LONDON - Britain's Tony Blair batted off fresh
attacks Wednesday over the case he made for war in Iraq and was
heckled by anti-war protesters as the furor over Saddam
Hussein's elusive banned weapons refused to die down.
The prime minister's comments during a parliamentary debate
were interrupted by shouting from the public gallery.
"No more whitewashes!" one heckler shouted at Blair, before
being evicted along with four others. The debate was briefly
suspended while the gallery was cleared.
NO MORE WHITEWASHES!
Supporters of 'The Stop The War Coalition' burn a copy of the Hutton Report outside Downing Street. The House of Commons was briefly suspended after a group of anti-Iraq war protesters shouted 'murderer' and other abuse at Prime Minister Tony Blair. (AFP/File/Alessandro Abbonizio)
Former British weapons expert Brian Jones fanned the
flames, alleging the government had overruled intelligence
analysts to present a "misleading" pre-war dossier on Iraq's
The prime minister said Jones' concerns had been passed to
his superiors when he first raised them but had not been
Bowing to pressure, Blair has set up an independent inquiry
into possible intelligence flaws but the move failed to silence
In parliament, he defended the verdict of senior judge Lord
Hutton who last week cleared the government of exaggerating the
threat posed by Iraq.
Blair emerged spotless from Hutton's inquiry into last
July's suicide of scientist David Kelly, who killed himself
after being outed as the source of a BBC report that claimed
the government had "sexed up" its dossier on Iraq's weaponry.
Large parts of the media and the public have branded
Hutton's report -- which lambasted the BBC -- one-sided.
Jones, now retired from the Ministry of Defense, stunned
the Hutton inquiry when he told it he had complained to his
bosses over the strength of language in the September 2002
Wednesday, he went further, telling the Independent
newspaper that his department's expert intelligence analysts
were overruled in the preparation of that paper, leading to "a
presentation that was misleading about Iraq's capabilities."
"I find it extraordinary that neither Cabinet nor
parliament were told that all the experts on the Defense
Intelligence Staff had reservations about the September
dossier," Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who resigned
over the war, said.
Blair's critics say the new inquiry -- set up only after
Washington launched a similar probe -- is too limited and will
not look at the way government made its case to the public.
The opposition Conservatives mocked Blair's U-turn. Until
this week, he had resolutely refused to call a further inquiry.
"Where the President led, the Prime Minister followed,"
said Conservative leader Michael Howard.
Cook made the same jibe and said the government should give
up its insistence that it did not dance to Washington's tune.
"Until Saturday, the government was resisting the call for
an inquiry. By Monday it was organizing an inquiry," he said.
Blair repeated his refusal to allow the new probe to
examine the political decisions on going to war. But he
appeared to concede that it would be allowed to look at the way
government used the intelligence it received, not just its
"Of course it is important that it looks at the use of the
intelligence, the gathering of it, the evaluation," he said.
Blair's hand was forced after former U.S. weapons hunter
David Kay concluded Iraq had no stockpiles of banned weapons.
The premier insisted there was still a chance inspectors in
Iraq would unearth some evidence of weapons of mass
destruction. But he justified the war, even if nothing more was
"Even if they find only what they have found so far, we
would have been irresponsible in the highest degree not to have
acted against Saddam," he said.
© 2004 Reuters Ltd