17 June 2003
Strong criticism has been leveled at British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the start of a parliamentary inquiry into whether his government misued intelligence information to justify the war in Iraq.
At stake is the very integrity of Tony Blair's government. And in the opening session of the Joint Foreign Affairs Committee, former House of Commons leader and foreign minister Robin Cook said he believes the public and parliament were misled by a government already intent on going to war.
"I fear the fundamental problem is that instead of using intelligence as evidence in which to base a conclusion about policy, we used intelligence as a basis on which we could justify a policy in which we had already settled," he said.
Mr. Cook resigned from Mr. Blair's cabinet just before the start of the war.
Another former senior minister who resigned from the cabinet over the war is Clare Short, the former International Development Secretary. She told the inquiry committee that raw intelligence was hyped up or doctored by the government to persuade a skeptical British public and parliament that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that posed a real and imminent threat to global security.
"It is a series of half-truths, exaggerations, reassurances that were not the case to get us into conflict by the spring," said Ms. Short.
Ms. Short said senior officials had already decided to go to war before the heat of summer would have made combat more difficult, even though they claimed diplomacy was continuing.
Among the most controversial claims made by the government in the weeks before the war was that Saddam possessed biological and chemical weapons which could be deployed within 45 minutes.
No weapons of mass destruction have been found.
The man the committee would most like to question in the coming weeks has ruled out an appearance. Prime Minister Blair says that is not necessary, but he has strongly denied allegations that intelligence was exaggerated or misused.
U.S. lawmakers have called for a similar probe by Congres into whether the Bush administration also exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.