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Short: Legal ruling on Iraq war fixed

An ex-minister claims Britain's top law official may have submitted to political pressure and illegally approved going to war with Iraq.

Last Modified: 29 Feb 2004 07:52 GMT
Clare Short has raised issues London would sooner forget

An ex-minister claims Britain's top law official may have submitted to political pressure and illegally approved going to war with Iraq.

Speaking to the Observer newspaper on Sunday, former cabinet minister Clare Short said Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith hastily redrafted "prevaricating" advice to the government just days before the war began.

His legal concerns apparently evaporated after British army chiefs refused to go to war in Iraq until they were reassured over its legality.

Controversially claiming that London spied on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan during the tense weeks leading to the invasion of Iraq, Short has now revealed that Britain's top legal official may have succumbed to political pressure.
  
"I was told at the highest level ... that the military were saying they wouldn't go [to war] - whatever the PM said - without the attorney general's advice. The question is was the AG [attorney general] leant on?"
  
Legal or political ruling?

As Britain's former international development secretary, Short quit in May in protest over the Iraq invasion.
  
Her claims came after British prosecutors dropped charges against an intelligence translator, Katharine Gun, who leaked a memo revealing apparent US and British plans to spy on members of the UN Security Council in the run-up to the conflict.
  
While Tony Blair attacked Short's revelation as "deeply irresponsible", the opposition demanded that the prime minister should say directly whether she was telling the truth or not. 
  

"I was told at the highest level ... that the military were saying they wouldn't go [to war] - whatever the PM said - without the attorney general's advice. The question is was the AG [attorney general] leant on?"

Clare Short,
former minister

Blair has also come under pressure to reveal the legal reasoning for joining the invasion of Iraq alongside the United States.
  
The government refused, other than to say that it had advice of the attorney general that the war was legitimate under international law.
  
Embarrassing suspicions

Political commentators said the government might have ordered the official secrets charges against Gun dropped because a trial might have revealed details of Goldsmith's advice.

But the attorney general has so far denied that the decision not to go ahead with the prosecution is political.
  
Goldsmith wrote to Blair at the end of January 2003 voicing concerns that the war might be illegal without a specific resolution from the UN.
  
Senior government sources told the Observer Goldsmith was originally "sitting on the fence" and his initial advice was "prevaricating", but it was "tightened up" only days before the conflict began.
  
Greenpeace demand report

The environment organisation Greenpeace has demanded publication of Goldsmith's advice in the defence of its activists.

Fourteen Greenpeace campaigners briefly seized armoured vehicles being shipped to Iraq to dramatise their allegation the war was illegal.

They are scheduled to go on trial on 9 March.
  
Michael Howard, leader of Britain's opposition Conservatives, also called on the government to publish the attorney general's advice in full.

Source:
Reuters
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