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Iraq war 'contrary to international law'

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 26 January 2010

Sir Michael Wood, the then senior legal adviser at the Foreign Office, tells the Chilcot inquiry that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was "contrary to international law".


Sir Michael Wood, the then senior legal adviser at the Foreign Office, said the use of force had not been specifically authorised by the United Nations - and had “no other basis in international law”.

His evidence also reveals the intense political arguments about the legality of the conflict which so divided the government in the run-up to the invasion.

Throughout the questioning, Sir Michael insisted the legal advice had been clear and consistent. And he believed the attorney general had agreed with it.

Sir Michael told the inquiry that trying to justify the use of force by citing a potential humanitarian catastrophe - as had happened in Kosovo - did not apply to the Iraq situation in either 2001 or 2002.

And he said he did not believe view that UN Security resolution 1441, which had been passed in November 202 and required Iraq to give up weapons of mass destruction, revived an earlier resolution, which the allies had used to invade Iraq back in 1991.

Sir Michael was also asked about a memo he had sent to Jack Straw, who was foreign secretary at the time, following a conversation between Straw and the US Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Straw had cited the example of Kosovo, suggesting it showed it would be possible to go to war without a second, specific, UN resolution. Mr Straw, he said, thought international law was “pretty vague” and said Sir Michael was being “dogmatic”.

This, Sir Michael wrote back, was “completely wrong from a legal point of view” - and after a meeting between the two, Mr Straw had decided to reject his advice.

At this morning's session a sheaf of declassified documents were released, showing that Sir Michael had warned three months before the invasion that it was not certain if military action would be legal.

In a letter to Lord Goldsmith, dated 9 December 2002, he said that a "first view" of UN Security Council resolution 1441, passed the previous month, did not authorise the use of force.

Sir Michael went on to say that a "second view" could be taken that the resolution did offer a "conditional authorisation" for military action.

But he warned that there were "possible difficulties" with this argument.

Other documents were also released, including a letter from Jack Straw asking for “an urgent note” about the possibility of any government or military personnel having to face court action in the UK or elsewhere, relating to unlawful use of force.

There is also a statement from former Foreign Office lawyer Elizabeth Wilsmhurst, who will appear before the inquiry later today. She resigned two days before the invasion because she believed it was illegal, calling it a “crime of aggression”.

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