By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has written to UK Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood over the “vital” need for correspondence between former Prime Minister Tony Blair and American President George W Bush regarding the invasion of Iraq to be released.
Eleven years after the conflict, the UK’s inquiry into the circumstances before and after the war has still to deliver a conclusion, and fresh controversy erupted this week when it emerged that only censored versions of letters between Mr Blair and Mr Bush will be published in the report.
The decision followed months of deadlock over whether the documents would be released at all, and the move has been criticised by senior politicians and critics who claim the inquiry will be a “whitewash” if not all relevant information is published.
In his letter to Mr Heywood, Mr Salmond said it was vital to have all the information on the “greatest foreign policy blunder of the modern age”.
“Obviously, I understand and respect the longstanding convention that many standard communications between and within governments are often outwith the rule of Freedom of Information and related public disclosure,” Mr Salmond wrote.
“However, on questions of war and peace such as this it is vital that there is such full disclosure, given that it goes to the heart of what the Chilcot Inquiry and the other various inquiries into the Iraq War were set up to establish.
“That is needed to establish whether guarantees were given by Mr Blair to Mr Bush over the UK’s involvement in Iraq – whether those guarantees were verbal, written, formal or informal.
“How can people be confident that this aspect has been properly investigated if these exchanges between Mr Blair and Mr Bush are not to be released into the public domain when the inquiry reports?”
He added: “It would be quite wrong for the full correspondence not to be released given that, in my opinion, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the greatest foreign policy blunder of the modern age.”
The inquiry, led by Sir John Chilcot, initially requested the full correspondence between Mr Blair and Mr Bush but has instead agreed to accept the ‘gist’ of the conversations. Former UK Prime Minister John Major – Tony Blair’s predecessor – called for all correspondence to be published, saying that suspicions over decisions agreed by Mr Blair and Mr Bush would continue to “fester” otherwise.
Mr Major added that Mr Blair himself had the power to ensure the documents were made available in the public domain, and said it would be an “embarrassment” for Mr Blair if the information was not published after his work to implement the Freedom of Information Act.
A recent study estimated almost half a million people died in Iraq as a result of the 2003 invasion by the US and UK. The two countries went ahead with the “pre-emptive strike” invasion without UN support after claiming leader Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
However, no such weapons were found, and the aftermath of the war left Iraq unstable and mired in sectarian conflict.