Blair should have come clean from the start

By Boris Johnson
(Filed: 05/06/2003)

I know exactly what happened to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and I cannot believe I am alone. You have only to go to Baghdad to see immediately what must have happened.

It was about six weeks ago that I found myself wandering the streets of the Iraqi capital, assessing the mood of the liberated people. Hello, I said to a group of shifty-looking men squatting on their haunches and apparently barbecuing some piping, what are you up to then?

It turned out they were melting down part of Iraq's telecommunications infrastructure to get at the copper. Across the road were the smouldering remains of the Foreign Ministry, from which every object of interest had been taken. On every street corner were buttery-yellow gun cases, tangles of steel rods, busticated computers.

Anything that might conceivably be of any use or value, anything formerly held as an asset of the Iraqi people, had been swiped. Iraq a week after the war was a place with no civic order, no rules, and it is little better now. Respect for the common weal fell so low that Iraqis themselves actually ransacked the national museum.

So I will tell you precisely where the weapons of mass destruction are. They are not all lined up under lock and key in some refrigerated underground bunker, looked after by some cringeing Ba'athist curator still loyal to Saddam.

Do you really imagine that the latest inspectors, who set off yesterday, are going to fling wide the doors of some hangar and find a great glistering James Bond-style array of warheads, or fizzing green phials? You must be joking.

There is one simple reason for the amazing no-show by the WMD: in so far as they ever existed, they have probably all been looted. If they were at all valuable, if even their bronze casings were of interest to the Bedouin pedlars, then they have been taken and flogged, distributed to the four corners of the world, along with the Akkadian vases, the bullion and Tariq Aziz's cigar case, currently in my desk drawer.

If you were of a logical cast of mind, you might say that this was a pretty singular outcome. We went to war to prevent the dissemination of these dreadful toxins and aflatoxins, these warheads of which Blair spoke so movingly in the Commons.

And what do we do, when we seize power from Saddam? We preside over six weeks of sheer anarchy, in which we allow the Iraqis to shoot each other (and our forces) and snaffle just about everything they can.

And we don't even begin to look for the weapons. Does nobody think it odd that we should, by our apathy, have potentially let these things fall into the hands of nutters even more demented than Saddam? Has nobody noticed this stunning flaw? Surely they must worry about it in the Pentagon?

They don't, of course. And that is because the Americans never cared two hoots about the weapons of mass destruction. It was an exclusively British obsession, and the whole argument was cooked up, with the connivance of Colin Powell, to persuade the many reluctant Labour backbenchers (and even some Tories) that the war was justified.

The Americans were perfectly happy to go ahead and whack Saddam merely on the grounds that he was a bad guy, and that Iraq and the world would be better off without him; and so indeed was I. But many Labour MPs needed a bit more persuading than that, and so the accent was placed on WMD.

If you re-read Blair's famous eve-of-war speech of March 18, the one that wowed the Commons, and that has been hailed as a masterpiece of persuasive oratory, it is almost all about WMD. "Three kilograms of VX from a rocket launcher would decimate 0.25 sq km of a city", he told the House. "Millions of lethal doses are contained in one litre of anthrax," he went on, and much more in a similar vein.

His central contention was that there was a real and immediate threat to Western security from Saddam and his weapons. That claim has not been vindicated, to put it mildly. In the growing embarrassment, the Government has chosen to fall out with its own security services. In a muttering way, the spooks have accused the Government of taking their titbits of information about Iraq, and exaggerating them, or "sexing them up".

That charge is persuasive. If the Government had the guts and probity to commission an independent inquiry into the matter, the judge would almost certainly discover that careful and balanced intelligence had been whipped up, in Alastair Campbell's word processor, into a souffli of suggestio falsi. The Government is attempting to fire back by accusing "rogue elements" within the security services of trying to bring down a Labour prime minister.

This charge has been made by John Reid, the Leader of the House. Mr Reid is a former communist, as one could have divined from his nitpickingly performance on the radio yesterday morning. His objective, once again, is to appeal to Labour backbenchers, with their weird folk memories of the MI5 plot against Wilson.

It won't work, of course. The longer this goes on, the clearer it will be that Saddam's WMD did not present a direct threat to this country; or about as much threat as a tub of super-annuated taramasalata.

In so far as that is embarrassing to the Government, Blair has only himself to blame. I never thought the existence of WMD was a necessary condition for making war on Saddam. I thought there was a case for regime change, irrespective of the WMD.

What irritated me was that Blair never had the guts or integrity to make the case honestly. He relied on a rigmarole, and has now been caught out.

If you want evidence that the WMD did not really matter, wander around Iraq today, look at the total disorder and lawlessness, and imagine where those putative warheads could be now.