Leading article: The questions remain unanswered


The Independent

Published: 10 January 2006

General Sir Michael Rose is perfectly justified in drawing attention, once again, to the squalid fashion in which Britain was bounced into war with Iraq. In two months' time, we will mark the third anniversary of the invasion. And still questions remain about why we went to war in the first place.

Much has happened since then, of course. The Muslim world has been radicalised further. The threat from global terrorism has grown. Iraq itself has descended into bloodshed and chaos. No one would dispute that efforts should, at this time, be concentrated on improving the situation on the ground in that country. Fresh probing of the origins of this war cannot undo what has happened. The sectarian violence unleashed by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein cannot be pushed back into the bottle. But the question of accountability for the mess we helped to create is still very much a live issue, despite the Prime Minister's eagerness for us to "move on".

Whether or not one agrees with General Rose that Tony Blair should be impeached, the former United Nations forces commander in Bosnia certainly deserves to be heard. When a non-partisan former general claims he would have resigned his commission rather than take troops into war on the flimsy basis offered by Mr Blair, we have a responsibility to listen.

General Rose's criticisms have a special weight because of his military experience. And, as he argues: "From a soldier's perspective there can't be any more serious decision taken by a Prime Minister than declaring war." General Rose's comments are also of interest because they emphasise the stark divisions in the armed forces about the war. The military was always more cautious than Mr Blair over Iraq. It is worth remembering that a suspiciously curtailed version of the Attorney General's legal advice on Iraq was published on the eve of war to meet the concerns of Britain's military commanders about the legality of the forthcoming invasion.

One of General Rose's charges against the Prime Minister is the accusation that he misled Parliament and the public about his true motives for going to war. Iraq's WMD capability was, according to General Rose, a charade. The truth of all this is still hazy - and will remain so in the absence of a proper public inquiry into how the decision to go to war was made. But what is indisputable is that the invasion continues to raise uncomfortable questions for Mr Blair. In the words of General Rose: "To go to war on what turns out to be false grounds is something that no one should be allowed to walk away from." This remains as true today as it was three years ago.