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Weapons and the war

Friday September 26, 2003
The Guardian

Amid all the official inquiries, political recriminations and postwar claims and counter-claims, one basic fact about Iraq now appears incontrovertible. The fact is, at the time the war was launched, Iraq did not possess the non-conventional weapons capability that the US and Britain alleged. It did not, therefore, pose the "serious and current threat" to the UK national interest, to the Middle East region and to the US that was officially claimed. The US-British decision to prevent further UN weapons inspections, override a UN security council majority, and plunge into a lethal, open-ended and expensive conflict was thus rash, unnecessary and mistaken.

This may be seen, generously, as an enormous miscalculation based on erroneous information; or as the inevitable result of a decision that George Bush had already taken, for less creditable motives, that had very little to do with Iraq's weaponry. Either way, it is beyond question that more time could safely have been allowed for inspections, diplomacy and voluntary Iraqi disarmament. The moment of last resort, meaning urgent, unavoidable use of military force, had not remotely been reached.

It may be said that the initial findings of the Iraq Survey Group are incomplete. But does anybody seriously believe that if the CIA's team had found any persuasive WMD evidence at all, that evidence would not have been broadcast to the heavens long ago? It is true that WMD could yet be found; but such a turn-up after almost six months of looking is unlikely and would rightly be viewed with suspicion. The last thing we need is another sexed-up report. It may be said that speaking with hindsight is easy. Yet before the war, Britain and the US were warned again and again, by Hans Blix, by previous inspection teams, and by some of their own intelligence experts that firm proof of the existence of the weapons listed in Tony Blair's notorious dossier was lacking. There were many questions; all agreed those questions should be answered. But that is precisely why inspections should have continued.

It may well be the case that if the US and Britain had backed off last March, Saddam Hussein would have scored a great propaganda victory. But if the policy of containment had not been abandoned in the first place, there would have been no victory for him to claim. It is often said that, but for the war, Saddam would still be in power. But if his overthrow was the aim, why was this not baldly stated? Because, in Britain, it would be deemed illegal. That is why it is now doubly important that the attorney-general's legal advice be published. This WMD fiasco has brought into question the judgment, competence and candour of the intelligence services and, indeed, of Mr Blair and senior ministers. As a matter of fact, not opinion, Britain went to war on a false premise. It hardly needs to be said how very serious and very damaging a conclusion that is.


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