Friday, 18 April 2014

How Blair and Straw dissembled over claimed Iraq WMDs

Tony Blair claimed  in The Guardian he has not held up publication of the Chicot report into the last Government's invasion of Iraq ("Blair denies delaying Chilcot report on Iraq and rejects Clegg's Suez Jibe," 15 April).
But Blair dissembled so much to Parliament in his attempt to secure support from MPs for the invasion he desired with his political partner President George W.Bush, maybe even this latest assertion is untrue.
For over a year in 2002-3, Blair and his Foreign Secretary Jack Straw put at the centre of their argument for invading Iraq removal of what they said was proven - Saddam’s possession of WMD.
But Blair above all should have harboured doubts. In countering former Labour foreign Secretary Robin Cook's assertion, in his resignation speech on 17 March  2003, that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction (as Cook put it “in the commonly understood sense of the term—namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target.”), Tony Blair used in evidence the information provided by Saddam's son-in-law, General Hussein Kamel, on the extent of Iraq's attempts to develop WMD revealed in an interview with Western security services (the CIA & M16) in 1995.
But Blair was misleading by omission: Kamel also told the interviewers. Iraq had destroyed his WMD by 1995, as was revealed clearly by Newsweek on 3 March 2003, (and re-reported by your diplomatic editor), weeks before the invasion
Kamel had generally been considered the key witness for the prosecution against Iraq. Being at the centre of all Iraq's weapons programmes, he knew everything there was to know. He was instantly executed by Saddam on his ill-judged return to Iraq after defecting.  On page 13 of the transcript of his interview, posted on the BBC Today programme web site, Kamel is recorded as saying: “All weapons - biological, chemical, missile, nuclear - were destroyed.”
On 26 March Tony Blair was asked by the then Labour MP, Llew Smith, for whom I then did research, if he would place in the Library of the House of Commons the text of the interview information provided by Hussein Kamel on Iraq's WMDs. The Prime Minister replied “Following his defection, Hussein Kamel was interviewed by UNSCOM and by a number of other agencies. Details concerning the interviews were made available to us on a confidential basis. The UK was not provided with transcripts of the interviews.”
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who also made use of Kamel’s WMD revelations, but omitted to make mention he also asserted they had been destroyed,  added to the smokescreen, on the Radio 4 ‘Today Programme’ on 14 May 2003, claiming  that finding weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in  Iraq was not “crucially important” because the UN inspectors provided an overwhelming case for war.
Mr Straw buttressed his comment, adding “We did not go to war on a contingent basis. We went to war on the basis of the evidence [on WMDs]  which was fully available to the international community.”
“It will inevitably take some time to locate that equipment but I am confident that we will do so,” Straw added, but his confidence was clearly misplaced.
I sent the full transcript - which I obtained from the BBC - of the now infamous Kamel interview to Sir John Chilcot, asking him to put its contents to both Blair and Straw. He never did so in public sessions. I await eagerly  to find if he ever did in private.

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