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Other News: U.K. Launches Inquiry Into Role in Iraq

November 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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In other news, International Television News reports on the inquiry into the United Kingdom's role in the Iraq war, and the Philippines were placed under emergency rule after election violence continued to escalate Tuesday.

JIM LEHRER: In other news today, a sweeping inquiry began into Britain’s decision to go to war in Iraq.

We have a report from Paul Davies of Independent Television News.

PAUL DAVIES: The long-awaited inquiry got under way with familiar accusations leveled at Western leaders past and present. Sir John Chilcot promised a thorough and impartial hearing which will criticize those who deserve it. But families of some of the service men and women who have died serving Britain in Iraq were also reminded of the inquiry’s limitations.

SIR JOHN CHILCOT, chairman, Iraq Inquiry Committee: No one is on trial here. We cannot determine guilt or innocence. Only courts can do that.

PAUL DAVIES: The first witnesses were senior civil servants from the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defense, their evidence broadcast with a one-minute delay, so any revelations judged to threaten national security could be stopped.

That wasn’t necessary today, as the hearing was taken back to 2001, British warships patrolling the Gulf, London and Washington in agreement that sanctions and an arms embargo were the best way to contain the ambitions of Saddam Hussein.

Sir Peter Ricketts, then director general at the Foreign Office, said, in February 2001, when Tony Blair flew to meet the new American president, George W. Bush, the U.S. was still backing a policy of containment.

SIR PETER RICKETTS, former joint intelligence committee chair: On the American side, in the early months, when people talked about regime change, they weren’t so much talking about military invasion. They were tending to talk about arming the Iraqi opposition parties.

PAUL DAVIES: But the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington dramatically changed America’s attitude to Iraq.

SIR PETER RICKETTS: It was clear from the late autumn, I suppose, from late November, that — that Iraq was being considered in a different light.

PAUL DAVIES: This is the fifth inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war, its mandate wider than anything that has gone before. In the months to come, it will hear from key players and decision-makers right up to Tony Blair, the former prime minister’s appearance eagerly awaited by Rose Gentle, whose 19 year-old-son, Gordon, died serving in Iraq.

Tony Blair’s testimony and an examination of the legality of the war are expected early in the new year.

JIM LEHRER: The investigating panel has no power to fix civil or criminal liability. Instead, it can issue reprimands and make recommendations for the future.

Parts of the Philippines are now under emergency rule after a surge in election violence. At least 46 people were killed this week by attackers in the south. Twenty-two of the bodies were discovered today in a hillside mass grave. As many as 20 journalists were reported among the dead. The victims were abducted from a campaign convoy on Monday, ahead of provincial elections next May.

A mass animal sacrifice began today in Nepal, despite protests by animal rights groups. Thousands of Hindus gathered for the ceremony. It’s held every five years, in a centuries-old tradition. Two hundred thousand buffaloes, goats, chickens, and pigeons are killed in the two-day ritual. The festival in Nepal has grown in size as animal sacrifice has been banned in parts of neighboring India.

In U.S. economic news, the latest look at consumer confidence pointed to a lackluster holiday season. The private research group the Conference Board found, consumers are worried about their incomes, and scaling back on shopping.

The news helped sour the mood on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 17 points, to close at 10,433. The Nasdaq fell more than six points, to close at 2,169.