12 September 2003

Blair's war: PM ignored intelligence advice on Iraq

Another of Tony Blair's main justifications for war on Iraq was blown apart yesterday by the disclosure that intelligence chiefs had warned that deposing Saddam Hussein would increase the risk of terror attacks on Britain.

The Prime Minister told Parliament and the public earlier this year that the West had to act against Baghdad to prevent chemical and biological weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists.

But exactly two years after al-Qa'ida's 11 September attack, a committee of MPs revealed that the Mr Blair had been told that the threat from Osama bin Laden 'would be heightened by military action against Iraq'. The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), chaired by the Labour MP Ann Taylor, also criticised the Government's dossier on the Iraqi threat, concluding that key claims should have been omitted or heavily qualified.

The ISC's report put further pressure on Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, accusing him of giving 'unhelpful and potentially misleading evidence' on the extent of dissent within the MoD about the dossier.

But the political spotlight switched firmly to Mr Blair himself after the ISC revealed for the first time details of a briefing he received from intelligence chiefs in the run-up to the war.

As MPs prepared to vote on the war on 18 March, he even said that links between Iraq and al-Qa'ida were hardening. 'The possibility of the two coming together, of terrorists groups in possession of a weapon of mass destruction or even a so-called dirty radiological bomb - is now in my judgement a real and present danger to Britain and its national security,' he said.

Yet just over five weeks before the American-led invasion of Iraq, Mr Blair was told secretly by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) that there was no evidence of any link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Crucially, the JIC 'assessed that al-Qa'ida and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests and that threat would be heightened by military action'.

Tony Blair should get some decent staffers in his private office. John Howard could lend him some. The very idea that intelligence agencies admit ever briefing a prime minister is subversive.

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