Thursday 14 December 2017

Defiant Campbell stands by 'every word' of Iraq dossier

Inquiry told Britons should be proud, not apologetic, despite bloodshed

Dean Gray in London

EMPLOYING his unique blend of bluster and defiance spinmaster Alastair Campbell told the Iraq Inquiry yesterday that Tony Blair's government had nothing to apologise for even though the dossier it used to convince the British public to go to war with Iraq was riddled with faulty intelligence.

In a confident and customary bravura performance, Mr Campbell insisted that Britons should be proud, not apologetic, about what the country accomplished in Iraq, despite the years of bloodshed that followed the US-led invasion.

Asked about the Iraq invasion, Mr Campbell said: "I think that Britain, far from beating ourselves up about this, should be really proud of the role we played in changing Iraq from what it was to what it is becoming, and the impact that is having on the region."

The deeply flawed dossier, published in 2002, claimed that British intelligence showed "beyond doubt" that Saddam Hussein presented a threat with weapons of mass drestruction (WMD). It also claimed that Iraqi forces had WMD that could be used within 45 minutes of an order being given.

The dossier has become notorious since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which uncovered no significant evidence of viable WMD programmes.

Mr Campbell chaired the meetings of British intelligence officers that produced the dossier in September 2002.


Questioned about the dossier, Mr Campbell insisted he stood by it. He said: "I defend every single word of the dossier."

Mr Campbell said the 45-minute claim was not very significant. "In the discussions (producing the dossier), it wasn't that big a deal," he said.

In the foreword to the dossier, Tony Blair said the intelligence shows "beyond doubt" that Saddam was a WMD threat.

Sir John Chilcot, the inquiry chairman, put it to Mr Campbell that the basic intelligence reports would not have been so stark. "Assessed intelligence never establishes anything beyond doubt," he said.

Mr Campbell replied by claiming that John Scarlett, then the chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee and later the head of MI6, had told him that the intelligence was categorical.

He said: "I have been in meetings with John Scarlett and intelligence officials and is that what they were saying? Yes it is."

Asked if he stood by Mr Blair's "beyond doubt" claim, Mr Campbell said yes. He said: "I do. At the time, that was the judgment he was led to make. The document had the full authority of the Joint Intelligence Committee."

Mr Campbell admitted that a second intelligence dossier published in February 2003, which also included material taken from a journal on the Middle East, had been a "mistake".

He said the intention had been to expose Saddam's efforts to undermine the UN weapons inspections process in the light of new intelligence from MI6.

However when it became known how it was put together -- leading it to be dubbed the "dodgy dossier" -- he acknowledged it was damaging to public trust. "That did not help, let's put it that way," he said.

It was a spirited defense from the man who served as Blair's top communications strategist from 1997 until his resignation in August 2003. Mr Campbell conceded that planners did not properly forecast the internecine violence that gripped Iraq for years after the fall of dictator Hussein, or the growth of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups inside Iraq, but nonetheless felt Britain had performed a tremendous feat by removing Hussein.

Irish Independent

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