Blair 'knew Iraq
had no WMD'
TONY BLAIR privately conceded two weeks before the Iraq war that
Saddam Hussein did not have any usable weapons of mass
destruction, Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, reveals
By David Cracknell, Political Editor
Times" -- -- John
Scarlett, chairman of the joint intelligence committee (JIC),
also "assented" that Saddam had no such weapons, says Cook.
His revelations, taken from a diary that he kept as a senior
minister during the months leading up to war, are published
today in The Sunday Times. They shatter the case for war put
forward by the government that Iraq presented "a real and
present danger" to Britain.
Cook, who resigned shortly before the invasion of Iraq, also
reveals there was a near mutiny in the cabinet, triggered by
David Blunkett, the home secretary, when it first discussed
military action against Iraq.
The prime minister ignored the "large number of ministers who
spoke up against the war", according to Cook. He also
"deliberately crafted a suggestive phrasing" to mislead the
public into thinking there was a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda,
and he did not want United Nations weapons inspections to be
successful, writes the former cabinet minister.
Cook suggests that the government misled the House of Commons
and asked MPs to vote for war on a "false prospectus".
He also reveals that Blair earlier gave President Bill Clinton a
private assurance that he would support him in military action
in Iraq if action in the UN failed "and it would certainly have
been in line with his previous practice if he had given
President Bush a private assurance of British support".
Cook's long-awaited diaries, published in book form as Point of
Departure, are the first memoir of any member of Blair's
cabinet. His disclosures are likely to lead to renewed calls for
a judicial inquiry into the legitimacy of the war.
The Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly has dealt
only with the question of what the government believed ahead of
publication of its Iraq dossier in September 2002 and whether
Downing Street hardened intelligence reports to make the threat
from Saddam seem more compelling.
Cook today opens a new controversy. He says that just days
before sending troops into action, Blair no longer believed
Saddam had weapons of mass destruction ready for firing within
45 minutes, the claim the prime minister had repeatedly made
when arguing the case for war.
Cook reveals that on February 20 this year he was given a
briefing by Scarlett. "The presentation was impressive in its
integrity and shorn of the political slant with which No 10
encumbers any intelligence assessment," Cook writes in his
diary. "My conclusion at the end of an hour is that Saddam
probably does not have weapons of mass destruction in the sense
of weapons that could be used against large-scale civilian
Two weeks later, on March 5, Cook saw Blair. At the time the
government was still trying to get a fresh UN resolution and
Cook was still in government as leader of the Commons.
Cook writes: "The most revealing exchange came when we talked
about Saddam's arsenal. I told him, 'It's clear from the private
briefing I have had that Saddam has no weapons of mass
destruction in a sense of weapons that could strike at strategic
cities. But he probably does have several thousand battlefield
chemical munitions. Do you never worry that he might use them
against British troops?'
"[Blair replied:] 'Yes, but all the effort he has had to put
into concealment makes it difficult for him to assemble them
quickly for use'."
Cook continues: "There were two distinct elements to this
exchange that sent me away deeply troubled. The first was that
the timetable to war was plainly not driven by the progress of
the UN weapons inspections. Tony made no attempt to pretend that
what Hans Blix [the UN's chief weapons inspector] might report
would make any difference to the countdown to invasion.
"The second troubling element to our conversation was that Tony
did not try to argue me out of the view that Saddam did not have
real weapons of mass destruction that were designed for
strategic use against city populations and capable of being
delivered with reliability over long distances. I had now
expressed that view to both the chairman of the JIC and to the
prime minister and both had assented in it.
"At the time I did believe it likely that Saddam had retained a
quantity of chemical munitions for tactical use on the
battlefield. These did not pose 'a real and present danger to
Britain' as they were not designed for use against city
populations and by definition could threaten British personnel
only if we were to deploy them on the battlefield within range
of Iraqi artillery.
"I had now twice been told that even those chemical shells had
been put beyond operational use in response to the pressure from
intrusive inspections. I have no reason to doubt that Tony Blair
believed in September that Saddam really had weapons of mass
destruction ready for firing within 45 minutes. What was clear
from this conversation was that he did not believe it himself in
Cook asks: "If No 10 accepted that Saddam had no real weapons of
mass destruction which he could credibly deliver against city
targets and if they themselves believed that he could not
reassemble his chemical weapons in a credible timescale for use
on the battlefield, just how much of a threat did they really
think Saddam represented?"
He raises "the gravest of political questions. The rules of the
Commons explicitly require ministers to correct the record as
soon as they are aware that they may have misled parliament. If
the government did come to know that the [United States] State
Department did not trust the claims in the September dossier and
that some of even their top experts did not believe them, should
they not have told parliament before asking the Commons to vote
for war on a false prospectus?"
Cook decided not to publish his diaries ahead of last week's
Labour conference in Bournemouth. Had he done so, his
revelations would have ensured Blair received a much tougher
ride from activists, many of whom are deeply uneasy about the
He reveals that in the months leading up to the war Downing
Street aides, including Alastair Campbell, Blair's former
director of communications, and Jonathan Powell, his chief of
staff, were obsessed with not falling out with Washington.
Cook discloses that several cabinet ministers had held
misgivings about the war, not just himself and Clare Short. At a
cabinet meeting in late February 2002, Blunkett asked for a
discussion on Iraq and Cook received cries of "hear, hear" from
cabinet colleagues when he argued that Arab governments regarded
Israel, not Iraq, as the real problem for the Middle East. Cook
records it was "the nearest thing I've heard to a mutiny in
His diary entry of March 7, 2002, a year before the war, says
that Blunkett and Patricia Hewitt, the trade secretary, raised
objections at cabinet.
"A momentous moment. A real discussion at cabinet. Tony
permitted us to have the debate on Iraq which David [Blunkett]
and I had asked for. For the first time that I can recall in
five years, Tony was out on a limb."
According to Cook, Blunkett asked Blair: "What has changed that
suddenly gives us the legal right to take military action that
we didn't have a few months ago?"
Hewitt warned Blair: "We are in danger of being seen as close to
President Bush, but without any influence over President Bush."
But the prime minister was "totally unfazed" and, when Hewitt
again raised objections at cabinet the following month, Blair
refused to be boxed in, telling colleagues: "The time to debate
the legal base for our action should be when we take that
Cook reveals that Bush had wanted to hold a crucial war council
with Blair in London on the weekend before the invasion of Iraq,
a move that would have been a public relations disaster given
public hostility to the war. Blair persuaded Bush to hold the
summit in the Azores instead.
By September last year most of the cabinet had fallen into line.
At cabinet on September 23, before parliament was recalled from
its summer break, Cook says: "Personally I found it a grim
meeting. Much of the two hours was taken up with a succession of
loyalty oaths for Tony's line."
He says only Estelle Morris, then education secretary, "bravely"
reported public disquiet that Britain was simply following Bush.
© Copyright 2007 Times Newspapers Ltd.
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