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Former Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister Bill Graham speaks with his son Patrick Graham about the Iraq war, 10 years later, in the father’s Toronto office. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Former Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister Bill Graham speaks with his son Patrick Graham about the Iraq war, 10 years later, in the father’s Toronto office. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

The reporter, his foreign-minister father and the war that consumed them Add to ...

 

JANUARY, 2003

By the New Year, it was clear the U.S. was going to war. For journalists who wanted to cover it, the question was which side of the front lines you would be on. For the G8, it was who would be with the Americans in the era of “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

With the Canadian public mostly against the war, the government was playing for time: It still wasn’t clear that Iraq really had WMDs. By the end of January, Blix reported that there was substantial cooperation from the Iraqis. Canada was floating the idea of a second UN resolution.

Patrick Graham: Would Canada have joined the coalition if the inspectors had shown that Iraq had WMDs?

Bill Graham: Clear evidence of the weapons and demonstrated intent to use them would have totally changed our position – and the French and Russians might have changed theirs, too.

PG: What about the British?

BG: The British had two problems: public opinion and the legal constraints, because the International Criminal Court would make it a war crime to get involved in an illegal war. The head of the British military was very worried about that – more than [Prime Minister] Tony Blair, apparently. … In London, governments were shopping around for legal opinions that would let them go to war. In Washington, the U.S. hadn’t signed the [International Criminal Court treaty] and Congress had already given approval, so they were not worried.

 

FEBRUARY, 2003

 

On Feb. 5, Gen. Powell, now acting for the bellicose majority in the U.S. administration, brought what came to be called his “show and tell” to the UN, based mostly on inconclusive intelligence about Iraq’s WMDs, as Hans Blix and European leaders soon pointed out.

Journalists went home to renew their visas. Chemical-warfare suits were added to flak jackets in reporters’ travel kits. My doctor gave me enough drugs and sutures to open a small field hospital. On Valentine’s Day, I was back. On Feb. 15, there were peace marches across the world, including in Baghdad, where groups of “human shields” had begun to arrive, including Buddhist monks and a St. Bernard named Gustavo.

Bill Graham: Had the atmosphere changed in Baghdad since December?

Patrick Graham: Among the press corps, totally. The question everyone began asking themselves after they got there was whether they would stay. What did you think of my staying?

BG: I would have preferred if you left, but I took it that it was your job to stay, and that’s what you wanted to do, and that’s what your life is.

PG: When you talked to Powell, what was he saying to you about war?

BG: We were working toward a second Security Council resolution that would give six weeks more for weapons verification. When I told Colin Powell that we were trying to be helpful, his answer was something like: “Six weeks are not helpful.” I realized then that they were too committed to delay.

PG: Did you ask anyone about post-invasion plans?

BG: When we talked to Powell and Straw about what would happen later on, it was pretty clear that little consideration was given to that problem. This was because it was all run out of the Department of Defense.

PG: So Defense trumped State?

BG: Right. Cheney and Rumsfeld trumped Powell. In Baghdad, did my being Foreign Minister affect you?

PG: My minder carried a pistol, which made me think he was heavier than your average Ministry of Information minder. One day he took me out for lunch with a very serious man who turned out to be on Saddam’s Revolutionary Council. The man wanted me to contact you about a peace deal. I doubt that could have happened without Saddam’s approval – they were clearly a bit desperate. Frankly, I didn’t like to be on their radar. These were not nice people.

BG: What happened to your peace initiative?

PG: I contacted Rob Fry in your office, who understood what was going on and said he’d look into it. Nothing happened. I failed to make peace between the U.S. and Iraq.

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