Kim Sengupta: Minister paints himself as source of caution

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The Independent Online

Jack Straw was a man facing a "moral as well as political dilemma" in the run-up to the Iraq war. The support he gave to military action was "the most difficult decision" he had ever taken. It was an "error", he realised, not to be more precise about the claims made in the dossier used to justify the invasion and that has "haunted" him ever since. Regime change, he had insisted, was never the agenda.

That was the self-portrait the former foreign secretary produced at the Chilcot Inquiry yesterday, presenting himself as a source of caution and moderation at a tempestuous time, seeking to avoid over-egging the case for war, especially when it came to the "dodgy dossier".

A somewhat different picture emerges when one looks back to the documents unearthed by the Hutton Inquiry six years ago. There rests an email written by Mark Sedwill, then the foreign secretary's private secretary, now ambassador in Afghanistan, which describes Mr Straw's role in "hardening up" the dossier with a "killer paragraph".

In the memorandum copied to Alastair Campbell and John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Mr Sedwill said: " The Foreign Secretary has now had a chance to go through the draft dossier. He has endorsed the comments I made earlier on..."

The points endorsed by Mr Straw included: "The first bullet of para 6 the importance of weapons of mass destruction should be strengthened (my italics) to explain the centrality of WMD to Saddam Hussein's role – the projection of power etc.... Crucially the section should explain the role of the WMD in the political mythology which has sustained the regime."

Asked about the email at the time, Mr Straw said the reason for "strengthening" the dossier was that "I wanted to raise the prominence of Saddam Hussein's defiance of the United Nations over 12 years". We know, of course, that there was no WMD and thus no "defiance" by Saddam. Mr Straw must have known that as well, as in a newly disclosed memo written in 2003, he seems to be casting doubt on the threat posed by the Iraqi dictator: "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing is not decided. But the case was thin." We have to accept Mr Straw's protestations that his attempts to make the supposed WMD arsenal central to Saddam's regime in the dossier was absolutely not an argument for regime change.

The Hutton Inquiry was about the death of Dr David Kelly, His suicide followed his name being leaked to the media. The government had denied being the author of the leak, but, in internal memorandums two of Mr Straw's senior advisors appeared to be pushing for Dr Kelly's name to be disclosed. Peter Ricketts, Mr Straw's political advisor, said: " I don't think there is a problem for us if the press name him Dr Kelly ... I suggest we leave it to John."

The John in question was John Williams, the head of the Foreign Office news department, who wrote "... I am very happy for him to be named. Nothing personal." The same day Dr Kelly's name was confirmed to journalists by the Ministry of Defence press office.

Mr Straw was not directly involved in this exchange of email. They were by his people during his watch as foreign secretary. Did he know about them? We have never found out.