Ex-minister slams Blair argument for Iraq war


Published: Tuesday February 2, 2010

Clare Short, a former British minister who resigned over the 2003 Iraq war, on Tuesday dismissed then premier Tony Blair's claim that Saddam Hussein was linked to international terrorism.

Short told a public inquiry the US-led invasion had made Iraq more dangerous, saying the chaotic aftermath had allowed Al-Qaeda to take root in the country.

The outspoken former international development minister branded as nonsense Blair's claim -- repeated to the inquiry last week -- that the need to take action against Saddam increased as a result of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"Tony Blair's account of the need to act urgently somehow because of September 11 doesn't stack up to any scrutiny whatsoever," Short said.

She said there was no evidence that Saddam was linked to Al-Qaeda -- and the American people had been "misled" over the claim.

"There is no doubt that by invading in this ill-prepared, rushed way, not only did we cause enormous suffering and loss of life, we made Iraq more dangerous and unstable and spread Al-Qaeda's presence in the Middle East," she said.

Short poured scorn on the British government's pre-war claims that Saddam was developing weapons of mass destruction, saying he "didn't have the means" to develop a nuclear threat.

She said that while it was believed Iraq scientists were working in chemical and biological laboratories, there were doubts over whether they could have "weaponised" the substances.

Short also said Blair's cabinet, of which she was part, was "misled" by the government's chief legal advisor, Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, into thinking the war did not contravene international law.

"I think he misled the cabinet. He certainly misled me, but people let it through," she said.

Short has previously said Blair dissuaded her from resigning after the war started with the promise that her department would play a leading role in Iraq's reconstruction.

But the invasion plans failed to include planning for the post-invasion situation and Iraq was left in a chaotic state, she said.

"I am saying we could have gone more slowly and carefully and not had a totally destabilised and angry Iraq into which came Al-Qaeda that wasn't there before, and that would have been safer for the world," Short said.

She suggested that the military option could have been avoided.

Saudi Arabia and Jordan had been discussing offering the Iraqi president exile and he "wasn't popular in his country", Short told her panel of questioners.

"I would have liked Saddam Hussein to be sent to the international court for crimes against humanity and crimes against peace," she said, pointing to how Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic was forced out by his own people.

Blair's former spokesman, Alastair Campbell, has told the inquiry that Short was "difficult to handle" in the build-up to the war and Blair's inner circle feared she might leak information.

Short said she had the impression she was being cut out of meetings on Iraq.