Australian investigative journalist John Pilger says he has evidence the war against Iraq was based on a lie which could cost George W Bush and Tony Blair their jobs and bring Prime Minister John Howard down with them.
A television report by Pilger aired on British screens last night said US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice confirmed in early 2001 that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been disarmed and was no threat.
But after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11 that year, Pilger claimed Rice said the US "must move to take advantage of these new opportunities" to attack Iraq and claim control of its oil.
Pilger uncovered video footage of Powell in Cairo on February 24, 2001 saying, "He (Saddam Hussein) has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors."
Two months later, Rice reportedly said, "We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt."
Powell boasted this was because America's policy of containment and its sanctions had effectively disarmed Saddam.
Pilger claims this confirms that the decision of US President George W Bush - with the full support of British Prime Minister Blair and Howard - to wage war on Saddam because he had weapons of mass destruction was a huge deception.
Pilger interviewed several leading US government figures in Washington but said he did not ask Powell or Rice to respond to his claims.
"I think it's very serious for Howard. Howard has followed the Americans and to a lesser degree Blair almost word for word," Pilger told AAP before his program was screened on ITV tonight.
"All Howard does is say 'well it's not true' and never explains himself.
"I just don't believe you can be seen to be party to such a big lie, such a big deception and endure that politically.
"It simply can't be shrugged off and that's Howard's response.
"Blair has shrugged it off but Blair is deeply damaged. It's far from over here, there's a lot that is going to happen and much of it could wash onto Howard.
"And it's unraveling in America and Bush could lose the election next year.
"I've not seen political leaders survive when they've been complicit in such an open deception for so long."
Howard last week dismissed an accusation from Opposition Leader Simon Crean that he hid a warning from British intelligence that war against Iraq would heighten the terrorist threat to Australia.
In his report, Pilger interviews Ray McGovern, a former senior CIA officer and friend of Bush's father and ex-president, George Bush senior.
McGovern told Pilger that going to war because of weapons of mass destruction "was 95 per cent charade."
Pilger also claims that six hours after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he wanted to "hit" Iraq and allegedly said "Go Massive ... Sweep it all up. Things related and not."
He was allegedly talked down by Powell who said the American people would not accept an attack on Iraq without any evidence, so they opted to invade Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden had bases.
Pilger claimed war was set in train on September 17, 2001 when Bush signed a paper directing the Pentagon to explore the military options for an attack on Iraq.
Copyright © 2003. The Sydney Morning Herald