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UK government 'misled' over Iraq war, tribunal told

Clare Short says Tony Blair "leant" on his legal advisor to secure support for Iraq war.
Clare Short says Tony Blair "leant" on his legal advisor to secure support for Iraq war.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ex-minister Clare Short says attorney general withheld doubts over Iraq war
  • Short said Tony Blair leant on Lord Goldsmith to support UK involvement
  • Inquiry is Britain's fifth examination of role in Iraq conflict

London, England (CNN) -- Britain's top legal official "misled" the government over the case for war in Iraq under pressure from then prime minister Tony Blair, a former Cabinet minister claimed Tuesday.

Clare Short, who was Blair's international development secretary until she quit over the Iraq invasion, said Attorney General Peter Goldsmith withheld his own "doubts and changes of opinion" in giving the go-ahead for war.

"I think he misled the Cabinet. He certainly misled me, but people let it through," Short told an inquiry into Britain's role in the March 2003 Iraq invasion.

The inquiry -- Britain's fifth examination of its Iraq involvement -- has already grilled senior figures including Blair, former defense minister Geoff Hoon and Britain's top military commander Jock Stirrup.

Short said that Goldsmith, who last week testified before the inquiry that he was initially ambivalent but later adamant over the legality of the war, was wrong to press the case.

Goldsmith initially advised Blair in January 2003 that it would be unlawful to invade Iraq without a United Nations Security Council resolution but changed his mind a month later.

Video: Blair faces Iraq inquiry
Video: UK anti-war protest
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"I think for the attorney general to come and say there's unequivocal legal authority to go to war was misleading."

Short said Goldsmith was "leaned on" by Blair to agree to the war.

"Lord Goldsmith said he was excluded from lots of meetings -- that's a form of pressure.

"It was suggested to him that he go to the U.S. to get advice about the legal position.

"You have got the Bush administration who have very low respect for international law. It seems the most extraordinary place in the world to go to get advice about international law."

She added: "I think all that was leaning on -- sending him to America, excluding him and then including him."

Her comments came just days after Blair appearance at the inquiry generated protests, with several hundred anti-war campaigners gathering outside the London venue chanting "Blair lied, thousands died" and other slogans.

Blair denied claims he had struck a secret deal with U.S. President George W. Bush in 2002 pledging British backing for the invasion and said he believed "beyond doubt" his unfounded pre-war claim that Iraq was capable of launching chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes.

Blair: No 'covert' deal with Bush over Iraq

Analysts say involvement in the Iraq war remains a "live political issue" in the UK, because the same government -- now led by Gordon Brown -- was still power, whereas the parties of other leaders in the U.S. and Australia have been voted out of office.

"The others have faced critical public scrutiny and been damaged by that," legal expert Glen Rangwala of Cambridge University told CNN. "The British haven't had a change of administration so in many ways it remains a live political issue because it reflects on people who are in government."

CNN's Simon Hooper contributed to this report

 
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