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THE Iraq war was not “legitimate” because Britain and the US failed to win international backing for the 2003 invasion, a former senior diplomat said yesterday.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK’s ambassador to the United Nations in 2003, believed the war was of “questionable legitimacy” even though it was unlikely to ever be proved illegal.

The former envoy told the Iraq inquiry in London the war did not have the “democratic backing” of most UN members or even the British public.

Sir Jeremy said he had threatened to resign if Britain supported the invasion of Iraq without securing at least one Security Council resolution.

He favoured delaying the invasion until October 2003 to give weapons inspectors more time to establish whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

But America’s determination to invade Iraq in March 2003 was “much too strong” for Britain to influence, he said.

Sir Jeremy told the panel: “I regarded our invasion of Iraq as legal but of questionable legitimacy, in that it didn’t have the democratically observable backing of the great majority of member states or even, perhaps, of a majority of people inside the UK.

“So there was a failure to establish legitimacy, although I think we successfully established legality in the Security Council for our actions in March 2003 in that we were never challenged in the Security Council or in the International Court of Justice for these actions.”

Sir Jeremy said he saw it as essential for the UN to pass a resolution in 2002 establishing the case for war, and threatened to resign if no resolution was passed. “There were those of us, including myself, who believed that a resolution was essential if UK participation in any military action was to be regarded as internationally legitimate,” he said.

“I warned the Foreign Office in October that I might have to consider my own position if that was the way things went.”

In the event, the Security Council approved resolution 1441 on November 8, 2002, paving the way for the return of weapons inspectors led by Hans Blix to Iraq.

Sir Jeremy, the UK’s permanent representative to the UN between 1997 and 2003, was at the centre of UK-led efforts to negotiate a second UN resolution in early 2003, seen by many countries as necessary to authorise military action.

Britain and the US were unable to win a second resolution after they argued that Saddam was not co-operating with the inspectors and was simply playing for time.

Sir Jeremy said the Bush administration’s determination to invade Iraq killed any chance of achieving a second UN resolution: “It seemed to me the option of invading Iraq in, say, October 2003 deserved much greater consideration.

“But the momentum for earlier action in the United States was much too strong for us to counter.”

Tony Blair had favoured delaying military action, he said, adding: “The Prime Minister’s arguments for more time, as I observed them from New York, appeared to win two weeks or so of delay, but no more.” continues here

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