14 September 2003
At the start of the year, The Independent on Sunday argued that there were three overwhelming reasons why Iraq should not be invaded: there was no proof that Saddam posed an imminent threat; Iraq would be even more unstable as a result of its liberation; and a conflict would increase the threat posed by terrorists. What we did not know was that Tony Blair had received intelligence and advice that raised the very same points.
Last week's report from the Intelligence and Security Committee included the revelation that some of the intelligence had warned that a war against Iraq risked an increased threat of terrorism. Why did Mr Blair not make this evidence available to the public in the way that so much of the alarmist intelligence on Saddam's weapons was published? Why did he choose to ignore the intelligence and argue instead that the war was necessary, precisely because of the threat posed by international terrorism?
There have been two parliamentary investigations into this war and the Hutton inquiry re-opens tomorrow. In their different ways they have been illuminating, but none of them has addressed the main issues relating to the war. The Foreign Affairs Committee had the scope to range widely, but chose to become embroiled in the dispute between the Government and the BBC. The Intelligence Committee reached the conclusion that the Government's dossier on Saddam's weapons was not sexed up, but failed to explain why the intelligence was so hopelessly wrong. The Hutton inquiry is investigating the death of Dr David Kelly, a personal tragedy of marginal relevance to the war against Iraq.
Tony Blair has still to come under close scrutiny about his conduct in the build- up to war. Instead, the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, is being fingered as if he were masterminding the war behind everyone's backs from the Ministry of Defence. Mr Hoon is not a minister who dares to think without consulting Downing Street first. At all times he would have been dancing to Downing Street's tunes. Mr Blair would be wrong to assume that he can draw a line under all of this by making Mr Hoon the fall-guy. It was Mr Blair who decided to take Britain to war, and a Cabinet of largely sceptical ministers that backed him. It was Mr Blair who told MPs that unless Saddam was removed, terrorists would pose a greater global threat - even though he had received intelligence that suggested a war would lead to an increase in terrorism.
Parliament should be the forum in which the Prime Minister is called more fully to account, but Iain Duncan Smith's support for the war has neutered an already inept opposition. In the absence of proper parliamentary scrutiny, it is left to newspapers like this one to keep asking the most important questions until the Prime Minister answers them.