Yvonne Ridley: I was in Iraq in 2002 - we knew then that there were no WMDs

CommonSpace columnist Yvonne Ridley says Tony Blair must face justice for his decision to take the UK to war in Iraq in 2003

I CAN barely contain the anger I feel towards Tony Blair over the war in Iraq. It's a rage which has simmered for more than a decade and a rage from which there is no closure.

So if I, as a mere observer, am feeling like this it is hard to imagine how the families of the war dead, from British servicemen through to the Iraqi people, will ever be able to come to terms with the complete waste of life sacrificed on the altar of one man's ambition.

In truth the Chilcot Report, while a damning indictment on Blair and those around him who raced to wage war in Iraq, will not satisfy the need for justice. That will only come about through an open and public trial which will see Blair and others responsible held to account.

I knew back in September 2002 when I was in Iraq with a group of other Fleet Street journalists. We were told that the British prime minister was going to reveal the exact locations of WMD hidden in Saddam's bunkers. 

It is a view shared by Scotland's former first minister, Alex Salmond, who says legal action against Tony Blair must be considered following the publication of the Chilcot Report.

In a statement, the SNP politician said: "In the days, weeks and months ahead, the intimate detail of this report will only implicate further a former prime minister who recklessly committed the country to war without collective judgement, and personally failed to ensure there was a plan for delivering a future for the people of Iraq.

"After such carnage, people will ask inevitable questions of was conflict inevitable and worthwhile? The answer from Chilcot is undoubtedly no. And who is responsible? The answer is undoubtedly Tony Blair. There must now be a consideration of what political or legal consequences are appropriate for those responsible."

While the report vindicates the anti-war movement and all those politicians who marched alongside and supported the peace activists it does not go far enough and only an open trial by jury will do that. 

Chilcot didn't really tell us anything new since we already knew Blair used lies and deception to make sure Britain would go charging into an illegal war alongside its US allies.

I knew back in September 2002 when I was in Iraq with a group of other Fleet Street journalists. We were told that the British prime minister was going to reveal the exact locations of WMD hidden in Saddam's bunkers. 

Amazingly, the Iraqi regime promised us full access to search and see for ourselves any sites identified by Blair. This was ahead of Blair's announcement and we waited patiently, with government helicopters on standby, to take us where we wanted to go.

Amazingly, the Iraqi regime promised us full access to search and see for ourselves any sites identified by Blair. This was ahead of Blair's announcement and we waited patiently, with government helicopters on standby, to take us where we wanted to go.

We sat and waited until Blair made his announcement in the House of Commons and then set off in search of WMD. We found nothing and came to the same conclusion as the UN's former chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, that Saddam Hussein had no WMD.

I remember going into a government laboratory and looking inside a deep freeze and a fridge examining all the lotions and potions stored; some of us searched inside bunkers while other journalists scrutinised paperwork and files. At no point were we hindered or stopped by the Iraqi regime in our determination to leave no stone unturned.

However, when we returned with our verdict, some Fleet Street colleagues accused us of being useful idiots for the Iraqi regime while others labelled us Saddam's stooges; they had chosen to blindly follow Blair and his spin doctors and continued to push out stories which were clearly fabricated.

Of course, the real victims are the Iraqis, the soldiers who died and were injured, but we should also remember how Blair managed to lie to the UK and manipulate the House of Commons and the media to get his own way. The net effect can be seen today with British voters who have a lack of confidence and trust in the democratic process in Westminster.

We sat and waited until Blair made his announcement in the House of Commons and then set off in search of WMD. We found nothing and came to the same conclusion as the UN's former chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, that Saddam Hussein had no WMD.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, apologised to the Iraqi people in the wake of the Chilcot Report, something Blair still refuses to do. Such sincere words from Corbyn will be appreciated but it does not go anywhere near what is really needed. Corbyn's genuine sorrow and compassion over Iraq is no substitute for justice.

Blair and his cohorts need to be put on trial. Too many innocent lives have been lost and the blood of the innocents continues to flow today.

Back in September 2003 Blair told the Labour party conference: "I can only go one way, I've not got a reverse gear." 

As far as most people are concerned the only way he can go now is into the dock to answer for his crimes. The Chilcot Report can then be put to good use as Exhibit A.

Picture courtesy of Andrew Newton

Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is. Pledge your support today.