Tue, Jul 06, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Blair's former UN rep issues scathing denunciation of justifications for war

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Abandoning his usual diplomatic language, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's representative to the UN in the runup to the Iraq war last year, went much further than the prime minister to declare that Britain had been "wrong" to claim that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

Speaking on BBC TV, Greenstock said: "There's no doubt that the stockpiles that we feared might be there are not there."

His remarks are particularly timely because they come as ministers brace themselves for the publication of Lord Butler's report into the intelligence failures in the runup to war. Peter Hain, the leader of the Commons, underlined ministerial nerves on Sunday, when he said that the Butler report should not lead to a "witchhunt".

Greenstock, who has said he had to work hard to persuade himself of the merits of the Iraq invasion while he served as Britain's representative to the UN, said the prime minister's decision to go to war was "understandable" because the intelligence about Iraq's banned weapons was "compelling."

"It's only, again with hindsight, when we saw that probably the Iraqis were cheating Saddam as well as misleading us, that the evidence is just not there. But the reason for doing this, through the UN resolutions and from intelligence assessments, were actually quite compelling. We were wrong on the stockpiles, we were right about the intention," he said.

Greenstock's remarks highlight the dangers for ministers and Britain's spymasters as they brace themselves for highly damaging criticism in the Butler report which will be published on July 14.

Lord Butler, the former cabinet secretary, is expected to comment sharply on the way that John Scarlett, chairman of Whitehall's joint intelligence committee (JIC) interpreted secret information supplied by MI6.

Greenstock made clear that the fallout from the Iraq war will rumble on when he blamed the wave of terrorist attacks in Iraq on Washington.

In a sign of the Foreign Office's distaste for the Iraq enterprise, the retired diplomat criticized the US administration for accepting the "wrong analysis" from the discredited Iraqi exile, Ahmed Chalabi, who played down the threat of insurgency.

Asked on BBC TV whether he was surprised by the postwar terrorist attacks, Greenstock said: "Some of us were, some of us weren't. There were different analyses and those making the decisions, which is Washington, chose the wrong analysis. They were influenced by Ahmed Chalabi who wanted the thing to happen and therefore wanted to make it seem more easy."

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