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Nov 22nd, 2009

Image: Anti-war protesters
Anti-war protesters from the Stop the War group wear masks depicting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, right, former President George W. Bush, center, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left. They posed for photographers Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009 outside the conference center where the Iraq war inquiry is taking place in central London. (Photo credit: Lefteris Pitarakis / AP) 

U.K. Documents Detail Iraq War Chaos 

Nov. 22, 2009

LONDON — Leaked British government documents call into question ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s public statements on the buildup to the Iraq war and show plans for the U.S.-led 2003 invasion were being made more than a year earlier, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Britain’s Sunday Telegraph published details of private statements made by senior British military figures claiming plans were in place months before the March 2003 invasion, but were so badly drafted they left troops poorly equipped and ill-prepared for the conflict.

The documents — transcripts of interviews from an internal defense ministry review of the conflict — disclose that some planning for the Iraq war had begun in February 2002. Maj. Gen. Graeme Lamb, then head of Britain’s special forces, was quoted as saying he had been “working the war up since early 2002,” according to the newspaper.

In July 2002, Blair told lawmakers at a House of Commons committee session that there were no preparations to invade Iraq.

Critics of the war have long insisted that Blair offered then-President George W. Bush an assurance as early as mid-2002 — before British lawmakers voted in 2003 to approve U.K. involvement — that Britain would join the war.

The leaked documents are likely to be supplied to a public inquiry established by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to scrutinize prewar intelligence and postwar planning, and which will hold its first evidence sessions later this week.

Brown appointed ex-civil servant John Chilcot to lead the panel, which will call Blair and the current and former heads of Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency — John Sawers and John Scarlett — to give testimony in person. …

Britain’s role in the Iraq conflict — which triggered massive public protests at home — left 179 British soldiers dead.

“Tony Blair consistently denied to Parliament and public that the U.K. government was preparing for war in Iraq, yet these documents show that planning began as far back as 2002,” Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, said Sunday. The revelations prove Blair took Britain into “an illegal and disastrous war on false pretences,” Salmond said. …

Two previous British studies into the war have been carried out. One cleared the government of blame for the death of David Kelly, a government weapons scientist who killed himself in 2003 after he was exposed as the source of a British Broadcasting Corp. report that accused Blair’s office of “sexing up” prewar intelligence.

A separate 2004 inquiry — which Chilcot took part in — into intelligence on Iraq also cleared Blair’s government, but criticized spy agencies for relying on seriously flawed or unreliable sources. …


11/23/09 Update

U.K. Begins Inquiry on Iraq War

Nov. 23, 2009

LONDON — A panel investigating Britain’s role in the Iraq war begins questioning witnesses this week in an inquiry that critics hope will humble former Prime Minister Tony Blair and expose alleged deception in the buildup to conflict.

The investigation is the most sweeping probe yet into the war by any nation that was involved.

It is expected to consider allegations Blair secretly backed President George W. Bush’s plan for invasion a year before Parliament authorized military involvement in 2003.

The panel, which opens public hearings Tuesday, will question dozens of officials over several months — including Blair, military officials and spy agency chiefs. It will also seek evidence from ex-White House staff.

Bereaved families and anti-war activists have long called for a comprehensive study to consider Britain’s role in a conflict that left 179 British soldiers dead and triggered massive public protests.

Lingering doubts about rush to war

But some worry the hearings will do little to answer lingering doubts about Britain’s rush to join the war. Led by a panel appointed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the inquiry won’t apportion blame, or establish criminal or civil liability — only offer reprimand and recommendations in hopes mistakes won’t be repeated in the future. …

In the United States, the 9/11 Commission examined some issues around prewar intelligence, and a Senate select committee identified failures in intelligence gathering in a July 2004 report on prewar intelligence assessments.

Brown set up the inquiry to address public criticism of three key aspects of the conflict: the case made for war; the chaotic planning for the invasion; and the failure to prepare for reconstruction. …

‘Last chance to get to the truth’

Retired civil servant John Chilcot heads the panel of five officials — who include Winston Churchill’s biographer and an ex-British ambassador to Russia. Chilcot has acknowledged the study may not satisfy those who insist the war was unjustified and illegal.

The panel’s conclusions may not be “definitive in the sense of a court verdict of legal or illegal,” Chilcot said. “It is much closer to high policy decisions — was this a wise decision, was it well-taken, was it founded on good advice and good information and analysis?” …

Two previous studies into specific aspects of the conflict have been criticized as too timid. …

Chris Ames, an investigator who campaigned for an inquiry, said it likely represents a final opportunity to scrutinize the war.

“This our last chance to get to the truth. People will want witnesses to drop the spin and be honest,” he said.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — November 22, 2008

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) at the Sinclair service station on Century Ave., Woodbury, June 16, 2008, using charts to explain her plan to bring down the price of gasoline to $2 by increased drilling, including offshore drilling and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo credit: Mark Zdechlik / MPR)  

$2 Gas? Bad News.

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I noted that in the summer of 2008 U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann claimed she could lower the price of gasoline to $2 a gallon in about two years by increased drilling, including offshore drilling and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; however, just a few months later the price at the pump dropped to nearly $2 in a matter of weeks, purely as a result of reduced demand during the economic recession.

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