Tue, Dec 30, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Pressure mounts on Blair to admit he was wrong

AFP , LONDON

British Prime Minister Tony Blair came under renewed pressure yesterday to admit he was mistaken on the issue of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the day after US civil administrator in Baghdad Paul Bremer contradicted Blair's claim that "massive evidence" of Saddam Hussein's quest for such arms had been unearthed.

"It is undignified for the prime minister, and worrying for his nation, to go on believing a threat which everybody else can see was a fantasy," argued Robin Cook, a former foreign secretary who quit the government over its decision to join the US-led war in Iraq.

Cook, in an interview published in yesterday's Independent newspaper, added: "Tony Blair has not yet tried to argue that it makes no difference whether we never find weapons of mass destruction, but I would almost prefer him to do so than persist in his unhealthy stated denial of the mounting evidence that they do not exist.".

"Once lost, trust is difficult to regain and its absence has infected the credibility of the government," the former minister said, commenting on an Internet poll showing Blair to be the least trusted political leader in Britain.

Cook also denied that the US-lead action in Iraq could be termed a victory.

"Far from being a victory in the war on terrorism, the invasion of Iraq has been a spectacular own goal, as our intelligence services accurately warned. We now have a new front against terrorism within Iraq with no evidence of any reduction in terrorism outside Iraq," he said.

In an interview aired on Britain's ITV channel on Sunday, Paul Bremer was asked if it was correct to say, as Blair had, that massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories had come to light since the US and British invasion of Iraq nine months ago.

"I don't know where those words come from but that is not what David Kay has said," replied Bremer, referring to the chief of the Iraq Survey Group that is hunting for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

"I have read [Kay's] reports, so I don't know who said that," Bremer said.

"It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me," he added. "It sounds like someone who doesn't agree with the policy sets up a red herring then knocks it down."

David Hope, the Archbishop of York, said there had seemed to be "a real lack of listening" before hostilities began in Iraq.

In an interview with The Times, also published yesterday, he raised questions about the justification for the war.

"We still have not found any weapons of mass destruction anywhere. One of the qualities of a good leader is that they have to be really attentive to the views of the people. It seemed at one stage that was not happening," he said.

Blair has said he is "ready to meet my maker" and answer for "those who have died or have been horribly maimed as a result of my decisions."

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