March 18 revisited: How Blair presented case for war

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Indy Politics

When Tony Blair delivered his rousing speech to the House of Commons before a crucial vote on war with Iraq on March 18, he declared the issue "will determine the pattern of international politics for the next generation".

Mr Blair raised the spectre of nuclear attack, of 300,000 people being killed by a single al-Qa'ida attack, of anthrax and VX nerve gas being used against a Western city. He talked of French obstinacy at the UN and of the link between Iraq and terrorists.

Yet the past six months have seen almost every justification used by the Prime Minister called into question. The Hutton Inquiry, two Commons investigations and loose-tongued American politicians have all combined to suggest Mr Blair misled Parliament and the nation.

BLAIR: "What is the claim of Saddam today? Why, exactly the same as before: that he has no weapons of mass destruction.

Indeed, we are asked to believe that after seven years of obstruction and non-compliance, finally resulting in the inspectors' leaving in 1998 - seven years in which he hid his programme and built it up, even when the inspectors were there in Iraq - when they had left, he voluntarily decided to do what he had consistently refused to do under coercion ... We are asked now seriously to accept that in the past few years - contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence--Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd."

ANALYSIS: Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, said on 27 June that Saddam may have got rid of his WMD before the invasion. "It is also possible they decided that they would destroy them prior to a conflict," Mr Rumsfeld said. Was he too being "palpably absurd"?

BLAIR: "When the inspectors left in 1998, they left unaccounted for 10,000 litres of anthrax, a far-reaching VX nerve agent programme, up to 6,500 chemical munitions, at least 80 tons of mustard gas; unquantifiable amounts of sarin, botulinum toxin and a host of other biological poisons; and an entire Scud missile programme."

ANALYSIS: Mr Blair wanted to create the clear impression that such quantities of agent still existed in Iraq. But the Hutton inquiry has heard that his own dossier produced the previous September "overegged" claims that Saddam was continuing to produce chemical and biological agents. The MoD's most senior chemical weapons intelligence expert was so furious that he wrote a formal minute to complain.

The Intelligence and Security Committee has revealed this week that the JIC assessments on the issue were based on "insufficient intelligence". "They did not say when the production of the weapons was supposed to have taken place, whether pilot batches of agents or weapons had been produced or whether full-scale production had occurred".

Dr Brian Jones, the MoD's head of CBW intelligence, told Lord Hutton that "[it] worried us ... we had no evidence of any recent testing or field trials." On Scud missiles, it is worth pointing out that not a single Scud was launched in the war.

BLAIR: "Iraq continues to deny that it has any weapons of mass destruction, although no serious intelligence service anywhere in the world believes it."

ANALYSIS: More than five months since the end of the war, not a single "weapon of mass destruction" has been found in Iraq. In his address to Parliament, Mr Blair used the WMD phrase no fewer than 16 times. In recent months, the Prime Minister has begun to talk instead of Iraq having had weapons "programmes", something the Iraq Survey Group is likely to pronounce on soon. Ironically, this much weaker claim is the one that was used consistently by Dr David Kelly.

Both the Hutton Inquiry and the Intelligence and Security Committee have shown that Blair's own Joint Intelligence Committee misrepresented the nature of Iraq's chemical and biological threat.

BLAIR: "On 7 March, the inspectors published a remarkable document. It is 173 pages long, and details all the unanswered questions about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. It lists 29 different areas in which the inspectors have been unable to obtain information. On VX, for example, it says, 'Documentation available to Unmovic suggests that Iraq at least had had far reaching plans to weaponise VX'. On mustard gas, it says, 'Mustard constituted an important part . . . of Iraq's CW arsenal . . . 550 mustard-filled shells and up to 450 mustard-filled aerial bombs unaccounted for . . . additional uncertainty... with respect to over 6,500 aerial bombs, corresponding to approximately 1,000 tons of agent, predominantly mustard.' On biological weapons, the inspectors' report states, 'Based on unaccounted- for growth media, Iraq's potential production of anthrax could have been in the range of about 15,000 to 25,000 litres . . . Based on all the available evidence, the strong presumption is that about 10,000 litres of anthrax was not destroyed and may still exist'."

ANALYSIS: Mr Blair was highly selective in his quotations of Dr Blix's report. He did not quote Dr Blix on the destruction of al-Samoud missiles by Iraq. "We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks," the UN chief weapons inspector said.

A mid-March JIC assessment, revealed for the first time this week, concluded that "intelligence suggested that Iraq might lack warheads capable of the effective dispersal of such agents".

However, after 7 March, the inspectors said there was at least some co-operation, and the world rightly hesitated over war.

Mr Blair devoted just one sentence to the fact that UN inspectors were getting results. Yet we have learnt from the ISC report this week that the inspectors did indeed have a "inhibiting effect on any production and storage of chemical and biological agents and munitions." The MPs said the UN's containing role was not fully reflected in either the JIC assessments or the February dossier on Iraq.

BLAIR: Yes, there were debates about the length of the ultimatum, but the basic construct was gathering support. Then, on Monday night, France said that it would veto a second resolution, whatever the circumstances.

ANALYSIS: Clare Short has since said Mr Blair "lied" about the French position. President Chirac actually went on to say on the Monday that war was inevitable with Iraq if all avenues to make it comply with UN demands were exhausted.

BLAIR: Of course, in a sense, any fair observer does not really dispute that Iraq is in breach of resolution 1441 or that it implies action in such circumstances. The real problem is that, underneath, people dispute that Iraq is a threat ...

ANALYSIS: Mr Blair was being disingenous about the nature of the "threat" referred to in 1441. It is clear that French, Germans and others believed the threat was a potential one which could be dealth with over several months. Britain felt it was more imminent.

But the Hutton inquiry has blown apart the "imminent" claim. Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair's chief of staff, warned that there was no evidence for such an allegation.

The ISC has criticised the September dossier for deleting an admission by Mr Blair that London was not at risk of nuclear attack.

BLAIR: [people] dispute the link between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction,

ANALYSIS: It's not that people disputed there may be a link at some point in the future. But Paul Wolfowitz let the cat out of the bag when he told Vanity Fair after the war that "for reasons that have a lot to do with the US government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on: weapons of mass destruction."

Mr Bush was determined to go to war, WMD was clearly a convenient justification that Britain could go along with.

BLAIR: I know that there are several countries - mostly dictatorships with highly repressive regimes - that are desperately trying to acquire chemical weapons, biological weapons or, in particular, nuclear weapons capability.

ANALYSIS: The Hutton inquiry, along with the International Atomic Energy Authority and the CIA, have since concluded that claims that Saddam sought uranium for a nuclear programme from Niger were false. No one but Britain now backs this claim.

BLAIR: Some of those countries are now a short time away from having a serviceable nuclear weapon. This activity is not diminishing. It is increasing.

ANALYSIS: The Hutton inquiry has heard that Alastair Campbell was directly responsible for strengthening the September dossier's claims about the nuclear threat.

At his suggestion, a reference that Iraq could have nuclear bomb within "at least two years" was changed to "between one and two years".

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