Senior Blair aide defends UK case for Iraq war at Chilcot Inquiry
The Chilcot Inquiry into former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq heard from Alastair Campbell, its most senior witness so far. Mr. Campbell has been at the center of allegations that intelligence was distorted to make Saddam Hussein appear a greater threat than he was.
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Campbell described the 2002 dossier, used to gain parliamentary support for war, as "a serious, solid piece of work," even though much of the information it contained turned out to be wrong with regard to Saddam's military capabilities.Skip to next paragraph
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In 2003, BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan wrote that the dossier included exaggerated and false claims at the direction of Campbell. One of his anonymous sources for reports that the dossier was inaccurate, who a government inquiry later identified as UK government weapons scientist David Kelly, went on to commit suicide.
"I defend every single word of the dossier, and I defend every single part of the process," added Campbell, who also denied that Blair had given George W. Bush his prior assent for the war.
Those observing Tuesday’s hearings were not without some sympathy for the inquiry panel members.
“Today may be remembered as the day that the Iraq inquiry got publicly fed up with being strung a line,” wrote Chris Ames, editor of the Iraq Inquiry Digest, an independent website aimed at monitoring the work of the investigation.
“The inquiry panel members were not having any of it and very publicly agreed to differ. But they still let Campbell off the hook on many points, because they are unable or unwilling to refer to the documents that contradict him.”
Professor Mark Phythian of the University of Leicester, who has written on the relationship between intelligence and decisionmaking in relation to the US and British decisions to go to war with Iraq, said that the inquiry to date had not revealed very much that was not in the public domain already.
“The important thing to keep in mind is that this inquiry was only conceded by the British government because they were unable to withstand calls for it,” he added.
“It is a sign of their weakness.”
One thing that the British government has been able to do, however, is minimize its potential political impact on their already poor levels of public support.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who voted for the invasion of Iraq while serving in Blair's cabinet, will not be giving evidence until after the general election, expected to take place in May. By then, though, he is expected to be out of the job.