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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: The British government has clarified comments made by Defense Secretary Ben Wallace who claimed that the UK had previously fought “illegal wars” under the Labour administration of 1997 to 2010.
Speaking on Wednesday during a House of Commons debate on new laws which would limit prosecutions against British troops for actions taken while serving abroad, Wallace addressed Labour politicians and said: “Much of the mess we are having to come and clean up today is because of your illegal wars, your events in the past.”
His comment, assumed to be a reference to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, drew criticism from UK military officials and fellow Conservative party MPs.
A Downing Street statement from a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wallace was expressing his own “personal view” on the Iraq operation.
“Neither the government nor the Chilcot inquiry (British public inquiry into the nation’s role in the Iraq War) has expressed a view as to whether the UK’s participation in the war was legal,” the spokesperson added.
The Chilcot inquiry, published in 2016, found Britain had decided to take military action in Iraq before expiring all other peaceful options and that its operation had “undermined” the UN Security Council in the run-up to the invasion.
The war claimed the lives of more than 150,000 Iraqis and more than 1 million people were displaced.
The Labour government of Tony Blair has been continually criticized for its decision to send British troops to Iraq, as well as to Afghanistan in 2001.
In 2004, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the US-led invasion of Iraq “illegal” for its contravention of the UN Charter.
It is the second time in a month that Wallace has been criticized, after he was forced to apologize for shaking a man’s hand on his way to a Cabinet meeting in breach of the UK’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) social distancing measures.
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