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Sunday, April 07, 2013

What Blair knew about Iraq and when

It is a bit late for a smoking gun regarding Iraq but nevertheless those of us who opposed the war on the grounds that it was ill-founded and illegal will feel vindicated by the revelations in today's Independent that the Chilcott Inquiry has found that the former Prime Minister ignored intelligence reports that Libya was a much greater threat so as to do the bidding of the USA.

The paper says that hitherto unseen evidence given to the Chilcot Inquiry by British intelligence has revealed that Blair was told that Iraq had, at most, only a trivial amount of weapons of mass destruction and that Libya was in this respect a far greater threat:

Intelligence officers have disclosed that just the day before Mr Blair went to visit president George Bush in April 2002, he appeared to accept this but returned a "changed man" and subsequently ordered the production of dossiers to "find the intelligence" that he wanted to use to justify going to war.

This and other secret evidence (given in camera) to the inquiry will, The Independent on Sunday understands, be used as the basis for severe criticism of the former prime minister when the Chilcot report is published.

The paper goes on to chronicle the influence that George W Bush has over Blair in changing his mind over Iraq:

During a closed session with former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove, redacted evidence claims Mr Blair "had understood that Libya posed a bigger threat than Iraq, and understood the risk, therefore, of focusing on WMD in relation to Iraq". It refers to a meeting held by Mr Blair at Chequers days before the visit to Mr Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, but is unclear whether the claims were made by Sir Richard or another individual. What is clear is that in 2002, British intelligence "discovered that Libya has an active nuclear weapons programme", according to Sir Richard.

By contrast, Iraq had no nuclear weapons and any actual WMD would be "very, very small" and would fit on to the "back of a petrol lorry", according to one senior MI6 officer. They admitted the danger from WMD was "all in the cranium of just a few scientists, who we never did meet and we have been unable to meet ever since".

Yet the weekend at Crawford in April 2002 marked Mr Blair's conversion to Mr Bush's way of thinking. The former US president was determined to deal with Saddam Hussein. On Friday 5 April, Mr Blair and Mr Bush spent the evening alone, without their advisers. By the end of the weekend Mr Blair appeared to be a changed man, where previously he had said "we don't do regime change", according to Admiral Lord Boyce, former Chief of the Defence Staff.

The report when it comes out could be dynamite.
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