Marking 20 years since Parliament approved military action in Iraq – Parliamentary Affairs special collection

18 Mar 2023
President George W. Bush, seated next to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, addresses world leaders during the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at Practica di Mare Air Force base near Rome, Italy. ©Public Domain
President George W. Bush, seated next to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, addresses world leaders during the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at Practica di Mare Air Force base near Rome, Italy. ©Public Domain

To mark 20 years since the House of Commons voted to approve military action in Iraq on 18 March 2003, we have curated a special collection of articles from our journal Parliamentary Affairs. The articles cover a range of themes from the Hutton Inquiry and the Iraq Dossier to war powers and the Government's use of secret intelligence.

By Tam Dalyell • Go to article

Summary: Hindsight is veritably a wonderful thing. It is easy to be wise after it is clear how events have panned out. Yet, in my case, I am entitled to be acquitted of charges of hindsight. The quagmire that is now Iraq was foreseeable and foreseen, predictable and predicted. I do not claim a monopoly of wisdom. There were others on the Back Benches (on both sides of the House) who were sceptical—most vocal among such were Alice Mahon and George Galloway (for Labour), Kenneth Clarke and Peter Tapsell (for the Conservatives)… Keep reading

By Alan Doig • Go to article

Summary: In 2002 the Labour government joined the US government in invading Iraq. Central to the justification of war was the continuing refusal of the Iraq government to give up its weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The British government used two dossiers drawn from intelligence sources to explain or ‘prove’ the grounds for invasion, both of which were criticised for their provenance. When a BBC journalist claimed some of the contents were deliberately included or exaggerated by political rather than intelligence sources, and then a source of that journalist committed suicide, the ensuing row led to an inquiry by Lord Hutton… Keep reading

By Mark Phythian • Go to article

Summary: This article traces the shifting foreign policy priorities that provided the context for the Scott and Hutton reports. Taken together, these reports bookend a 25-year period in which Saddam Hussein was transformed from de facto ally and valued trading partner to the most immediate threat to world peace. In neither phase of the relationship was the British public trusted with the objective truth about the Iraqi regime… Keep reading

By Anthony Glees • Go to article

Summary: The ongoing crisis over Iraq has focused public attention on the critical role that intelligence plays in the formulation of national policy. Even before 9/11, serious doubts were raised in some quarters as to whether those in government possessed adequate intelligence about the threat posed to Western states by terror groups and by their supporters in the Arab world. The devastating attack on the Twin Towers made it clear that good intelligence was in desperately short supply. Reliable intelligence had suddenly become an acknowledged public good… Keep reading

By James Humphreys • Go to article

Summary: The Iraq dossier was one of the least hyped and least spun documents to emerge from government in recent years, yet allegations that it was ‘sexed up’ in a bid to deceive the country into supporting the war remain widely accepted despite the Hutton Inquiry. In part, this is because media–management techniques have become so widespread under successive governments that the public and the media have come to expect them. But it is also in part because terms such as ‘sexed up’ and even ‘spin’ are so ill-defined and fluid that accusations are hard to refute… Keep reading

By Dirk Peters & Wolfgang Wagner • Go to article

Summary: Parliamentary approval can be of crucial importance to ensure the democratic legitimacy of military operations as it can establish public consent to the executive's use of force. But involving parliament in decisions to deploy military forces may have negative repercussions on the efficiency of operations, e.g. by slowing down decision-making. As the military activity of democracies has been on the rise since the end of the Cold War, democracies around the world have been increasingly pressed to deal with this trade-off between legitimacy and efficiency in sending troops abroad. This paper surveys the deployment provisions of 49 contemporary democracies to establish whether and how parliaments are actually involved in deployment decisions… Keep reading

By David Beetham • Go to article

Summary: The decision by the British government and Parliament in March 2003 to go to war against Iraq, despite serious public disquiet and unprecedented mass demonstrations, has renewed debate about the proper relationship between elected representatives and their constituents. The article shows that the arguments in favour of the decisional autonomy of representatives, advanced by Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill and much cited since, are more restrictive than they at first appear and could not be used to justify parliamentary independence in this case… Keep reading

Established in 1947, Parliamentary Affairs is a leading, peer-reviewed journal with a distinguished record of linking the theory and conduct of Parliament and politics.

The journal offers rigorous and readable examinations of a wide range of parliaments and political processes, by authors from across the globe, on subjects which are of academic and practitioner interest and relevant to current policy debates.

The journal is published in partnership with Oxford University Press. It is edited by Dr Alistair Clark and Dr Louise Thompson.

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