UK Politics

Lawyers asked for views on Iraq war legal arguments

British troops in Basra
Image caption Arguments over the legality of the war have dominated the inquiry

International lawyers are being asked for their opinions on the legal arguments used by the UK government to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The Iraq inquiry said analysis of the legal grounds used by the government in 2003 would "inform its considerations" about the decision to go to war.

Lord Goldsmith, attorney general at the time, decided force was justified by UN accords on Iraq dating back to 1991.

But he admitted he had changed his view of the legal position.

Until a month before the invasion, Lord Goldsmith believed it was "safer" to get a fresh United Nations resolution but in his final legal opinion on the eve of war, he advised ministers that the "combined effect" of existing UN resolutions meant the invasion was lawful.

Arguments over the legality of the war dominated the inquiry before hearings were suspended ahead of the general election.

Legal arguments

Two senior Foreign Office lawyers at the time told the inquiry that they believed the invasion was unlawful without specific UN authorisation.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who resigned in protest at the war, said the way ministers weighed up the legal case for the invasion was "lamentable" and said it was "extraordinary" that Lord Goldsmith had only been asked for his opinion days before British troops went in.

It emerged during the hearings that in the lead up to war the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw rejected advice that an invasion without UN backing would break international law.

Sir Michael Wood, the Foreign Office's chief legal adviser at the time, said he told Mr Straw this would amount to a "crime of aggression".

Mr Straw said there were a range of legal opinions on the issue and that the cabinet had relied on Lord Goldsmith's verdict.

The Iraq committee - headed by Sir John Chilcot - said it was seeking analysis of the UK's legal grounds for going to war, focusing on the legal effect and interpretation of key UN resolutions and whether "the elements were in place for a properly authorised use of force".

"The legal basis for the military intervention in Iraq has been the subject of much comment," the committee said in a statement.

"In order to further inform the committee's considerations, the inquiry would be pleased to receive from public international lawyers any legal analysis they may wish to offer of the legal arguments relied upon by the UK government."

The inquiry is expected to publish its final report in early 2011.

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