Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Born liar: Blair and the Iraq inquiry

Still more evidence has emerged suggesting that Tony Blair gave a political blank cheque to the Bush administration, and purposely hoodwinked both the UK public and parliament, writes Felicity Arbuthnot in London

Al-Ahram Weekly

What the Mail on Sunday described as a “bombshell White House memo” alleges that Tony Blair did “a deal in blood” with Bush to support him, come what may, in an attack on Iraq — a full year before the invasion. The leaked classified correspondence was sent by then-Secretary of State General Colin Powell to President George W Bush on 28 March 2002.

At that time, Blair claimed that he was seeking a diplomatic solution to the Iraq crisis. “We’re not proposing military action,” he told the public, as he prepared “to act as spin doctor for Bush,” according to the Mail, which also reveals Powell’s affirmation: “The UK will follow our lead.”

Blair continued to claim to have made no decision regarding military action for most of 2002. A diplomatic solution was being pursued, he said. Since there was no US or UK embassy in Baghdad, and UK ministers and their US counterparts refused to travel there or engage with the Iraqi government, his assertions never rang even vaguely true.

Powell’s memo proves the lie. The memo was headed: “Memorandum to the President; Subject: Your Meeting with United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, April 5-7, 2002, Crawford, Texas.”

In it, he writes: “Blair continues to stand by you and the US as we move forward on the war on terrorism and on Iraq. He will present to you the strategic, tactical and public affairs lines that he believes will strengthen global support for our common cause.”

The paragraph confirms Blair’s integral part in the planning and all-round strategy of the illegal invasion, even as he was telling both parliament and the public something quite else.

It should also be noted that while the line to parliament and the public sought to tie Saddam’s government to the events of 11 September 2001, in the Powell-Bush-Blair correspondence they seem to be viewed as entirely separate (note: “the war on terrorism and on Iraq”). There was no mention of the numerous state-promoted allegations of Iraq and international terrorism being interlinked.

Powell confirms: “On Iraq, Blair will be with us should military actions be necessary.” Pointing out that Blair was not quite unfettered in his entirely illegal plans, Powell writes: “Aside from his foreign and defence secretaries . . . Blair’s Cabinet shows signs of division, and the Labour Party and the British public are unconvinced that military action is warranted now.”

Nonetheless, Powell writes: “Blair may suggest ideas on how to make a credible public case on current Iraqi threats to international peace” and how to handle demands for “any action to be sanctioned by the UN Security Council.”

Thus, there was full awareness by Bush and Blair of the illegality of attacking a sovereign nation that posed no threat to their countries, and whose “sovereignty and territorial integrity” was guaranteed by the UN Charter.

Also notable is that Tony Blair was so keen to ally with George W Bush in the plot to invade Iraq that he left the UK during the ten-day period of national mourning for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

The oldest member of the royal family died on 30 March 2002. Queues lined to pay their last respects as she lay in state in Westminster Abbey. The monarchy grieved and Her Majesty’s prime minister, Blair, boarded a plane to the US.

In September that year, Blair claimed that Saddam Hussein’s government could release weapons of mass destruction on the West “within 45 minutes” — a claim that Powell used in his Iraq war speech to the UN Security Council the following February.

The communication also says that Blair would “demonstrate that we have thought through ‘the day after’.” Not only had “the day after” not been “thought through”, but the weeks, months, and years that Iraq has continued to implode, killing uncounted thousands of Iraqis.

Even Iraq Body Count, whose estimates of Iraqi deaths are so understated that they are used by the US and UK governments, released a report early this year stating that Iraqi deaths from violence are doubling year on year.

As Powell wrote, “[Blair] is sharply criticised by the media for being too pro-US, too arrogant and ‘presidential’ (not a compliment in the British context) and too inattentive on issues of concern to voters.”

He continued: “Blair knows he may have to pay a political price for supporting us on Iraq and wants to minimise it. Nonetheless, he will stick with us on the big issues. His voters will look for signs that Britain and America are truly equal partners in the special relationship.”

But Powell was not paying attention. The majority of British voters wanted no “equal partnership” and nothing to do with the Iraq assault or general US global belligerence.

After George W Bush left office and Barack Obama was elected with such (now dashed) hopes, many Americans living in the UK interviewed by the media referred to their discomfort at a time when anti-American sentiment in the UK was high. Some said they had tried to keep silent on public transport and in public places, not wanting their American accents to be heard, so strong was the anti-American feeling over the treatment of and further threats to Iraq.

Today’s revelations have not come at a good time for Blair. Scrutiny of his role in Iraq’s tragedy has only grown over the years. A petition to Britain’s parliament demanding Blair’s impeachment is currently being circulated. A recent poll asked: “Should Tony Blair Stand Trial for War Crimes?” Between 95 and 96 per cent of those asked said “yes”.

Further, it seems Blair also was not entirely truthful with the £10 million, six-year-long Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq invasion, whose report is still awaited. Sir John Chilcot has given various reasons for the delay, including 2002 correspondence between Bush and Blair that was withheld from the inquiry. The report will not be published for another year. He surely now has all the material he needs.

Also according the Mail: “During his appearance before the Chilcot inquiry in January 2010, Blair denied that he had struck a secret deal with Bush at Crawford to overthrow Saddam. Blair said the two men had agreed on the need to confront the Iraqi dictator, but insisted they did not get into ‘specifics’.”

British MP David Davis, a former shadow home secretary, is stunned at the memo, writing: “This is one of the most astonishing documents I have ever read. It proves in explicit terms what many of us have believed all along: Tony Blair effectively agreed to act as a front man for American foreign policy in advance of any decision by the House of Commons or the British Cabinet.

“He was happy to launder George Bush’s policy on Iraq and subcontract British foreign policy to another country without having the remotest ability to have any real influence over it.”

Davis adds, “Judging from this memorandum, Blair signed up for the Iraq War even before the Americans themselves did. It beggars belief.” He continues, “Blair was telling MPs and voters back home that he was still pursuing a diplomatic solution while Colin Powell was telling President Bush: ‘Don’t worry, George, Tony is signed up for the war come what may — he’ll handle the PR for you, just make him look big in return.’”

Further: “What is truly shocking is the casualness of it all, such as the reference in the memo to ‘the day after’ — meaning the day after Saddam would be toppled.”

Davis concludes by linking the terrorism scourging Iraq and the Middle East directly to the actions in which Blair played such an integral part: “We saw the catastrophic so-called ‘de-Baathification’ of Iraq, with the country’s entire civil and military structure dismantled, leading to years of bloodshed and chaos.

“It has infected surrounding countries to this day and created the vacuum into which Islamic State has stepped. This may well be the Iraq ‘smoking gun’ we have all been looking for.”

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair’s final untruths before the invasion were an address to parliament on 18 March 2003. They included: “And now the world has to learn the lesson all over again that weakness in the face of a threat from a tyrant is the surest way not to peace but to war.”

And: “The real problem is that, underneath, people dispute that Iraq is a threat; dispute the link between terrorism and WMD; dispute the whole basis of our assertion that the two together constitute a fundamental assault on our way of life.”

Should the UK not enjoin the attack: “And then, when the threat returns from Iraq or elsewhere, who will believe us? What price our credibility? . . . To retreat now, I believe, would put at hazard all that we hold dearest . . . stifle the first steps of progress in the Middle East . . .

“This is the time for not just this government or indeed this prime minister, but for this house to give a lead, to show that we will stand up for what we know to be right, to show that we will confront the tyrannies and dictatorships and terrorists who put our way of life at risk, to show at the moment of decision that we have the courage to do the right thing.”

How wrong, devious and duplicitous can one man be?

Perhaps the answer is linked to another question: For how long can he evade justice?

The writer is a veteran journalist who was senior researcher on John Pilger’s award-winning documentary, Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq.

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