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 Iraq war illegal, says FO adviser who quit

Vikram Dodd
Monday June 14, 2004
The Guardian

Britain's war on Iraq violated international law, a former senior government legal adviser has said.

The view of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who quit on the eve of the conflict as the Foreign Office's deputy legal adviser, will alarm the government, which is desperate to soothe lingering unease about the war.

In her first interview since resigning, Ms Wilmshurst, a respected and experienced government lawyer, said that she had disagreed with the attorney general's view that the war was legal.

Lord Goldsmith concluded that a series of United Nations resolutions dating back to 1990 gave the US and the UK the authority for war without the need to obtain a second resolution from the security council.

Ms Wilmshurst told BBC Radio yesterday: "There was tremendous and passionate debate about the legality of this. Most international lawyers I met were of the view that the conflict was unlawful under international law.

"The issue is whether the security council authorised the use of force in Iraq. There is no question that there was no basis for the use of force in self-defence.

"I took the view that participation by the UK in the conflict in Iraq was contrary to international law."

Asked whether the government had come close to being told that it would be unlawful for Britain to join the US and others in the attack on Iraq without a second resolution, Ms Wilmshurst said: "I don't feel free to talk publicly about this sort of thing. I was a crown servant."

Her comments raise further questions on the legal row behind the scenes at the highest levels of Whitehall.

Britain's military chiefs were reported to have asked for undertakings from the government that the war was legal before they were prepared to order troops to join the American-led invasion of Iraq.

Ms Wilmshurst is set to appear as a witness for 14 Greenpeace activists who have been charged with aggravated trespass after chaining themselves to army tanks at the Marchwood military port near Southampton in the run-up to war.

In a previous statement, she revealed why she resigned in the run-up to war. "I did not agree that the use of force against Iraq was lawful, and in all the circumstances I did not want to continue as a legal adviser," she said.

Her doubts were shared by others, and reverberated through the legal establishment at the Foreign Office.

Lord Goldsmith has refused to publish his advice, but he is understood to have argued that the series of UN resolutions provided a legal basis for the military action.

But Ms Wilmshurst previously told the Guardian: "Some agreed with the legal advice of the attorney general. I did not."

She is now working at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, specialising in the legality of military intervention.