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Mr. Straw: The establishment of the Iraq survey group was agreed a little while ago. In truth, after a conflict of this kind, eight weeks is a relatively short period. The immediate requirement was to establish security. That still has not been done. A body such as the Iraq survey group plainly cannot operate effectively until there is good security across the country. Having established security, the need alongside that is to meet the immediate and longer-term humanitarian needs of the people. I believe that that is being done as speedily as possible. I acknowledge the impatience that the hon. Gentleman is expressing. We are all impatient for further evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, even though I am entirely satisfied about the basis on which we made our decision on 18 March.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) rose—

Mr. Blunt rose—

Mr. Straw: No, I am sorry. I must make some progress.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston): May I return for a moment to the question of the 45-minute readiness of weapons of mass destruction? For me, the central question is not whether there was one source or two, or whether it was in the first or the second draft. The central point, as we can plainly see now that we are in Iraq, is that that statement was wrong. Has the Foreign Secretary noticed that General Conway, commander of the US Marine Corps in Iraq, has said, after inspecting

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every ammunition dump and having failed to find a single chemical shell, that we simply were wrong. If the US Marine Corps can say we were wrong, why cannot we?

Mr. Straw: I simply do not accept what my right hon. Friend says. As he has raised that point, I can tell him that, when I initially took on my current job, one of the reasons that I became convinced of the strength of the case against Iraq, even before 11 September, was because of the number of times that I had heard him, when he held my high office, making statements and speeches about Iraq's holdings of weapons of mass destruction. I have in front of me an article that my right hon. Friend, then Foreign Secretary, wrote in The Daily Telegraph on 20 February 2001 under the headline "Why it is in the interests of the Iraqi people to bomb Saddam".

The article stated:

that is, my right hon. Friend—

Mr. Kenneth Clarke rose—

Mr. Blunt rose—

Mr. Straw: I want to make some progress. The simple fact is—

Mr. Robin Cook: My right hon. Friend really must give way on that point. Saddam was not allowed to go unchecked. We pursued a vigorous policy of containment and everything that we discovered when we went to Iraq showed that that policy of containment worked. What my right hon. Friend read out was interesting and, if I may say so, very well written, but it does not answer the question that I put to him. Would he please condescend to address his mind to that question? The central issue is that we have not found any weapons ready for use within 45 minutes. That information was wrong, wherever it came from.

Mr. Straw: I do not accept that, because we have not yet been able to find physical evidence of the possession of such weapons, those weapons therefore did not exist. That flies in the face of all the other evidence. My right hon. Friend is too skilled to suggest that Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction; that he did not use them against his own people in Halabja, as well as against the Iranians; that he did not have a biological weapons programme that he concealed from the world for four years despite the best efforts of inspectors, as my right hon. Friend so eloquently often spelt out; or that biological weapons capability became known not as a result of any work of the inspectors but because of

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defections. My right hon. Friend seems to brush aside any suggestion that the effective dismissal of the inspectors at the end of 1998, about which he protested strongly, could have had anything to do with the fact that Saddam was still trying to hide his weapons programmes, yet that was the whole basis of his article in The Daily Telegraph at the beginning of 2001.

It is certainly the case that the argument between my right hon. Friend and me, and the reason why he resigned from the Government, was about whether the containment policy was working and inspections would continue to work or whether, on 18 March, it was appropriate to take military action. Everybody knows that. However, it was understood on both sides of the House, with very few exceptions, that Saddam Hussein needed to be disarmed. That was exactly the assertion made on 16 March by the leader of the Liberal Democrats in a speech to the spring conference of his party at Torquay.

Clare Short: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: I will give way in a second.

In that speech, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) said that Saddam had to be disarmed.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: I will in a second, but I want to make some progress.

The motion before the House implies that the intelligence dossier, with the point about the 45 minutes, was a key factor in the decision to go to war. It was not. The dossier was published on 24 September. Six months passed before the House was invited to agree to the United Kingdom's participation in military action, and did so. In that period, as the House and the country know, we moved heaven and earth to avoid military action, to have resolution 1441 passed and to get the inspectors in.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife failed properly to answer a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald). The right hon. and learned Gentleman was parodying and traducing the legal basis for the military action that we decided to take on 18 March. The basis for that action was not an intelligence dossier that had been put before the House six months before; it was to do with Saddam Hussein's repeated defiance of the UN over 12 years. It was not that we had said that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime posed a threat to international peace and security, but that every member of the Security Council had said that Saddam Hussein posed such a threat. Because he posed that threat, the international community had passed 1441, giving inspectors upgraded powers. Week after week after week, it was palpable from the reports in the Security Council and from the conduct of Saddam, going back over 11 years and after 8 November, when 1441 was passed, that he was not willing to comply immediately

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and completely, as required by 1441, with the terms of that resolution and that, therefore, the clear warning given to Saddam by operational paragraph 13, of serious consequences if he were to become in further material breach, should apply. That was the issue before the House. That was the issue before the Attorney-General and it was on that basis that he authorised and approved military action subject to the approval of the House, and on that basis that we went to war.

It is nonsense to suggest that the issue before the House on 18 March was whether a particular phrase in the dossier happened to be accurate. It was accurate—exactly in the terms used. However, I have been unable to find any speeches made on 17 or 18 March that even mention that 45-minute intelligence reference. Not one person mentioned it, so for the Liberal Democrats, having made their judgments for their own good reasons, to imply that the whole basis for our decision on 18 March to take military action was the 45 minutes is utter and complete nonsense.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): If we go back to 24 September, when the Prime Minister was speaking in the House, he said that Saddam's

The House should note that word "active"—"detailed and growing." Referring to the recently published report, the Prime Minister said:

If that was not a direct causal link being implanted in the mind of the House, at that point, I do not know what is.

Mr. Straw: That was indeed the belief not only of the Prime Minister and the House but also of the international community. France, Russia, China and other members of the Security Council, including Syria, were perfectly capable of making their judgments. They came to the judgment that Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security. I come back to this point: it is impossible to explain Saddam's behaviour unless he had weapons of mass destruction.

Dr. Blix is just about to publish a further report; there is a reference to it in the Financial Times today. The chief weapons inspector said that Baghdad had supplied his team with increasingly detailed information but that:

and its

meant that the suspicions mounted and mounted.

That was true for Dr. Blix and it was also true for the Security Council. Those Members, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who had doubts about the military action and about whether Saddam had a capability should read the reports of the weapons inspectors. They should read the last report of UNSCOM. I have put those reports before the House and everyone can read them, including the 173 pages of the final report. It is impossible to read those reports and to set them against the evidence of

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Saddam's behaviour without coming to the conclusion that, in Dr. Blix's words, there was a strong presumption for the holding of those weapons.

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