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Former UK legal advisor testifies Iraq invasion was illegal

[JURIST] Former chief legal adviser to the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) [official website] Sir Michael Wood [UN profile, PDF] told the Iraq Inquiry [official website] in a public hearing [video] on Tuesday that he had advised the Foreign Ministry that the 2003 Iraq invasion was illegal. Woods testified that the invasion was "contrary to international law" because it was never authorized by the UN Security Council [official website]. Woods said that then-Foreign Ministry secretary Jack Straw [parliamentary profile] rejected his advice that there was no legal basis for the invasion and that it was not supported by UN resolutions, including Resolution 1441 [text]. During the inquiry, Woods stated [transcript, PDF]:

He took the view that I was being very dogmatic and that international law was pretty vague and that he wasn't used to people taking such a firm position. When he had been at the Home Office ... he had often been advised things were unlawful and he had gone ahead anyway and won in the courts.

Last week, Wood released a written statement [text, PDF] outlining the legal advice he had given to the foreign ministry. In his statement, Woods held that self defense requires an imminent attack, and Iraq's regime change alone was not considered an actual or imminent threat. He went on to state that taking preemptive steps beyond self defense "had no basis in international law."

Earlier this month, the Iraq Inquiry released [JURIST report] a 2002 letter [text, PDF] from former UK attorney general Peter Goldsmith [professional profile] to former secretary of defense Geoffrey Hoon [personal profile] in which Goldsmith warned the Cabinet that the Iraq invasion was not supported by international law. The letter stated that Goldsmith was having "considerable difficulty" supporting a legal foundation for the Iraq invasion. Former UK prime minister Tony Blair [official profile; JURIST news archive] is also facing criticism after the Inquiry released a letter from Goldsmith written to Blair in July 2002, warning [JURIST report] Blair that the planned invasion of Iraq could be illegal. The letter laid out the reasons that Goldsmith believed the Iraq invasion might be illegal, including that an invasion could not be based on "regime change" alone. The existence of this letter will increase the difficulty for Blair to use a good-faith defense against charges that he knowingly led the country into an illegal invasion. Blair is scheduled to testify before the Inquiry this week.

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