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War on Truth  From Warriors to Resisters
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The War on Truth

From Warriors to Resisters

Army of None

Iraq: the Logic of Withdrawal

June 23, 2003

Thanks to Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (UK)
for sending this to us concerning last week's testimony by
Robin Cook and Claire Short.


Lessons of Iraq - Commons Foreign Affairs Committee hearing


Monday, June 2003


Here is point-by-point coverage of former cabinet ministers Robin Cook and Clare Short giving evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee about the Iraq war. The Commons foreign affairs select committee started hearing evidence from former cabinet minister Robin Cook at 1003 BST. The committee, chaired by Labour MP Donald Anderson, includes David Chidgey (Lib Dem), Sir Patrick Cormack (Conservative), Fabian Hamilton (Labour), Eric Illsley (Lab) Andrew Mackinlay (Lab), John Maples (Con), Bill Olner (Lab), Greg Pope (Lab), Sir John Stanley (Con) and Gisela Stuart (Lab).


           Mr Cook said there were five key questions which needed to be answered, starting with why there was "such a difference" between the claims made about Iraq's weapons before the war and the reality established after the conflict.


         Did the government come to doubt the weapons claims before the war, asked Mr Cook.


           Could biological and chemical materials have fallen into terrorists' hands in the two months since the war's end, he continued.


           And why were United Nations weapons inspectors not being put back into Iraq, queried the former foreign secretary.


           Mr Cook's final question was whether the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq undermined the legal basis for the war.


           The Labour MP said he did not doubt Tony Blair's "good faith" in arguing his case over Iraq. "If anything, I think the problem was the burning sincerity and firm conviction of those involved in the exercise," he added.


           Intelligence may have been used to justify the case for the UK's stance against Iraq, suggested Mr Cook, rather than being used as the basis for the policy.


           Mr Cook branded the government's "dodgy dossier", which included parts of a student thesis, as a "spectacular own goal".


           Assessments given to ministers by the Joint Intelligence Committee often did not draw firm conclusions for action, but rather canvassed different points, said Mr Cook.


           Mr Cook said he would not have imagined Downing Street communications director Alastair Campbell would have had input into intelligence assessments, although he would have been able to see them.


           Everything learnt about Iraq since the end of the war suggests the old policy of containing Saddam Hussein's regime worked even better than realised at the time, said the former minister.


           The failure to find any biological toxins in Iraq means the situation was "even less threatening" than he thought when he resigned from the cabinet on the eve of war, suggested Mr Cook.


           Iraq was an "appallingly difficult intelligence target", said Mr Cook, as there was no hope of putting in any western agents and there were few leaks from Saddam's regime.


           The former foreign secretary said he had never seen any intelligence that Saddam had weaponised any of the chemical materials, such as anthrax stocks, identified in earlier inspections.


           UN inspection reports showed Iraq was giving better cooperation than when inspectors left the country in 1998, argued Mr Cook.


           Labour MP Gisela Stuart asked Mr Cook what had changed since he wrote in a newspaper that sanctions against Iraq were needed because Saddam was determined to retain and rebuild weapons of mass destruction.


           Mr Cook said that in the same article in 1998 he had argued Saddam Hussein could be kept in check by the policy of containment.


           It was a "grievous error" to go to war on the basis that Iraq was a "current and serious threat" as that judgement had proved to be untrue, argued Mr Cook.


           The government's first dossier on Iraq's weapons made a number of big claims not later repeated, said Mr Cook, who wondered if doubts had emerged about the allegations.


           Mr Cook could not recall the "dodgy dossier" produced in February this year being discussed by Tony Blair's cabinet.


           Ministers should not compound their original errors by denying that some of the information they gave MPs had turned out to be wrong, said Mr Cook.


           Ministers "could not have hoped for a fuller opportunity" to discuss Iraq in cabinet, said Mr Cook, with himself bringing up points of "dissent and questioning" and Clare Short bringing up humanitarian issues.


           The break-up of the global coalition against terrorism is one of the "heavy prices" paid for going to war without a fresh UN resolution, argued Mr Cook.


           Mr Cook finished his evidence at 1109 BST, with former International Development Secretary Clare Short due to be the committee's next witness.


           Ms Short began her evidence at 1111 BST, with committee chairman Donald Anderson noting her "trenchant criticism" of Tony Blair's "deception".


           The former cabinet minister accused Mr Blair of a "series of half truths, exaggerations, reassurances that weren't the case" in the run-up to war.


           The deception was because Mr Blair had struck a deal with US President George Bush last summer to go to war in Spring 2003, said Ms Short.


           Ms Short said three "extremely senior figures" in Whitehall had told her that Mr Blair had agreed to go to war in mid-February, something later extended to mid-March.


           The ex-minister said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had told her it was absolutely clear the majority of the Security Council thought the UN weapons inspectors should be given more time.


           Ms Short said she was willing from the start to use military force as a last resort to back up the UN's authority, but in the end such action was pre-determined.


           Tony Blair had told President Bush "We will be with you" without laying down the conditions to temper American ambitions, suggested Ms Short.


           She urged the MPs to press to see the raw intelligence material about Iraq, saying the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime meant security sources were no longer at risk.


           The prime minister allowed Ms Short to have special briefings from the security services "because he was trying to keep me inside the tent", said the Birmingham MP.


           The defence and overseas sub-committee of the cabinet never met to discuss Iraq, said Ms Short.


           Saddam Hussein had scientists working to try to develop biological and chemical weapons, but it was wrong to suggest that meant there was "weaponised" materials, said Ms Short.


           All three dossiers about Saddam Hussein's regime were "pretty shoddy pieces of work", argued Ms Short.


           Ms Short said she was "seen as pretty awkward" throughout because she kept raising concerns on Iraq in cabinet, but she could not "fire on all fronts".


           The former cabinet minister said she had been "shocked" by the way decisions which meant people lost their lives had been made.


           The claim that Iraq could launch some weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order had never featured in the intelligence briefings she had received, said Ms Short.


           Key decisions on Iraq were made by the prime minister and his unelected entourage in Downing Street, with the foreign secretary going along with those decisions, argued Ms Short.


           The government's "dodgy dossier", based partly on a student thesis taken from the internet, was "shameful", with even the student concerned complaining his work had been distorted.


           UN weapons inspectors were getting "a lot of success", including destroying 64 ballistic missiles, before the process was truncated, said Ms Short.


           Ms Short presumed Mr Blair saw the devices he had used to get the UK to back America against Iraq as "honourable deception".


           It was "incredibly" serious to believe that Tony Blair had misled Parliament but she had now reached that "sad conclusion", said Ms Short.


           The way decisions were made about Iraq led to some of the "chaos" seen in Iraq after the war, argued the former minister.


           Containment of Iraq was not working because of the suffering inflicted on the people of Iraq, said Ms Short.


           Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay suggested Ms Short had confused agreement between Mr Blair and Mr Bush on the deadline for Iraq's cooperation with a timetable being set for war.


           "Very large" numbers of recruits to the al-Qaeda terrorist network had come out of the way the coalition went to war, suggested Ms Short.


           Ms Short said she had not talked to intelligence figures about whether they had concerns about how their material was made public in the government's dossiers.


           The attorney-general's legal advice about the limits of the occupying powers in Iraq were "brushed aside" in the time between the end of the war and the latest UN resolution.


           Ms Short completed her evidence at 1127 BST, with the committee also finishing its morning of hearings.


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