Independent on Sunday March 9 2003

Not in our name, Mr Blair

You do not have the evidence. You do not have UN approval. You do not have your country's support. You do not have your party's support. You do not have the legal right. You do not have the moral right. You must not drag Britain

09 March 2003

The die is cast. President Bush says he will go to war with or without the backing of the UN. Tony Blair indicates he will support him. The senior UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, asks to be given more time – a few more months at most. His request is brushed aside by the US and the UK governments.

There is only one way out of this nightmare: Tony Blair could be genuinely bold. This is his last chance to use his unique position close to the shoulder of President Bush to urge restraint, calm and reason – a cautionary voice that will be even more necessary if there is no second UN resolution authorising military action.

It is a sad reflection on Mr Blair's position, locked in an alliance with President Bush, that we hold out no hope that he will use his influence to avert a rush to war. Yet before he leads this country into a conflict it does not want, with consequences too ghastly to contemplate, we urge Mr Blair to reflect again on the motives and justification for a pre-emptive strike unparalleled in modern times. None of the shifting causes for war have been convincing, and are even weaker now, on the eve of a military campaign:

"Saddam has weapons of mass destruction"

Iraq is by no means the only country violating UN resolutions by possessing weapons of mass destruction. In the case of Iraq, the weapons inspectors are making significant progress. Hans Blix reports that the destruction of Iraq's al-Samoud missiles constitutes a "substantial measure of disarmament ... Lethal weapons are being destroyed." There is no evidence that Iraq is developing nuclear weapons, or has the means to do so. At such a point, when Mr Blix is explicitly calling for a few more months to complete his work, it is an act of wilful folly to set a deadline of a few more days.

"Iraq has links with al-Qa'ida"

The connection is floated desperately by the US and UK governments at varying points when they are losing other arguments. There is no evidence of any connection. More widely, there is no evidence that so-called "rogue states" will be ready to hand over their weapons to terrorists. It is just as likely that the states would be fearful of terrorists using the weapons against them. Much more likely, a pre-emptive strike against Iraq would fuel international terrorism, with the US and its slavishly loyal partner, the UK, being the prime targets. Terrorists around the world must be raising a collective cheer about the war against Iraq.

"Iraq poses a threat to the region"

After the failed invasion of Kuwait, there is no evidence that President Saddam, much weaker now than in 1991, is embarking on another suicidal attack. With the destruction of some of his weapons over the past few weeks he is weaker still. A war against Iraq is a much surer way of destabilising the region. Arab states opposed to President Saddam are also against the war. With good cause they resent US double standards, tolerating a bloody stand-off between Israel and Palestine, while attacking Iraq. As Clare Short – still a member of the Cabinet – has observed, there is also a risk of a humanitarian catastrophe. War, rather than President Saddam, poses a threat to the region.

"There needs to be regime change"

There is no consistency in the war aims. Is the objective to remove the weapons of mass destruction or to remove Saddam? Yesterday Saddam accused Bush and Blair of being "liars". The old tyrant is wrong. They are confused and incoherent, rather than mendacious. There is a strong case for regime change in North Korea, several Arab states, Israel, Pakistan and China. What if another country decides there is a case for regime change in the UK? The arguments for regime change in Iraq, while superficially compelling, are a recipe for international anarchy.

"War is lawful without a second UN resolution"

President Bush has said he will go to war without a second UN resolution. Mr Blair has said he will ignore an "unreasonable" veto. These statements mean that the current frenzied diplomacy at the UN is meaningless. The US and UK will go to war whatever happens. The UN is being asked by the US and UK to endorse war or jeopardise its authority as an international body. But if it succumbs to such unsubtle pressure the UN undermines itself. More specifically the 1441 resolution does not authorise war. The resolution would never have been passed had it done so.

We fear that whatever the UN decides over the next few days the US and UK governments will declare that Saddam's actions do not constitute full co-operation. Mr Blair could show genuine courage and accept that some progress is being made without war, without the slaughter of innocent Iraqis. There is no boldness in standing shoulder to shoulder with the world's only superpower as it heads for war without a single credible cause.

If only he had the will it is Mr Blair, not Saddam, who could stop the rush to war.