Accessibility links

Former British Foreign Secretary Says Regime Change Alone Would Not Have Justified War on Iraq

  • Tom Rivers

Appearing before the so-called Chilcot Inquiry, former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says he never backed regime change in Iraq calling such a rationale for a military move 'improper and unlawful.'

Jack Straw, Britain's Foreign Secretary between 2001 and 2006 told that inquiry that while the U.S. had backed the principle of regime change in Iraq going back to the Clinton administration in 1998, this was never British policy.

Put simply, he said there was no legal basis for it.

"A foreign policy objective of regime change, I regarded as improper and also self-evidently unlawful," said Jack Straw. "But leave aside the lawfulness of it, it had no chance of being a runner in the United Kingdom, [it] would not have got my support. The case therefore stood or fell on whether Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security by reasons of its weapons of mass destruction not on whether it had an extremely unpleasant authoritarian regime that was butchering its own people because in international law I am afraid, that is not a good grounds for intervention by other states."

The question of the legality of war from an international perspective can be traced back to the 1928 Kellogg-Briand treaty that was signed by a number of nations including Britain and United States. It remains active to the present day.

Straw was then asked by the inquiry members if Prime Minister Tony Blair shared his view on regime change in the crucial months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"It is no great surprise to know that people at senior levels of government hold strong views and debate those," he said. "And what I had to offer the prime minister, which I hope I fulfilled, was my best judgment coupled with my loyalty."

Without being drawn into the detailed differences over the issue, Straw suggested it might be best to ask the prime minister when he faces the inquiry later in the month.

It was also disclosed that the former foreign secretary will reappear before the inquiry and face further questioning in two weeks. That session is expected to further explore in greater detail the legal basis under which Britain went to war in Iraq. Of particular interest will be a number of letters Straw had seen between then Prime Minister Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush.