Tuesday, July 17, 2007

John Baron presses the Point on Iraq

From John Baron, MP for Billericay:

The current situation in Iraq is a depressing reminder of the mistake we made by invading on the basis of false intelligence. Our troops are doing a good job in a dangerous situation, but progress is painfully slow. The political stalemate between rival ethnic and religious groups is proving difficult to break, and is continually being reinforced by a combination of sectarian violence and terrorism.

Having opposed the war, I believe it is important to learn the lessons of this disaster and ensure that any future military action is wholly justified by robust and authoritative intelligence which is independent of political influence. This was certainly not true of the key 2002 Iraq dossier, which wrongly claimed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

What has come to light since the Hutton Inquiry is the extent to which Government spin doctors were involved in the drafting process, making suggestions and even writing parts of the dossier.

Indeed, we now know that it was the Foreign Office press officer John Williams who produced the first full draft of the dossier on the 9th September 2002 – one day before John Scarlett, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, produced his first draft. The Freedom of Information Commissioner has ruled that Ministers ought to publish this document, but so far the Government has refused despite the fact the Williams draft was originally intended for publication. So what has the Government got to hide?

I have challenged Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and the previous Foreign Secretary on the issue in the House of Commons. A Parliamentary motion I sponsored recently attracted good cross-party support from over 50 MPs. I also secured a Parliamentary debate to put the spotlight on this draft dossier - but still the Government remains obstinate.

Tony Blair’s legacy as Prime Minister was the Iraq debacle. If Gordon Brown is serious about beginning a new era of open Government without spin, then he should make a start by publishing the Williams draft.

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