UK high court rejects bid to prosecute Blair over Iraq war

Former Iraqi general's plea rejected because "crime of aggression" does not exit in British law

FILE PHOTO: Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair attends a meeting of the European People's Party in Wicklow, Ireland, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo
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The prospect of Tony Blair ever facing a criminal trial over the 2003 invasion of Iraq ended on Monday after a UK court blocked a senior Iraqi general from pursuing a private prosecution.

General Abdulwaheed Shannan Al Rabbat said he was “extremely disappointed” after the top judge in England and Wales said there was no prospect that the law would allow Mr Blair’s prosecution.

The general – a former chief-of-staff of the army now living in Muscat, Oman – had been motivated to pursue Mr Blair, the former foreign secretary Jack Straw, and former attorney general Lord Goldsmith through the courts for a “crime of aggression” following the publication last year of a damning official report into Britain’s role in the war.

But in a brief hearing, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, said that “there is no crime of aggression under UK domestic law and there is no prospect of the supreme court reversing that decision”.

In a statement issued by his lawyers, the general said the “British government has manifestly failed to ensure that those guilty of bringing devastation to nations through aggressive war can be brought to trial”.

Discussion of the legacy of Mr Blair’s decade-long premiership has been dominated by his decision to support the US-led invasion of Iraq and the unseating of Saddam Hussein.

Five people have been given “bounties” of at least £2,200 from a website funded by donations that encouraged citizens’ arrests of Mr Blair, but have resulted only in negative publicity.

In addition, the High Court said in its ruling on Monday that there was no prospect of the International Criminal Court, set up in 2002, prosecuting Mr Blair as it could not act on alleged crimes of aggression committed before June 2017.

Charlie Falconer, a former minister in Mr Blair’s government, told the BBC that a prime minister should be allowed to make difficult decisions in the national interest without the fear of prosecution. “To then allow a general from the other side, in effect, to bring criminal proceedings is wrong,” he said.

The general lost everything following the downfall of Saddam’s regime and is now living in Muscat with his family, according to his legal team. He has applied for state funding of his legal expenses as he lives off the earnings of his son, who works in the medical profession, his lawyers said.

Magistrates last year refused to allow the general to pursue his legal action because ministers had immunity from legal action. The general was seeking the right for a judicial review of that decision.

The general had cited the report by Sir John Chilcot as saying that Saddam did not pose an urgent threat to the UK, and intelligence about weapons of mass destruction had been overplayed.

In his legal filings, the general said that Mr Blair had committed to regime change in Iraq and cited an email sent in July 2002 in which he told the former US president George W Bush: “I will be with you, whatever.”

“Iraq has been left decimated and in a state of chronic instability,” according to the statement released on his behalf. “Despite all of this, and the clear findings of the Chilcot Inquiry which laid bare the conduct of those that should be held to account, the High Court has confirmed that there is to be no accountability.”