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Iraq inquiry: war a 'catastrophic success'

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 15 December 2009

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British Ambassador to Washington, tells the inquiry into the Iraq war that the invasion was a "catastrophic success".

Sir Jeremy Greenstock (credit: Reuters)

For the first time since it began sitting, the Chilcot inquiry blacked out televised coverage of evidence being given for intelligence security reasons. The dramatic intervention to protect confidentiality came as Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British Ambassador to Washington, was speaking.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, appeared at the Iraq war inquiry for a second time to give evidence on Britain's involvement in the conflict. He said that the  military action was carried out so swiftly that the allied forces were, in effect, left "holding the baby without the means to care for it" once Saddam Hussein had been ousted.

He said there was anger and resentment among UN officials that Britain and the United States had decided to plough ahead with the invasion.

He told the inquiry: "There was a feeling of anger that we were dragging them in to something that was not their responsibility, they hadn't asked to do, was not a natural product of developing world efficiencies and other things that the UN deals with. But almost an action of wanton destruction of a country's ability to look after itself.

"At the far extreme, there was a certain degree of anger about all of this and a wish that we would behave differently."

Sir Jeremy attended the Chilcot inquiry just three weeks ago, but had been summoned again to talk about post-invasion Baghdad and the resulting insurgency.

Last month he was questioned about the legitimacy and legality of the war. He said the invasion was "legal but of questionable legitimacy". Claiming the invasion lacked widespread international support, Greenstock urged Sir John Chilcot to consider the importance of legitimacy in policy making when he concludes his report.

Greenstock claimed that he had threatened to resign in the autumn of 2002 if Britain went to war without the backing of a resolution from the UN Security Council.

He said: "I regarded our invasion of legal but of questionable legitimacy in that it did not have the democratically observable backing of the great majority of member states, or even perhaps of the majority of people inside the UK."

Resolution 1441 was eventually approved in November 2002. It appeared to pave the way for weapons inspectors to return to Iraq.

However, Greenstock admitted the wording of the resolution had been "too clever for its own good" because it was equivocal on the issue of what would happen if Saddam Hussein failed to comply with its terms.

The decision to go to war was based on interpretation of 1441. The UK and US claimed it provided authority to go to war in the event of Iraq's non-compliance, but other UN security council members wanted further resolutions.

Greenstock maintained that he would have felt "uncomfortable" if the UK military had entered Iraq without a resolution. He said: "I myself warned the Foreign Office in October [2002] that I might have to consider my own position if that was the way things went."

And he admitted he would have preferred the invasion to have been delayed until October 2003. He said the reason why the invasion took place earlier was because of the momentum for action in the US was "too strong" to counter.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock - Biography

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