Revisionist thinking

Credibility gap widens on Iraq's weapons


Friday April 25, 2003 The Guardian

If Geoff Hoon thinks questions about Iraq's mysteriously missing weapons of mass destruction will go away, he is seriously mistaken. Disarming Saddam was the prime casus belli. But where now is the evidence justifying that decision? "I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current, that he [Saddam] has made progress on WMD, and that he has to be stopped," wrote Tony Blair last September in a foreword to the government's Iraq dossier. Iraq's arms were a "threat to the UK national interest", affording Saddam "the ability to inflict real damage upon the region and the stability of the world," he warned. In case the urgent nature of the menace was still unclear, Mr Blair added for good measure that chemical and biological arms were held at a maximum state of readiness. "Some of these weapons are deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them." That line was later used to maximum hysterical effect by the pro-war press.

For Mr Hoon now to try to disown last autumn's official early warning of a 45-minute countdown to Armageddon, as he did in a Radio 4 interview yesterday, simply will not do. The dossier was produced by a government of which he is reportedly a prized ornament. To assert, as he did, that Saddam did not resort to such weapons because allied action prevented him from issuing the orders is frankly incredible, teetering on absurd. For Mr Hoon to say that WMD cannot now be found because they were hidden at the last moment contradicts the previous claim that Iraq was positively, obstreperously bristling with them. It is also an unintended, deserved vindication of the UN's Hans Blix. Rather than launch into a war, all Mr Blix wanted was more time to complete his inspections. This he was flatly denied by, among others, the same Mr Hoon who, despite almost total US-British physical control of Iraq, now says - wait for it - that more time is needed to find the weapons.

The signal failure so far to locate a warm-ish peashooter, let alone a smoking gun, does not mean Mr Hoon et al made it all up. But the longer this situation obtains, the stronger the suspicion that, egged on by the US, they greatly exaggerated the WMD threat posed by Iraq and will not admit their error. That is one reason why Mr Hoon's (and the Foreign Office's) present, US-induced edging away from resumed UN-led inspections is bad policy and bad politics. Only the UN - and not un-named, supposedly "objective" countries hand-picked by the Pentagon - can do this job convincingly. Nor is Iraq the only place where credible verification will be insisted upon.