Ex-mandarins rebut Blair's claims on Iraq

By Michael Savage

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's claim that his Cabinet colleagues were fully aware of his determination to deal with Saddam Hussein has been bluntly called into question by testimony from two of his most senior officials.

Lord Wilson and Lord Turnbull, who were both heads of the civil service under Blair, told the Chilcot inquiry that some Cabinet ministers were kept in the dark about the former Prime Minister's intentions in Iraq.

During his second appearance at the inquiry last week, Blair had said his Cabinet were well aware during most of 2002 that he was pursuing a policy against Saddam that could lead to military action.

But this week both former Cabinet Secretaries made it clear that senior ministers were not kept up to date with Blair's intentions. Far from keeping his Cabinet in the loop, Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary from 1998 to 2002, said Blair assured them in April 2002 that "nothing was imminent".

"I don't think anyone would have gone away thinking they had authorised a course of action that would lead to military action," Wilson said.

Turnbull, who took over the job in the northern summer of 2002, described how he disagreed with Blair's version of events.

"I shook my head when I heard [Blair's evidence]," he told the inquiry. He noted a "mismatch between where the Prime Minister's thinking was and how much that was shared with his colleagues".

"The Prime Minister basically said, 'They knew the score'. That isn't borne out by what actually happened.

"By the [northern] summer [of 2002], he'd largely made up his mind at a time when his colleagues were a long way behind."

He said Blair had repeatedly put off discussing the policy of invading Iraq until shortly before military action began in March 2003. He also confirmed key policy papers detailing the possibility of military action were not shown to many Cabinet members.

"None of those really key papers were presented to the Cabinet, which is why I don't accept the former Prime Minister's claim that they knew the score," he said.

Blair said last week that all Cabinet members would have been aware of his determination in dealing with Iraq as it had been discussed in the media.

"The one thing nobody could have been in any doubt about was where I stood on the issue or what the policy of the Government was," Blair said.

Both former mandarins also criticised members of Blair's Cabinet for the extent to which they allowed the former Prime Minister to assert his own will on Iraq.

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