Blair 'went to war based on WMD assumption'
Britain went to war against Iraq on the assumption that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction rather than intelligence evidence, Tony Blair's closest adviser told the Chilcot inquiry yesterday.
Jonathan Powell, the former prime minister's chief of staff, admitted that Mr Blair had made a mistake in an intelligence dossier on Iraq's nuclear and chemical weapons, but said that its importance had been overstated.
He also said that he could not recall any evidence to support Mr Blair's statement to MPs that Saddam had a "growing" weapons programme.
Mr Powell, Mr Blair's chief of staff from 1995 to 2007, said that the importance of a controversial intelligence dossier published in September 2002 had been overstated and was not the pivotal factor in Mr Blair's decision to go to war in March 2003.
He said that there was a long-standing assumption that Saddam had WMD because he had used them in the past. Without evidence that he had destroyed his stockpiles, the government continued to believe that he still had them.
"We had that assumption because Saddam Hussein had lied about using WMD and he had lied about getting rid of them. We had bombed Iraq in 1998 on that basis and it would have taken some quite strong evidence to suggest he had got rid of them," Mr Powell said.
Mr Blair's claim in a foreword to the September 2002 intelligence dossier that it was "beyond doubt" that Saddam had WMD would "obviously be better" if it matched up with the rest of the document, said Mr Powell. (© The Times, London)