It's official - Saddam was not an imminent threat
Sat Aug 23 17:30:29 2003
Clare Short, MP: It's official - Saddam was not an imminent threat
Hutton's remit was narrow - yet he has exposed the truth about the Iraq war
Saturday August 23, 2003: (The Guardian) After eight days of the Hutton inquiry
and enormous quantities of media coverage, it is worth pausing to try to take
stock. Many of us have said that, deliberately or otherwise, Alastair Campbell's
decision to go to war with the BBC had the potential to distract attention from
the most important questions arising from the Iraq crisis - whether the nation
was deceived on the road to war, and where responsibility lies for the
continuing chaos and loss of life in Iraq.
Lord Hutton has been charged with inquiring into the narrower question of the
circumstances that led to the death of Dr David Kelly and will report on this
very important question. But his inquiry is revealing important information that
casts light on the bigger question of how we got to war.
There is an unfortunate tendency among some commentators to seek to narrow the
issue to a blame game between the BBC and 10 Downing Street. This has led to
comment to the effect that Dr Kelly was the unfortunate victim of a battle
between two mighty institutions, accompanied by a campaign of vilification
against Andrew Gilligan and the Today programme. It is important to remain
constantly aware of the vested interests at play: the Murdoch empire and other
rightwing media operations would like to weaken and break the BBC so that
British broadcasting might be reduced to the sort of commercially dominated,
biased news reporting that controls the US airwaves. It is extremely unfortunate
that a Labour government has been willing to drive forward this campaign against
We must not allow the barrage of biased comment to mislead us into a fudged
conclusion that it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. And we must
focus both on the pressures that were placed on Dr Kelly and the wider question
of how we got to war in Iraq.
The inquiry has already established beyond doubt that, despite government
briefing that Dr Kelly was a medium-level official of little significance, he
was in fact one of the world's leading experts on WMD in Iraq. It is also clear
that Dr Kelly chose to brief three BBC journalists - and presumably others - to
the effect that the 45-minute warning of the possible use of WMD was an
exaggeration. He said to the Newsnight reporter Susan Watts, as well as to
Gilligan that Campbell and the Downing Street press operation were responsible
for exerting pressure to hype up the danger. The inquiry is exploring the
reality of that claim. But it is already clear that Dr Kelly made it, to
Gilligan and Watts.
The BBC would have been grossly irresponsible if it had failed to bring such a
report - from such an eminent source - to public attention. It is a delicious
irony that Alastair Campbell castigates the BBC for relying on one very eminent
source for this report ... and yet the 45-minute claim itself came from only one
As a result of the Hutton inquiry, we now know that two defence intelligence
officials wrote to their boss to put on record their disquiet at the
exaggeration in the dossier. Moreover, one official asked his boss for advice as
to whether he should approach the foreign affairs select committee after the
foreign secretary had said that he was not aware of any unhappiness among
intelligence officials about the claims made in the dossier.
We know through emails revealed by Hutton that Tony Blair's chief of staff made
clear that the dossier was likely to convince those who were prepared to be
convinced, but that the document "does nothing to demonstrate he [Saddam
Hussein] has the motive to attack his neighbours, let alone the west. We will
need to be clear in launching the document that we do not claim that we have
evidence that he is an imminent threat. The case we are making is that he has
continued to develop WMD since 1998, and is in breach of UN resolutions. The
international community has to enforce those resolutions if the UN is to be
I agree completely with Jonathan Powell's conclusion. But it follows from this
that there was no need to truncate Dr Blix's inspection process and to divide
the security council in order to get to war by a preordained date.
If there was no imminent threat, then Dr Blix could have been given the time he
required. He may well have succeeded in ending all Iraq's WMD programmes - just
as he succeeded in dismantling 60-plus ballistic missiles. Then sanctions could
have been lifted and a concentrated effort made to help the people of Iraq end
the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein - just as we did with Milosevic in Serbia.
Or if Blix had failed, we would have been in the position President Chirac
described on March 10, when the issue would have come back to the security
council. And in Chirac's view, this would have meant UN authorisation of
The tragedy of all this is that if we had followed Jonathan Powell's conclusion,
and the UK had used its friendship with the US to keep the world united on a UN
route, then, even if it had come to war, a united international community under
a UN mandate would almost certainly have made a better job of supporting Iraq's
reconstruction. In this scenario the armed forces would have concentrated on
keeping order; the UN humanitarian system would have fixed the water and
electricity systems; Sergio Vieira de Mello, as Kofi Annan's special
representative, would have helped the Iraqis to install an interim government
and begin a process of constitutional change, as the UN has done in Afghanistan;
and the World Bank and IMF would have advised the Iraqi interim authority on
transparent economic reform, rather than a process of handover to US companies.
Following the terrible bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, there is a
danger that those who favour chaos in Iraq will make further gains, at great
cost to the people of Iraq and coalition forces. The answer remains a stronger
UN mandate and internationalisation of the reconstruction effort. The worry is
that the US will not have the humility to ask for help, and the chaos and
suffering will continue.
In the meantime, Lord Hutton will draw his conclusions about the tragic death of
Dr Kelly. My own tentative conclusion is that Downing Street thought they could
use him in their battle with the BBC, and that the power of the state was
misused in a battle to protect the political interests of the government.
∑ Clare Short resigned as international development secretary in May
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