Doubts raised about Straw's views of war in Iraq and the threat of WMD

Foreign Secretary requested no UK troops be in combat in Iraq
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Indy Politics

The revelation that Jack Straw wrote to Tony Blair on the eve of war proposing that British troops play no combat role in Iraq has placed another question mark over the Foreign Secretary's true attitude to the war.

Details of Mr Straw's "personal minute" to Mr Blair, raises new questions about the alternatives that were being considered at the highest level of government on the eve of military action.

The Foreign Office and Downing Street initially offered no comment on the report yesterday, but a spokesman later insisted that Mr Straw continued to believe the military action was justified.

The claims are contained in a book by the political commentator John Kampfner. Kampfner's book, serialised in The Mail on Sunday, reignited calls for a full public inquiry into the outbreak of war and raised questions about Mr Straw's role in the decision to launch military action.

The Foreign Secretary has been at the centre of a series of controversies surrounding the decision to go to war in Iraq. In January, Tony Blair was forced to deny allegations of a cabinet split over Iraq after the Foreign Secretary suggested the chances of war had slipped from 60 per cent to 40 per cent.

In April, he became the first cabinet minister to hint that weapons of mass destruction might never be found in Iraq, pointedly using the past tense in a statement to MPs.

He told the House of Commons he was confident that Iraq "had them recently" and insisted a weapons find was not needed to provide a legal justification for war.

Less then three weeks later Mr Straw was back in the headlines, when he declared that uncovering Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction was "not crucially important", leading to claims that he was attempting to re-write history.

Mr Straw and the Foreign Office have always insisted that the political and legal justification for war lay in Saddam's failure to co-operate with weapons inspectors and the belief of the UN Security Council that his defiance posed a threat to international peace and security.

In July, Mr Straw was revealed as the source for a BBC report claiming weapons of mass destruction might never be found in Iraq.

A Westminster source claimed yesterday that the Foreign Office was always "ambivalent" about the war, with many diplomats sceptical about the effect on British foreign relations.

But Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, insisted that Mr Straw had not raised doubts about the war at the cabinet table.

Mr Hain told Sky News's Sunday With Adam Boulton: "When the cabinet meetings were held, there was very strong support for the Prime Minister's position, including from the Foreign Secretary, so I don't really know where these stories came from."

He added: "There were lots of discussions about it and no doubt all sorts of concerns were expressed on an individual basis, but in terms of the Cabinet, the Cabinet was united with the Foreign Secretary right alongside the Prime Minister in taking us in that direction."

Mr Kampfner, the political editor of the New Statesman, said he stood by his claims. He told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost: "I have verbal evidence of that, but it certainly did happen.

"The sourcing of the book is simply that I did more than 60 interviews with 40 players, all of whom were intimately involved in the process, from all government departments from No 10 to the Foreign Office and others."