Government's anxiety over failure to discover WMD betrayed by Campbell

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Indy Politics

Alastair Campbell betrayed the Government's fears that its critics were feeding off the failure to discover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, documents released by the Hutton Inquiry revealed yesterday.

Tony Blair's communications chief, in a letter sent just days after Andrew Gilligan's explosive BBC broadcast claiming Number 10 had "sexed up" the Iraq weapons dossier, and ahead of the Prime Minister's report to Parliament on his visit to meet British troops in southern Iraq, blamed the "current frenzy" on the fact that "nothing new has been found".

The lengthy briefing note makes clear that Mr Campbell understood the questions about the dossier "won't go away". He urges Mr Blair to show his understanding of people's concerns and their need for the full story as well as telling him to "set out the process as to how they're going to get it".

The Prime Minister is advised to be "calm, confident, explanatory and thorough" in dealing with the issues around WMD and the use of intelligence material while maintaining that "nothing improper took place" as far as the intelligence agencies were concerned.

But in a more cynical vein, the document counsels Mr Blair to take a "more combative approach" in dealing with the wider issues on Iraq.

In one section of his letter, Mr Campbell sets out evidence to be used in the Commons statement and during question time to show that the Government did the "right thing" in ordering troops into Iraq.

"The joy on the faces of the children I met tells me we did the right thing," Mr Campbell suggests at one point. "The slow beginnings of democracy tells me we did the right thing," he goes on. "The fact that Saddam has gone tells me we did the right thing. And just because we haven't found him does not mean he did not exist," the letter suggests.

At a time when many on Labour's backbenches, in the press and amongst Opposition politicians were calling for an inquiry by the Intelligence and Security Committee into the handling of the Iraq dossier, Mr Campbell urges the Prime Minister to keep his remarks "low key".

The document makes clear that Mr Campbell knew the Government appeared to be "on the defensive". His strategy was to be seen to appeal to dissenters by voicing an "acceptance of genuine concern", by confidently predicting WMDs would be found, by explaining the dossier production and by stressing the assurances of the Joint Intelligence Committee that "nothing wrong took place".

On the question of the BBC, he wrote, "it is worth saying there is not a lot we can do if the BBC for example prefer to take the word of an anonymous official against the word of the Prime Minister and all the heads of the Agencies".