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UK tribunal asks for disclosure of conversation between Blair and Bush on Iraq war

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The Foreign Office in the UK has lost an appeal against an order by an information commissioner demanding full disclosure of a phone conversation between the former British and U.S leaders a few days before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a newspaper reported on Monday.

“Accountability for the decision to take military action against another country is paramount,” The Guardian quoted the information commissioner, Christopher Graham, as saying in his original order.

Graham made the order in response to a freedom of information request by a private individual named Stephen Plowden who was asking for the disclosure of the entire record of the phone conversation between then British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George Bush in 2003.

Judge John Angel, president of the information tribunal, showed full support for Graham’s request. Judge Angel said that the foreign office witnesses had downplayed the importance of a decision to go to war and that view was “difficult to accept.”

“Also in our view, particularly from the evidence in this case, the circumstances surrounding a decision by a UK government to go to war with another country is always likely to be of very significant public interest, even more so with the consequences of this war,” the tribunal said.

The Foreign Office has expressed its disappointment at the tribunal’s decision. It has 30 days to disclose the information or appeal.

The French connection

According to the tribunal, Blair and Bush discussed U.N. resolutions on Iraq and a television interview given by Jacques Chirac, then French president, on March 10, 2003. Blair repeatedly blamed Chirac for the failure to get a second U.N. Security Council resolution backing an invasion of Iraq.

British proponents of the war against Iraq, who have long defended U.S.-British special relations, said that Chirac’s interview killed off all hope of a diplomatic solution and that they had to pursue the war without U.N. approval.

However, Clare Short, international development secretary at the time, accused Blair in the tribunal hearing of “clearly, deliberately misleading the French position.”

The war against Iraq that saw the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime in 12 March 2003, killed at least 162,000 people, almost 80 percent of them civilians, Iraq Body Count (IBC), a British NGO, reported early this year.