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Aide quits over ‘illegal’ war

Richard Woods A senior official who helped draw up Tony Blair’s dossier on weapons of mass destruction has quit in disgust over what he regards as the illegal war in Iraq.
Carne Ross, who was Britain’s Iraq expert at the United Nations before the war, said he has resigned in “total disillusionment” with the government’s behaviour over the conflict.

Ross, first secretary in Britain’s delegation to the United Nations, was responsible for negotiating policy and drawing up resolutions as Blair and George W Bush began to prepare the case for war. He was involved in the initial preparation of Blair’s dossier on weapons.

The resignation is likely to prompt new demands for Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, to reveal his advice to Blair over the legality of the conflict.

Ross is understood to believe the evidence was “unambiguous” that Iraq posed little or no threat so the legal case for war was flawed. He and other officials are believed to have raised their concerns with ministers. Ross said yesterday: “I am happy to confirm that I resigned because of the war, but I cannot comment further.”

He is the second senior Foreign Office official to quit over the war following the resignation of Elizabeth Wilmhurst, a deputy head in the Foreign Office legal department, in March 2003 because she felt the war was illegal.

Blair claimed the war was legally justified because there was clear evidence Saddam had not disarmed and posed a serious threat. This argument has now been undermined by the official post-war report of the Iraq Survey Group which found Saddam had no such weapons.

Last week Ross declined to expand on why he resigned, saying he had been advised he might face legal action if he did so. He quit only recently because he was due to return to the Foreign Office from the UN as head of conflict resolution.

The government has refused to publish Goldsmith's advice in full, claiming legal confidentiality. Westminster insiders say the real reason is that grave doubts about the legality of the war persisted at the highest levels right up to the invasion.

"It is a major scandal," said one senior figure familiar with the details. "It has to do with the attorney-general's view, which was that the war was illegal. It's all been hushed up."

According to two sources, concerns first arose in 2002 when the Foreign Office legal department advised the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, that a legal case for war had not been made. When Straw disagreed, senior officials, believed to include Sir Michael Wood, head of the Foreign Office's legal department, as well as Wilmhurst, went to Goldsmith to ask him to intervene. Wood declined to comment last week.

Goldsmith was reluctant because, said more than one source, the attorney-general believed a war would be illegal. "But he didn't write it down," said one source. "He knew that the prime minister didn't want him to give a formal opinion at that stage."

Goldsmith continued to think there was no good legal basis for war, said one source, "until the beginning of March 2003 . . . when the guns were practically ready to fire".

Finally, on March 7, 2003 he sent a formal minute to Blair giving his opinion. The government later published a precis of his advice arguing war would be legal. However, sources said his full minute runs to up to 20 pages and contains "serious qualifications" that have never been revealed.