13 October 2004
The subtle, and shameless, retreat from the officially stated causes of the Iraq war goes on. Following Patricia Hewitt's painful, and restricted, use of the word "sorry" on television last week, we now have the formal withdrawal of the 45-minute claim by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.
That claim, for those who no longer recall the heady days when the Government was saying that an invasion was not only necessary but urgent, proposed that Saddam Hussein was ready to launch his weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. Since then, we have learned that the Prime Minister had no idea that it meant battlefield weapons rather than long-range missiles. Since then, we have also learned that significant sectors of the intelligence community thought that it should never have been published in the first place and that the source who gave this information was later downgraded as "unreliable".
But still the Prime Minister, and his ministers, will not admit culpability in misleading the public. Instead, they apologise for the intelligence (in which case, one might ask, what is John Scarlett, the chief culprit, doing in a new job as head of MI6) as they "withdraw" one by one the claims of Hussein's arsenal of weapons.
This is more than just a question of political probity. It is a question of where we go next in Iraq. The two reasons which the Prime Minister claims as his reasons for going to war were, he now says, to improve the lot of the Iraqis by removing Saddam Hussein from power and to prevent weapons of mass destruction getting into the wrong hands. Yet, as our report today suggests, the health and welfare of the country is actually getting worse under occupation, while, according to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, Saddam's nuclear facilities have been looted and removed since the invasion. Where to? The IAEA cannot say because the US will not allow them back into the country or give them any information.
Until the Government comes clean as to why it really went to war and what it intended to achieve, what hope is there that it can learn the lessons for the future?