Tony Blair in a State of Disgrace
By 0aJacques Duplouich
Tuesday 17 June 2003
Tony Blair pays a heavy price today for the war in Iraq. Victory, 0asynonymous with the elimination of Saddam Hussein, gained the Prime Minister an 0aephemeral state of grace. But now he basks rather in a state of disgrace, ever 0asince his real motives, modeled closely on those of George W. Bush, for 0aoverthrowing the Master of Baghdad have begun to arouse the deepest skepticism, 0awhen they are not just purely and simply condemned.
According to a poll published last Saturday in The Times, 58% of 0athe British believe that Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush "deliberately" exaggerated the 0athreat of Iraqi weapons of extermination to justify the intervention of 0aAnglo-American troops in Iraq. Fifty-eight percent of them, certainly, still 0ajudge that recourse to force was justified to get rid of the Baathist tyranny 0afor the Iraqis. But that's 6% less than those who in April believed London and 0aWashington had a basis to resort to force.
Finally, and above all, doubt about Tony Blair's integrity is 0ataking root. More than a third of the British ( exactly 34%) affirm that they 0aare no longer disposed to trust the head of the government in any matter 0awhatsoever, given his behavior over the Iraq case. Quite a rebuff for a 0apolitical leader who situated all his activities in the framework of the 0asincerity of his convictions and moral rigor.
This stain that attaches to the Prime Minister risks lasting as 0along as the weapons of mass destruction remain indiscoverable. In this regard, 0athe testimony of expert witnesses from Australia and New Zealand should add to 0aMr. Blair's troubles. Steve Allison, British chemical engineer, UN expert, who 0abelonged to Han Blix' disarmament inspectors team, describes as "absolute 0anonsense" "intelligence" that London and Washington furnished them about 0asupposedly sensitive sites. In an interview with the paper Christchurch Press, 0ahe deplores having had to investigate, on the basis of this information, vacuous 0aevidence just "to placate Washington". According to him, an episode that raises 0atwo questions that have still not been answered: "Did the Americans dispose of 0aintelligence they hid from us or did they give us their best tips?" Two months 0alater, in any case, proof is still lacking.
The Australian, Andrew Wilkie, an intelligence service expert, 0aresigned from his position as government advisor last March to protest against "the exaggerations" of John Howard's government with regard to the Iraqi threat. 0aHe has agreed to testify this week in London before the Foreign Affairs 0aCommission of the House of Commons, which is inquiring into the truth of the 0ainformation given by Tony Blair's government precisely on the Iraqi threat. Mr. 0aWilkie has no doubt either. The reality of the danger was "strongly 0aexaggerated". Undoubtedly, "Iraq possessed weapons of extermination at one 0atime". And, most likely, traces of this arsenal "will be discovered", he 0arecognizes. "But nothing as imminently dangerous as they wanted to make us 0abelieve," he adds in an interview with the Sydney daily, Morning Herald.
The tampering with the files in his care against Saddam Hussein, 0apresented as so many truly crushing facts, has dimmed Tony Blair's aura. 0aSuspected of having "hoaxed" Her Majesty's subjects and their representatives in 0aParliament, the Prime Minister is also accused of having "botched" last week's 0aimpromptu ministerial reorganization. Some even reproach him with having 0aimprovised the governmental restructuring to make everyone forget the Iraqi 0amatter. They need no more proof than the merging of the Ministers of Scottish 0aand Welsh affairs into one Minister of Constitutional Affairs. This minister is 0ato take up also the functions of the Lord Chancellor, who is at once the 0aMinister of Justice and Speaker in the House of Lords- a position which has been 0aterminated, with no further form of process, after a thousand years of 0aexistence.
The resignation of Health Minister Alan Milburn - justified by 0ahis need "to see my children grow up"-, Mr. Blair's close associate and a rising 0astar of Labor, and his replacement by John Reid, the Minister responsible for 0arelations with the House of Commons only the last few months, suggests a real 0amalaise at the very heart of the government. Suddenly the Conservatives begin to 0ahope again. "The government gives way, creating at the same time a fine 0aopportunity for the Tories to right themselves," remarks David Davis, the 0aConservatives' number 2. That's going a little too far too fast. However, for 0athe first time since his arrival in Downing Street in 1997, Tony Blair no longer 0aseems "untouchable".
Go to Original
Blair Accused of Exaggerating Iraqi Arms
By 0aJill Lawless
The Associated Press
Tuesday 17 June 2003
LONDON -- An inquiry into Britain's decision to wage war in Iraq 0aopened Tuesday with two former ministers testifying that the government 0amanipulated intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to bolster the 0acase for an attack.
Former House of Commons leader Robin Cook said the government had 0aalready decided on a policy of ousting Saddam and used intelligence to justify 0ait, becoming the United States' leading ally against Saddam.
Clare Short, the former International Development Secretary, said 0aBlair "pre-committed" Britain to conflict months before the war, even as the 0aUnited Nations was working to resolve the crisis peacefully.
"I think the prime minister had said to President Bush, 'We will 0abe with you,'" Short told the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.
Cook and Short, who quit the Cabinet over Blair's pro-war stance, 0asaid the government exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam's alleged chemical, 0abiological and nuclear weapons.
Blair used that threat to overcome broad public skepticism about 0athe need for a war with Iraq. The failure to find any evidence of illegal 0aweapons of mass destruction since fighting ended has put intense pressure on the 0aprime minister.
The parliamentary probe is the biggest controversy in Blair's six 0ayears in power. Anti-war sentiment ran strong among the public and lawmakers, 0aincluding in Blair's own party, before fighting started March 20.
Cook told the hearing -- televised live on 24-hour news channels -- that intelligence information was a bit like "alphabet soup."
"I fear the fundamental problem is that instead of using 0aintelligence as evidence on which to base a decision about policy, we used 0aintelligence as the basis on which to justify a policy on which we had already 0asettled," Cook said.
Blair has said there is not "a shred of truth" in allegations the 0agovernment manipulated evidence, and has resisted calls for a full public 0ainquiry. The committee that began work Tuesday and a second committee will study 0ahow intelligence was used, especially in two dossiers about Iraqi weapons 0apublished before the war.
One, published in February, was found to be substantially copied 0afrom an American researcher's thesis which was available on the Internet. 0aAnother from September made the claim, since disputed, that Iraq could fire 0achemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of Saddam giving an order.
If the investigation proves Blair exaggerated the dangers posed 0aby Iraq and overruled intelligence officials to publicize questionable 0ainformation, the House of Commons could censure him. In that case, he probably 0awould feel obliged to resign, but it is considered extremely unlikely that 0aenough people within his own party would vote for such a measure. Blair's Labor 0aParty has a large majority in the Commons.
Short told the committee that information was presented to make 0athe threat appear "more immediate and imminent and requiring urgent action."
Cook acknowledged that Western intelligence agencies had few 0asources of firsthand information on Iraq. "Iraq was an appallingly difficult 0aintelligence target to break," he said.
But both he and Short said they were told by security sources 0abefore the war that Saddam's weapons probably were not an immediate threat to 0aBritain.
Short said she had seen reports from the foreign intelligence 0aservice MI6 which said Iraqi scientists were still working on chemical and 0abiological weapons programs, but did not support government claims that Saddam 0ahad weapons ready to use.
Cook said he had received a similar briefing.
Manufacturing such weapons requires substantial industrial plants 0aand a large work force, he said, adding, "It is inconceivable that both could 0ahave been kept concealed for the two months we have been in occupation of Iraq."
Over the next few weeks the committee will hear evidence from 0asenior politicians, but not Blair. Blair will give evidence to another inquiry 0aby the Joint Intelligence Committee, which, unlike the foreign affairs 0acommittee, meets in private.
The U.S. Congress is to begin hearings into the intelligence case 0afor war this week, but Republicans have rejected calls for a more formal 0ainquiry.