Blair’s Troubles Multiply

LONDON – Saddam Hussein looks set to hand over to the British the one thing they love most – a palace coup.

Read for that Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown taking over from Prime Minister Tony Blair. Not immediately, not even very soon perhaps. But there are few who will say any more that this would never happen.

Gordon Brown has for long been considered the alternative to Blair. But this week the whisperings are beginning to have the feel of certainty about them as Blair struggles to hold his ground over Iraq.

After a year of insistence that had appeared to most as more obdurate than wise, Blair admitted in Parliament this week that those supposed weapons of mass destruction “may never be found.”

Blair said he had “to accept we haven’t found them and we may never find them.” He said: “They could have been removed. They could have been hidden. They could have been destroyed.”

Blair’s confession comes a week before an inquiry report in Britain that is expected to point to serious intelligence failures. And it came just a day or so before a report due on intelligence failure in the United States.

But Blair continues to talk the same language as U.S. President George W. Bush. There was no doubt Saddam was a threat, Blair told BBC in an interview.

“I know that Saddam Hussein was a threat,” Bush said later.

For Blair the confession might be too late.

“Tony Blair had tried to justify the war on the grounds that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction,” Mustafa Alani, leading expert on Iraq and al-Qaeda with the Royal United Services Institute, a leading think tank told IPS. Now Blair was confessing they may never be found.

“The other reason Blair offered was to remove dictatorship and to bring a stable and democratic Iraq,” Alani said. “Now those goals are not achievable either in the foreseeable future.”

Tony Blair is “under a lot of political pressure as a result,” Alani said. “If the security situation worsens, it could put an end to his political future.”

The security situation is not improving as a result of further intelligence failures, Alani said. “They have a well-armed force of 150,000 but they cannot control the place because of lack of intelligence.”

The very acts of torture were evidence of continuing intelligence failure, Alani said. “If you are getting good intelligence about people, then there is no need to torture anyone.”

Security is now the key word, Alani said. “The U.S. emphasis on democracy has been postponed now,” he said. “There can be no election without security. The priority is now a stable Iraq.”

Did that mean that Iraq had gone back to where it was under Saddam?

The coalition forces have “reached a point of practicality,” Alani said. “If there is a collapse of security it can mean a collapse also of regional security.” That would be far more dangerous than the civil war earlier in Lebanon, he said.

Beyond the region the situation will have direct consequences for Blair and for Bush, he said. “This was their initiative, their creation,” Alani said. “The security failure in Iraq is creating a political failure and that is leading to economic failure – and they will be held accountable for this.”

Security in Iraq means also the security of oil supplies, he said.

Blair’s confession this week has also brought out cracks within the government at the top level over the decision to join the United States in invading Iraq.

Blair confessed only after former British ambassador to Iraq Jeremy Greenstock said the British government had been “wrong” to claim that Saddam had large stocks of chemical or biological weapons. The former envoy said in a BBC interview: “We were wrong on the stockpiles; we were right on the intention.”

Earlier in the week a senior Foreign Office lawyer who resigned after ministers ignored her advice that the Iraq war would be illegal, came out with a public statement that the abuse of prisoners “could amount to war crimes.”

The lawyer Elizabeth Wilmshurst said in a newspaper interview that the war had been launched on the strength of “assertion” rather than “facts.” She said “what people are worried about is just assertions that there is an imminent threat.”

Read more by Sanjay Suri