The case for war is blown apart
By Ben Russell and Andy McSmith in
29 May 2003
Tony Blair stood accused last night of misleading
Parliament and the British people over Saddam
Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and his claims
that the threat posed by Iraq justified war.
Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, seized on a
"breathtaking" statement by the US Defence Secretary,
Donald Rumsfeld, that Iraq's weapons may have been
destroyed before the war, and anger boiled over
among MPs who said the admission undermined the
legal and political justification for war.
Mr Blair insisted yesterday he had "absolutely no doubt
at all about the existence of weapons of mass
But Mr Cook said the Prime Minister's claims that
Saddam could deploy chemical or biological weapons
within 45 minutes were patently false. He added that Mr
Rumsfeld's statement "blows an enormous gaping hole
in the case for war made on both sides of the Atlantic"
and called for MPs to hold an investigation.
Meanwhile, Labour rebels threatened to report Mr Blair
to the Speaker of the Commons for the cardinal sin of
misleading Parliament - and force him to answer
emergency questions in the House.
Mr Rumsfeld ignited the row in a speech in New York,
declaring: "It is ... possible that they [Iraq] decided that
they would destroy them prior to a conflict and I don't
know the answer."
Speaking in the Commons before the crucial vote on
war, Mr Blair told MPs that it was "palpably absurd" to
claim that Saddam had destroyed weapons including
10,000 litres of anthrax, up to 6,500 chemical munitions;
at least 80 tons of mustard gas, sarin, botulinum toxin
and "a host of other biological poisons".
But Mr Cook said yesterday: "We were told Saddam
had weapons ready for use within 45 minutes. It's now
45 days since the war has finished and we have still
not found anything.
"It is plain he did not have that capacity to threaten us,
possibly did not have the capacity to threaten even his
neighbours, and that is profoundly important. We were,
after all, told that those who opposed the resolution that
would provide the basis for military action were in the
"Perhaps we should now admit they were in the right."
Speaking as he flew into Kuwait before a
morale-boosting visit to British troops in Iraq today, Mr
Blair said: "Rather than speculating, let's just wait until
we get the full report back from our people who are
interviewing the Iraqi scientists.
"We have already found two trailers that both our and
the American security services believe were used for
the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons."
He added: "Our priorities in Iraq are less to do with
finding weapons of mass destruction, though that is
obviously what a team is charged with doing, and they
will do it, and more to do with humanitarian and political
Peter Kilfoyle, the anti-war rebel and former Labour defence minister, said he was
prepared to report Mr Blair to the Speaker of the Commons for misleading Parliament. Mr
Kilfoyle, whose Commons motion calling on Mr Blair to publish the evidence backing up his
claims about Saddam's arsenal has been signed by 72 MPs, warned: "This will not go
away. The Government ought to publish whatever evidence they have for the claims they
Paul Keetch, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: "No weapons means no
threat. Without WMD, the case for war falls apart. It would seem either the intelligence
was wrong and we should not rely on it, or, the politicians overplayed the threat. Even
British troops who I met in Iraq recently were sceptical about the threat posed by WMD.
Their lives were put at risk in order to eliminate this threat - we owe it to our troops to find
out if that threat was real."
But Bernard Jenkin, the shadow Defence Secretary, said: "I think it is too early to rush to
any conclusions at this stage; we must wait and see what the outcome actually is of
Ministers have pointed to finds of chemical protection suits and suspected mobile
biological weapons laboratories as evidence of Iraq's chemical and biological capability.
But they have also played down the importance of finding weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq. Earlier this month, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, provoked a storm of protest
after claiming weapons finds were "not crucially important".
The Government has quietly watered down its claims, now arguing only that the Iraqi
leader had weapons at some time before the war broke out.
Tony Benn, the former Labour minister, told LBC Radio: "I believe the Prime Minister lied to
us and lied to us and lied to us. The whole war was built upon falsehood and I think the
long-term damage will be to democracy in Britain. If you can't believe what you are told by
ministers, the whole democratic process is put at risk. You can't be allowed to get away
with telling lies for political purposes."
Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South, said MPs "supported war based on a lie".
He said: "If it's right Iraq destroyed the weapons prior to the war, then it means Iraq
complied with the United Nations resolution 1441."
The former Labour minister Glenda Jackson added: "If the creators of this war are now
saying weapons of mass destruction were destroyed before the war began, then all the
government ministers who stood on the floor in the House of Commons adamantly
speaking of the immediate threat are standing on shaky ground."
The build-up to war: What they said
Intelligence leaves no doubt that Iraq continues to possess and conceal lethal weapons
George Bush, Us President 18 March, 2003
We are asked to accept Saddam decided to destroy those weapons. I say that such a
claim is palpably absurd
Tony Blair, Prime Minister 18 March, 2003
Saddam's removal is necessary to eradicate the threat from his weapons of mass
Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary 2 April, 2003
Before people crow about the absence of weapons of mass destruction, I suggest they
wait a bit
Tony Blair 28 April, 2003
It is possible Iraqi leaders decided they would destroy them prior to the conflict
Donald Rumsfeld, US Defence Secretary 28 May, 2003
28 May 2003 21:15