28 Nov

Blair’s fury: Are mandarins seeking revenge?

The former PM has confessed to worries that his reputation will be shredded as evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry begins to mount

By Brian Brady, Sunday, 29 November 2009


Mr Blair assured MPs in the run-up to the invasion that, 'extensive, detailed and authoritative' intelligence showed 'beyond doubt' that Saddam had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons


Mr Blair assured MPs in the run-up to the invasion that, ‘extensive, detailed and authoritative’ intelligence showed ‘beyond doubt’ that Saddam had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons

Tony Blair is furious that his reputation could be “shredded” by senior civil servants taking revenge on him during the inquiry into the Iraq conflict, it emerged last night.

The former prime minister has been appalled by high-profile evidence given by the mandarins who have appeared before the Chilcot Inquiry since the first round of public hearings began last Tuesday, close friends have revealed.

Mr Blair’s image has taken a battering over the past six days, as a series of current and former public servants have given evidence that conflicts with the Government’s account of the intelligence assessment of Iraq’s weapons capability before the invasion in March 2003.

Among the devastating details presented to the inquiry was the revelation that British spies reported 10 days before the invasion that Iraq had “disassembled” what chemical weapons it had – but Mr Blair went ahead and sent troops into battle.

Britain’s former ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, claimed Mr Blair and President George Bush had signed a secret deal “in blood” to remove Saddam Hussein almost a year before the invasion. He said the agreement effectively left officials scrabbling to find “a smoking gun” to justify going to war.

But friends last night claimed that Mr Blair, who will appear before the inquiry next year, has found some of the evidence given to date unpalatable and potentially damaging to his reputation. “It is clear the headlines so far have not been helpful to him,” one of Blair’s former ministers said. “But more troubling is the sense that some of the people involved are so keen to stick the knife in. It is quite distasteful.”

Another Blair ally said the former leader had made clear his concern that “his reputation could be shredded by the Chilcot process”. “He is furious mandarins are seeking revenge and discovering their principles after the event,” one friend added.

Sir Christopher has attracted much criticism from Blairites, following a flamboyant appearance during which he claimed Mr Blair’s view on “regime change” in Iraq hardened after a private meeting with President Bush in 2002. He also compared Mr Blair unflatteringly with a Tory predecessor, Margaret Thatcher.

The former diplomat told the inquiry on Thursday: “She would have insisted on a clear, coherent political/ diplomatic strategy and I think she would have demanded the greatest clarity about what the heck happened if and when we removed Saddam Hussein.”

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who worked alongside Mr Blair in his attempts to gain UN blessing for the invasion, said the war was of “questionable legitimacy” even though it is unlikely to be proved illegal.

The former UK ambassador to the UN said the invasion did not have the backing of most UN members or the British public.

Mr Blair assured MPs in the run-up to the invasion that, he said, “extensive, detailed and authoritative” intelligence showed “beyond doubt” that Saddam had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons; tried to develop nuclear weapons; and that he had already produced chemical weapons – and used them on his own people.

The Government produced two dossiers on Saddam’s weapons capability, to back up the case for war.

It has since been shown that much of the intelligence which the Government received in the run-up to the war was confused and inaccurate.

Sir William Ehrman, Foreign Office director general for defence and intelligence at the time, told the inquiry a report suggested that Saddam may not have been able to use chemical weapons. A separate report suggested Iraq might also “lack” warheads capable of spreading chemical agents.

Tim Dowse, Foreign Office director of counter-proliferation between 2001-2003, said most evidence suggested Iraq’s chemical and biological programme had largely been “destroyed” in 1991. He said intelligence in late 2002 suggested that Iraq was rebuilding its capability, although its actual position had been unclear since weapons inspectors were expelled in 1998.

Critical evidence from key figures to chilcot inquiry

Sir Peter Ricketts “We quite clearly distanced ourselves from talk of regime change… that was not something we thought there would be any legal base for.”

Sir William Patey “We were aware of those drumbeats from Washington [about regime change]. Our policy was to stay away from that end of the spectrum.”

Sir Michael Wood “[Establishing no-fly zones over Iraq] was very controversial … The US government was very careful to avoid taking any real position on the law.”

Sir William Ehrman “We did, on 10 March, get a report that chemical weapons might have remained disassembled and Saddam hadn’t yet ordered their assembly.”

Sir Christopher Meyer “Suddenly, because of the unforgiving nature of the military timetable, we found ourselves scrabbling for the smoking gun.”

Sir Jeremy Greenstock “I regarded our participation in the military action against Iraq in March 2003 as legal, but of questionable legitimacy.”

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Nice post, keep up the excellent work

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