Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Iraq: recovered memory

Today may well prove the crucial, most revelatory, day of the Chilcot Inquiry. It was not news that the key players in government in 2002/3 were intent on removing Saddam by hook or by crook. Evidence to the Hutton Inquiry (even though Hutton's formal findings ignored this) and statements by Tony Blair since the invasion, which confirmed that Saddam had no meaningful strategic weapons, have shown this. However, we still do not know whether the Labour government was formally advised in the key period that invasion was contrary to international law. Today's witnesses should clear this up.

Witnesses to the Inquiry so far have tended to muddy the waters. Blair apologists have created the impression that everyone in the West was convinced that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that this conviction grew through 2003. The contrary is the case. As we know, Dr David Kelly originally believed in WMD, but changed his scientific opinion once he had spend any time in the country.

As Stephen Glover, columnist for both the Daily Mail and the Independent wrote in the Indy yesterday: "it is simply not true that there was an unchallenged consensus about WMD. In the months leading up to war there were lots of people who were publicly sceptical about the Government's claims." He cites Hans Blix (the UN's chief weapons inspector), Sir William Ehrman (the Foreign Office's then director-general of defence and intelligence), ex-Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Air Marshal Sir Timothy Garden (later Lord Garden). The latter wrote in The Times on 17th February 2003 that "Saddam has very few, if any, long-range missiles".

It is convenient for the government that Robin Cook, David Kelly and Tim Garden are no longer around to give evidence, but lucky for us that there are journalists like Stephen Glover who are not prepared to take the word of such as Alastair Campbell, Jonathan Powell and Denis MacShane, but who will dig out the truth.

Incidentally, one would have thought that the Conservative Daily Mail would have been alongside the Murdoch press, rooting for war against Saddam right up until the invasion. That was certainly what Denis MacShane has been putting about. Not so. Mr Glover tells us that his other paper "certainly supported 'our boys'* during and immediately after the invasion, but it had been generally sceptical beforehand, and afterwards became positively hostile."

* This was the line taken by Charles Kennedy, for which he was criticised, particularly by the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, who would presumably have preferred 'our boys' to mutiny.

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