Monday, June 02, 2003

Weapons: a question of trust

The PM must justify the faith that so many had in him

Sunday June 1, 2003
The Observer

In his speech at a school in Basra, Tony Blair declared the Allied victory in Iraq 'the defining moment of the twenty-first century'. Although this century is in its infancy, the Prime Minister may be right. A war has been swiftly fought and won. A country has been liberated from a dictator's cruel dominion. The hope is that the lives of Iraqi people will ultimately be transformed and that the region, and the world, may benefit. But that is not the end of the matter. The manner in which history judges Mr Blair, and his defining moment, will depend on the answers to some hard questions. Disquiet is increasing on both sides of the Atlantic about one issue in particular. Almost two months after hostilities ended, there is no significant trace of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, has admitted that the elusive weapons may never be found, suggesting that Saddam may have destroyed them before the war. Mr Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, asserts that disarming the Iraqi dictator was only 'a bureaucratic reason' for attack. Even more disturbingly for Mr Blair, a senior intelligence official claims that Downing Street wanted the dossier outlining Saddam's threat 'sexed up' and that information was included against security services' advice. Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces Minister, has admitted Mr Blair's key claim, that a chemical or biological attack could be unleashed at 45 minutes' notice, was based on an uncorroborated source.

The Prime Minister continues to have 'absolutely no doubt at all about the existence of weapons of mass destruction'. That as yet unsupported certitude that something will turn up is no longer enough. Mr Blair took a Parliament and a country racked by doubt into conflict expressly because Saddam's weapons posed an immediate threat to his neighbours and to the order of the world.


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