of us that Blair would support him. With the support of MPs from across the political spectrum I formed and chaired the Iraq Liaison Committee, which organised meetings and activities both inside and out of Parliament. The Blairite forces arraigned against those in the Party who opposed the Prime Minister were formidable. Blair was very persuasive in small meetings organised by the whips to try to convince waverers that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction posed a real threat to international peace and security. I attended one of those meetings and it developed into a shouting match between myself and Blair. I simply thought he was seriously misleading MPs.

Many of my colleagues did not believe Blair would commit us to war without a second UN resolution. I was under no such illusion; after all he had already taken us into what I believe was an illegal war when we bombed Yugoslavia.

The question I have asked myself many times since the war is, what more could those of us who opposed the war have done to prevent it? There is no doubt that the whole Labour movement was not in favour of war. How did a party of peace become a party of war? Why did we fail?

The answer lies in the way Blair and his project had totally taken over the Party. Eighteen years in opposition had made people desperate for power. Blair took advantage and placed his people in every position of power, weakening the Party's internal democratic structures. Debate at conference in 2002 was fixed for those favouring war. Nearly six months later on the night that Parliament voted on whether to go to war, government whips kept many of us from speaking. Ministers were engaged all night in twisting arms. The atmopshere was electric and many MPs opposing the war told me how they had been persuaded at the last minute to support it. Fear of imminent attack and the use of weapons of mass destruction against British interests was used with great effect.

We were exposed to a massive propaganda exercise with the claims about weapons of mass destruction. The dodgy dossier is but one example. I asked for a two-day debate and was heckled and ridiculed at the weekly Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. Unlike the first Iraq War many Labour MPs were willing to oppose the war of 2003, but Blair put on the performance of his life when addressing us. He really wanted this war.

The second Iraq War was the biggest military operation for the UK since the Second World War. It is clear from what has come to light already that the intelligence on the reasons for going to war were fixed around the policy. This is why we must not accept this second rate Inquiry. The terms of reference must be clear. It must be held in public, under oath, with the potential to subpeona witnesses and an opportunity granted for intelligence officers to give evidence behind a screen. We need a more representative panel, with all documents requested made available and guilt apportioned. I do believe we owe it to both the Iraqis and the British people and the relatives of those who have died fighting what I remain convinced was an illegal war. Nothing less will do.


ALICE MAHON is vice chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). She has argued for more trade-unions rights, campaigned for the low paid and asylum seekers, has been an ardent antiwar campaigner and opposed the bombing of Yugoslavia, and the Iraq War. She was MP for Halifax (Labour) for 18 years from 1987 to 2005. Since leaving parliament Mahon has campaigned against her own primary care trust's decision to refuse treatment on the NHS for sufferers of age-related macular degeneration. The campaign was successful, and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NIHCE) has changed policy, and PCTs now have to provide treatment for this condition for free.

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