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British Ex-Official Cites Blair's Doubts on Iraq Arms

The premier didn't think Baghdad's arsenal posed a strategic threat, Robin Cook writes.

October 06, 2003|From Associated Press

LONDON — Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in diary excerpts published Sunday that he believed Prime Minister Tony Blair knew two weeks before the war that Iraq probably didn't possess usable weapons of mass destruction.

The claim by Cook -- who resigned from the government over the U.S.-led war -- renewed calls for an investigation into why Britain joined the invasion despite questions about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

"I think this vindicates those of us who have been calling for an independent judicial inquiry into the reasons why we went to war," said Alice Mahon, a lawmaker in Blair's ruling Labor Party and a leading opponent of military action in Iraq.

Blair's office shrugged off Cook's claims.

"The idea that the prime minister ever said that Saddam Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction is absurd," a spokesman said.

In excerpts from his diaries published in the Sunday Times newspaper, Cook said he was most concerned about a conversation he had with Blair on March 5, two weeks before Britain and the U.S. went to war. At the time, the government was still trying to get a fresh U.N. resolution to approve the conflict and Cook was still in government as leader of the House of Commons.

Cook said he told Blair that briefings he had received made it clear Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction "that could strike at strategic cities" and asked the prime minister if he was concerned that the Iraqi leader would use chemical munitions against British troops.

Cook said that Blair's response was: "Yes, but all the effort he has had to put into concealment makes it difficult for him to assemble them quickly for use."

The former minister writes in his diary, which is to be published in book form as "Point of Departure," that he was deeply troubled by two elements of the exchange.

"The first was that the timetable to war was plainly not driven by the progress of the U.N. weapons inspections," he writes in a March 5 entry.

"The second troubling element to our conversation was that Tony did not try to argue me out of the view that Saddam did not have real weapons of mass destruction that were designed for strategic use against city populations and capable of being delivered with reliability over long distances."

Blair's government made the threat of Iraqi weapons the heart of its case for military action, and the prime minister has been on the defensive because coalition forces have found no biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

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