Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Iraq Inquiry begins in London

At the Guardian, Andrew Sparrow is live blogging the Iraq Inquiry in London. Rose Gentle's song Gordon died serving in Iraq. ITV News speaks with her (link is video) and she tells them, "I just hope the committee stuck to their word because they promised us that they'd look inside and outside and if there were mistakes made, the fingers would get pointed at the person making mistakes." Rose Gentle is a member of Military Families Against the War. Al Jazeera reports that, "The storm clouds are already gathering over this Inquiry being held among high security in London." As the world's eyes turn to London, Sami Ramadani (Guardian) looks to Iraq:

The daily lives of ordinary Iraqis are such that an inquiry set up by the British government to look into the war on Iraq is almost totally brushed over in the country. Iraqis are avid followers of the news and most are very aware of the inquiry, but their situation today has become desperate; the lives of millions have been transformed into a bitter struggle for survival.
The attitude of those in Baghdad who are invited to comment on the inquiry swiftly changes from expressions of pain and sadness to that of anger and strong denunciation of the war and its architects, George Bush and Tony Blair. It is striking that the one common thought that comes to the fore is that Bush and Blair have escaped justice and "got away with murder".
They certainly don't have any confidence that the outcome of the inquiry will lead to Blair appearing before a legal tribunal to account for his role in engineering and launching the illegal war.
The terms of the debate in Iraq are very different from those here in Britain. For while here people are seeking to establish beyond much doubt who did what, when and why, people in Iraq regard it as an open and shut case: US policymakers, followed meekly by most of the British political and establishment notables, planned the invasion and "destruction" of Iraq many years before 2003. They cite the 13 years of murderous sanctions from 1991 to 2003 as a prelude for the occupation of the country. They stress that Saddam Hussein's 35-year dictatorship and non-existent WMD were "used as a pretext" for the war.

CNN provides background and also offers that the inquiry "could determine whether former Prime Minister Tony Blair misled his country over the 2003 invasion." Gideon Rachman (Financial Times of London) refrains from making any predictions and reminds that there were expectations on past British inquiries into Iraq:

Take the 2003-04 Hutton inquiry into the death of weapons scientist Dr David Kelly. There was a near universal assumption in the British media when the inquiry began in the autumn of 2003 that it would destroy Tony Blair. In fact, Hutton did the exact opposite. His inquiry almost completely exonerated Blair over the handling of the Kelly affair but instead found heavily against the BBC over aspects of its reporting - leading to the dismissal of the two leading figures in the BBC.
Exactly the opposite then happened with Lord Butler's inquiry into the way the Blair government had used intelligence on Iraq ahead of the invasion. The widespread media assumption when Butler began his work in February 2004 was his report would be a "whitewash" because he was a civil service mandarin. Actually, of all the Iraq inquiries, it was the one that Blair feared the most. Lord Butler, a former civil service chief, made tough criticisms of the way the Blair government presented the argument ahead of the war that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, saying he ignored warnings that UK intelligence was imprecise and uncertain. Butler also made tough criticisms of Blair's penchant for "sofa government", criticising the way he failed to use the civil service system properly.

Thomas Penny and Kitty Donaldson (Bloomberg News) note that this is the fifth inquiry into the Iraq War. John F. Burns and Alan Cowell (New York Times) observe, "The unpopularity of the war — and its impact on Mr. Blair’s once glittery image among British voters -- contributed to his ouster by Prime Minister Gordon Brown two years ago." Ruth Barnett (Sky News -- link has text and video) reports that Chilcott used his opening remarks this morning to insist that the inquiry would be "fair and frank." The Telegraph of London reports a witness has stated that Bush and Blair were planning the Iraq War two years before it began:

Sir Peter Ricketts, who was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee in 2001, said there was concern in both London and Washington that the strategy of ''containment'' of Saddam Hussain was ''failing''.
Giving evidence at the first public hearings of the inquiry, he said a review of the Iraq policy was already under way in Whitehall in anticipation of the arrival of the new Bush administration.
He said that, in discussions with Secretary of State Colin Powell, it appeared the Americans were ''thinking very much on the same lines''.
He added, however, that others in Washington were already thinking further ahead.

A second report from the Telegraph offers a second witness testifying that the US was planning the Iraq War back in 2001:

Sir William Patey, then head of Middle East policy at Foreign Office said that in February 2001, the UK knew that some in the new US administration wanted to topple Saddam
He said: "We were aware of the drum beats from Washington.”
However, he said that Britain was not then willing to engage in regime change in Baghdad. "Our policy was to stay away from that."

David Brown and Nico Hines (Times of London) add of Ricketts, "He said a review of the Iraq policy was already under way in Whitehall in anticipation of the arrival of the new Bush Administration."

In the US, Senator Byron Dorgan is the chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. He has released a video where he discusses "Making Real Progress in Our Mission to Disrupt, Dismantle and Defeat al Qaeda."

Senator Dorgan on DPC Report Regarding Progress Against al Qaeda


There's supposed to be a way to get the embed code but I can't find it so I'm cheating it. You should see the video above this. If you do not, click here to be taken to the DPC video page. Those who aren't able to stream or for whom streaming will be of no use due to hearing issues can refer to the paper:

U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND)
Chairman, Senate Democratic Policy Committee

A new policy paper released by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee outlines progress the Obama Administration’s new strategy is making in the fight against al Qaeda.
The Obama administration has opted for a different strategy -- an aggressive, comprehensive, and integrated approach to combating the terrorist network. The result is a significantly disrupted and weakened al Qaeda.
In its first ten months, this new strategy has:

• Disrupted the most serious terrorist threat against the United States since 9/11, and others;

• Killed the top leader of Pakistan’s Taliban insurgents, Baitullah Mehsud; and

• Killed other key terrorist leaders around the world, including the most important terrorist leaders in East Africa and Indonesia

At the heart of this progress lies the following:

• A proactive and aggressive counterterrorism approach at home based on effective and efficient coordination between the federal government and state and local law enforcement.

• Intelligence collection and skillful analysis, combined with efficient coordination between the federal government and state and local partners.

• An increase in cooperation from foreign governments and intelligence services due to the new image and outreach the Obama Administration has put forth to the global community, particularly its renewed commitment to diplomacy and international law.

• Refocusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan, in order to combat the threat of al Qaeda, Taliban, and affiliated terrorists. .

The results are encouraging. Today, many of al Qaeda’s top leaders are no longer in place, replaced instead with less experienced and less capable individuals. The organization finds it more difficult to finance its terrorism. Its operations are more often detected and disrupted.
While we continue to face significant threats from al Qaeda and affiliated terrorists, the Obama Administration’s tough and smart strategy and the courageous work of law enforcement, military, and diplomatic officials across the country and throughout the world are making real progress in our efforts to defeat terrorist threats at home and around the globe.

I can't find a link for that this morning. We'll include it in today's snapshot and I'll try to have a link for it then.

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