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Questions For Tony Blair On Newsnight - How, When and Why Tony Blair Decided That Iraq Was a "Real and Unique Threat"

Below we present an analysis detailing the development of Tony Blair's stance on Iraq. It shows quite clearly that Blair's conversion to fearing Iraq as an alleged terrible threat to UK security occurred dramatically about twelve months ago after many years of failing to mention any such threat, and at around the same time that the US decided to go to war.

On Thursday night, Tony Blair will be interviewed by the BBC's Jeremy Paxman: Blair On Iraq - A Newsnight Special (BBC2, 9:00pm, February 6, 2003). At the end of the Alert below, we have provided Paxman's email address and we have suggested possible questions for Blair that you might wish to send to Paxman.

Please take this chance to challenge both Blair and the BBC.

Evolution Of Deceit

In September of last year, Blair was in no doubt whatever about the threat posed by Iraq:

"Iraq poses a real and unique threat to the security of the region and the rest of the world..."
('Blair: Saddam has to go, Dossier on Iraqi threat to be published', Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, September 4, 2002)

In a recent interview for ITN News, Blair even implied that Saddam bears comparison with Hitler:

"What does the whole of our history teach us, I mean British history in particular? That if when you're faced with a threat you decide to avoid confronting it short term, then all that happens is that in the longer term you have to confront it and confront it an even more deadly form."
(ITN News at 6:30, January 31, 2003)

And yet, according to the Guardian/Observer, in 1998, Blair had next to nothing to say about the threat posed by Iraq. In December 1998, for example, Blair branded the Iraqi president as merely a "serial breaker of promises" as he justified the launch of a joint US-British strike to "degrade" Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
('Missile blitz on Iraq', Julian Borger and Ewen MacAskill, the Guardian, December 17, 1998)

Three days of air strikes were deemed sufficient to degrade those weapons and so to keep Saddam 'in his box'.

Throughout 1999, Blair had similarly little to say about Iraq.

In 2000, the Guardian/Observer record next to no fears of Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, or of its supposed links to terrorism. Iraq was merely one of several "rogue states", not yet "a real and unique threat".

Likewise, in February 2001, the UK Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, and then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, justified a further series of bombing raids against Baghdad. Hoon and Cook made no mention of weapons of mass destruction. Instead, the Observer reported, "the strikes were necessary to eliminate a threat to the planes patrolling the 'no-fly zones' in the north and south of Iraq."
('Bush signals a deadly intent, Jason Burke and Ed Vulliamy, The Observer, February 18, 2001)

Blair described the raids against air defence systems as a "limited operation with the sole purpose of defending... pilots". They would stop, he said, "if Saddam stopped attacking us. But as long as he does, I will... protect our forces and prevent Saddam from... wreaking havoc, suffering and death".
('Blair and Bush defy world fury', Jason Burke, Kamal Ahmed and Ed Vulliamy, The Observer, February 18, 2001)

Again, this was deemed sufficient - no massive air assault and no invasion were required at a time when, unlike now, inspectors were not on the ground in Iraq and so the level of any threat was presumably far less clear.

Crucially, even after September 11, Blair maintained the same approach. In October 2001 - just 16 months ago - Blair's official spokesman dismissed suggestions that splits were developing between the UK and the US over whether military action should be extended to Iraq:

"Such an extension was being proposed only by 'fringe voices' in the US", Blair's spokesman said.
('Blair: we know the game you are playing', Matthew Tempest, The Guardian, October 11, 2001)

Later that month, when asked if there would be a "wider war" against Iraq after the attack on Afghanistan, Blair answered that this would depend on proof of Iraqi complicity in the September 11 attacks:

"I think what people need before we take action against anyone is evidence."
('Blair on the war: the Observer interview in full', The Observer, October 14, 2001)

That same month Blair talked of the need for "absolute evidence" of Iraqi complicity.
(Michael White, 'Blair goes public to quell Arab fears of wider war', The Guardian, October 11, 2001)

One month later, the Guardian reported how Tony Blair was literally standing shoulder to shoulder with President Jacques Chirac of France - now the bete noire of UK warmongers - as they spoke to the press and "reaffirmed their demand for 'incontrovertible evidence' of Iraqi complicity in the attacks on America before they could endorse US threats to extend the anti-terrorist campaign to Baghdad."
('Blair and Chirac cool on taking war to Iraq,' Hugo Young and Michael White, The Guardian, November 30, 2001)

Can it be possible that this was the same Blair who, a little more than one year later, is telling us that Iraq is and always has been "a real and unique threat" to UK security, with no mention whatever of the need for evidence of Iraqi complicity in the September 11 attacks?

Significantly, a few days after the press announced "Blair and Chirac cool on taking war to Iraq", an article appeared in the Observer titled, 'Secret US plan for Iraq war'. Peter Beaumont, Ed Vulliamy and Paul Beaver reported:

"America intends to depose Saddam Hussein by giving armed support to Iraqi opposition forces across the country, The Observer has learnt... The plan, opposed by Tony Blair and other European Union leaders, threatens to blow apart the increasingly shaky international consensus behind the US-led 'war on terrorism'."
(The Observer, December 2, 2001)

A European military source who had recently returned from US military chiefs responsible for the plan said:

"The Americans are walking on water. They think they can do anything at the moment and there is bloody nothing Tony [Blair] can do about it."

This was December 2. By February 28, referring to rogue states in general, Blair said it was "important that we act against them". Then Blair turned to Iraq:

"We do constantly look at Iraq ... Saddam Hussein's regime is a regime that is deeply repressive to its people and is a real danger to the region.

"Heavens above, he used chemical weapons against his own people, so it is an issue and we have got to look at it, but we will look at it in a rational and calm way, as we have for the other issues.

"The accumulation of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq poses a threat, a threat not just to the region but to the wider world, and I think George Bush was absolutely right to raise it. Now what action we take in respect of that, that is an open matter for discussion..."
('Blair edges closer to Iraqi strike', Matthew Tempest, The Guardian, February 28, 2002)

Blair said:

"It is an issue that those who are engaged in spreading weapons of mass destruction are engaged in an evil trade and it is important that we make sure that we take action in respect of it."
(Ibid)

The propaganda campaign had begun. By September 2002, Blair was in warmongering overdrive, saying he would publish an arms dossier on Iraq. Once it was published, he said, "people will see there is no doubt at all that UN resolutions have been breached."
('Blair: Saddam has to go, Dossier on Iraqi threat to be published', Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, September 4, 2002)

Unfortunately for Blair, there is now no doubt that UN inspectors have visited all the sites mentioned in his dossier and have "not found 'any signs' of weapons of mass destruction".
('Scepticism over papers detailing chemical warfare preparations', Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, January 25, 2003)

Consider all of the above and then the fact that Blair can nevertheless recently declare on national television:

"I'm here to argue for the position I've always argued for, and I've raised this issue of weapons of mass destruction for ages. And so it's not a question of George Bush wanting to do this or anyone else wanting to do it; I believe it is necessary in the interests of this country, and it is only when we deal with these threats that we will usher in a greater sense of order and stability in the world."
(ITN News at 6:30, January 31, 2003)

Blair, in fact, has been raising this issue for about 12 months. The Guardian/Observer - faithful scribes of Blair's views - record (as of February 3, 2003) the following mentions of the words 'Blair and Iraq and weapons of mass destruction' for the following years:

1999: 7 mentions
2000: 7
2001: 29
2002: 379
2003: 109

Finally, since 2001, Blair has changed his stated justification for waging war on Iraq at least five times:

1. Proven Iraqi complicity in the September 11 attacks.

2. Iraqi refusal to readmit UN weapons inspectors.

3. Discovery of undeclared Iraqi WMD by weapons inspectors.

4. Proven Iraqi links with terrorist organisations.

5. Iraqi failure to be sufficiently 'proactive' in cooperating with UN weapons inspectors (regardless of whether WMD are found).

It seems reasonable to assume that point 5 is a further desperate resort - this time to semantics - in an attempt to yet again raise the hurdle so high that a war can be fought and justified. Blair's words and deeds therefore must be deemed contemptuous of the United Nations charter:

"The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice." (The Charter of the United Nations, Chapter VI, Article 33).

SUGGESTED ACTION

On Thursday night (BBC2, 9:00pm) Tony Blair is being interviewed by the BBC's Jeremy Paxman. Please send questions to Paxman:

Email: jeremy.paxman@bbc.co.uk

Possible questions for Tony Blair:

1. On November 30, 2001, the Guardian reported that, together with Jacques Chirac of France, you had "reaffirmed" your "demand for 'incontrovertible evidence' of Iraqi complicity in the attacks on America" before you "could endorse US threats to extend the anti-terrorist campaign to Baghdad". And yet less than three months later you endorsed George Bush's call to disarm Iraq by force, saying:

"The accumulation of weapons of mass destruction [WMD] by Iraq poses a threat, a threat not just to the region but to the wider world..." You insisted, "those who are engaged in spreading weapons of mass destruction are engaged in an evil trade and it is important that we make sure that we take action in respect of it."

Why did your justification for war change so fundamentally from complicity in 9-11, in November 2001, to possession of WMD, in February 2002? Is it coincidence that, according to the Observer, the US decided in December 2001 to "depose Saddam Hussein"? The Observer reported a European military source as saying:

"The Americans are walking on water. They think they can do anything at the moment and there is bloody nothing Tony [Blair] can do about it."

2. Last September, you said that when your arms dossier on Iraqi WMD was published "people will see there is no doubt at all that UN resolutions have been breached". Having visited all the sites mentioned in your dossier, UN inspectors have "not found 'any signs' of weapons of mass destruction", according to the Guardian. Isn't it clear that the dossier was in fact a propaganda fabrication designed to deceive the British public?

3. Why did you claim in an interview for ITN News (January 31) that "I've raised this issue of weapons of mass destruction for ages", when your recorded statements reveal that prior to February 2002 you had insisted that military action against Iraq required "absolute evidence" of complicity in the September 11 attacks, with no mention of Iraqi WMD as a justification for war? Before that, you had never called for an invasion of Iraq, either to deal with alleged WMD, or alleged links with terrorists. What changed in Iraq, or the world, to make Iraq a "unique threat" after February 2002 but not before? The answer cannot be 'September 11' because in late November 2001 you still did not identify Iraq as a "unique threat".

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