Cook's diary revelations prompt calls for war inquiry

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair faced renewed calls for a full inquiry into the Iraq war and a threat of more dissent from Labour rebels yesterday after Robin Cook claimed the Prime Minister did not believe Saddam Hussein had useable weapons of mass destruction.

The former foreign secretary's diary claimed that, shortly before the war, Mr Blair no longer thought that Saddam Hussein could launch a chemical or biological weapons attack within 45 minutes.

But Downing Street said: "The idea that the Prime Minister ever said that Saddam Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction is absurd. His views have been consistent throughout, both publicly and privately, as his cabinet colleagues know."

The Tories and Liberal Democrats renewed their calls for a judicial inquiry into the decision to launch military action. A spokesman for the Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, said: "This just underlines why we need someone independent to investigate."

And Mr Blair's Labour critics warned him that they would intensify the spotlight on the Prime Minister when the Commons returns next week.

The former culture secretary, Chris Smith, said: "If he keeps insisting, without any sort of qualification, that he was right all along, that we did the right thing, that we haven't learned any lessons from what we now subsequently know, then, I fear, the electoral water is going to be very choppy for him."

In extracts from his diary, serialised in The Sunday Times, Mr Cook claimed that Mr Blair "assented" when Mr Cook suggested Saddam had no WMD capable of being deployed against large targets such as cities over a long distance.

The Prime Minister appeared determined to join US President George Bush in invading Iraq, regardless of the progress made by UN weapons inspectors, he said.