(TELEGRAPH) – Tony Blair promised yesterday to publish new evidence showing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as an opinion poll found that 44 per cent of voters think he misled them about the threat.
Mr Blair, whose lengthy overseas tour has been overshadowed by the repeated claims that he went to war to destroy weapons that did not exist, also came under further pressure to order an independent inquiry. The Prime Minister said he had been shown fresh evidence about Saddam’s illegal arsenal “which is not yet public” and that he remained “in no doubt at all” that the dictator possessed weapons of mass destruction.
“We are going to assemble that evidence and present it properly to people.” He urged his critics to be patient and said the new dossier would provide “a complete picture”.
A YouGov poll conducted for The Daily Telegraph showed that 44 per cent of people think Mr Blair and George W Bush misled them before the war, saying that Iraq possessed illegal weapons although they did not believe it. It found that before the war 71 per cent of voters were prepared to believe that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons; now only 51 per cent think the threat existed.
Miss Short, who resigned as international development secretary shortly after the war ended, accused Mr Blair of three deceptions.
Although Iraq had been trying to develop illegal weapons, it was wrong to say that these were “weaponised” and “immediately dangerous”, as Mr Blair did when he published a dossier saying they could be fired in 45 minutes.
She claimed that he made up his mind to go to war when he met President Bush at Camp David last September and that this meant his attempts to avoid conflict were insincere.
“So when he was saying to us we will have a second resolution . . . he, our Prime Minister, had committed us to war by mid-February,” she told BBC1’s Politics Show.
The “third deceit” was when he persuaded her not to resign from the Cabinet. He told her that it would be impossible to obtain a new United Nations resolution because Jacques Chirac, the French president, had said on television that he would veto any second resolution.
Miss Short said she later found out that M Chirac had said he would allow a new resolution if the UN weapons inspectors were prevented from completing their work. “We were duped by the speed,” she said, explaining that, although Saddam had to be dealt with, it would have been better to allow the inspections to continue.
Robin Cook, who quit the Cabinet shortly before the war, said: “What we can see now with some certainty, it is beginning to look as though the Government has committed a monumental blunder.
“Governments make mistakes. But what they must never do is try to deny and cover up these mistakes.”
The former Leader of the House called for a “thorough independent inquiry” into the events leading up to the war.”
“The Government should admit it was wrong. It needs to set up a thorough independent inquiry into how it got it wrong, so it never happens again and we never again send troops into action on the basis of a mistake.”
The Tories said they were giving “very serious consideration” to supporting the demands for such an inquiry. The Liberal Democrats called for an inquiry by a Commons select committee.
After the Falklands conflict an independent inquiry was held into the intelligence and diplomatic failings that led to it. Mr Blair may decide that he has to do something similar.
Downing Street did not rule out an independent inquiry, although a spokesman described the suggestion as “rather premature”. He said: “No one was duped by 12 years of Security Council resolutions dealing with Saddam Hussein’s programme of weapons of mass destruction.”