'MP BLAMES BLAIR OVER IRAQ DOCUMENTS'

Intelligence failed to secure vital information

Lymington Times – 31 May 2003

In a dramatic exchange in the House of Commons at Prime Minister's Questions, New Forest East MP Julian Lewis accused Tony Blair of shirking responsibility for a serious failure of intelligence in the recent Gulf conflict. The Prime Minister had come under criticism from Father of the House Tam Dalyell for failing to seize documents from Iraqi government buildings which could have shown links between Saddam's regime and terrorist groups as well as the whereabouts of weapons of mass destruction.

Responding, Mr Blair claimed that this was because coalition forces, though instructed to attempt to obtain any documents, had "winning the conflict" as their priority when "first going into Baghdad". Dr Lewis, however, denounced this explanation as inadequate. He told the House of Commons:

"On Monday the Defence Secretary told the House, in answer to a similar question, that the reason why the Daily Telegraph got its hands on the documents before the coalition forces was that it had journalists on the spot. The true situation is that the Daily Telegraph journalist returned by land to Baghdad from Jordan on 11 April, two days after the fall of Baghdad. He did not go into the Foreign Ministry headquarters where he got the documents until the following Saturday. On the following Tuesday – that is 13 days after the fall of Baghdad – he told the BBC that 'Iraqi government ministries are effectively open to anybody who wants to walk in and look for documents'. That was a straight failure by the coalition, and the Prime Minister should accept responsibility for the failure to get such important documents under our control."

The Prime Minister conceded that he could not dispute the facts about the Daily Telegraph journalist but maintained that

"even a few days after the fall of Baghdad, there was a desperately difficult security situation, and it is not surprising if the commanders on the ground were paying attention first to the security of their own forces".

Afterwards, Dr Lewis said:

"Tony Blair's explanation convinced no-one: it is standard practice for an invading force to target material of this sort, yet this still had not been done nearly a fortnight after the fall of the city. MPs were clearly not reassured by his explanation and a senior Labour MP told me that this was one of only four or five occasions in 20 years that he had seen a Prime Minister so discomforted by a question".