The big news in England today is that Robin Cook, Tony Blair's former foreign secretary, says in a forthcoming book that Blair knew Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction that could hit targets outside Iraq's borders within 45 minutes. An excerpt from the book is in The Times of London; I don't have an online subscription to The Times, but this is from The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday:
In an explosive allegation which challenges the Prime Minister’s honesty and dramatically undermines the case for military action, Cook says Blair told him on March 5 he no longer believed Saddam had WMD ready to fire within 45 minutes.
Cook claims John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, also "assented" that the Iraqi dictator possessed no such weapons....
...Cook claims that during a private meeting with Blair he told the Prime Minister it was clear from a briefing he had from John Scarlett that Saddam had no WMD that could strike at strategic cities. Cook also said Saddam probably did have several thousands of battlefield chemical munitions and asked the Prime Minister if he feared the Iraqi leader could use these against British troops.
Cook writes that Blair replied: "Yes, but all the effort he has had to put into concealment makes it difficult for him to assemble them quickly for use." Cook adds: "There were two distinct elements to this exchange that sent me away deeply troubled. The first was that the timetable to war was plainly not driven by the progress of the UN inspections. Tony made no attempt to pretend that what Hans Blix might report would make any difference to the countdown to invasion. The second troubling element to our conversation was that Tony did not try to argue me out of this view that Saddam did not have real weapons of mass destruction that were designed for strategic use against city populations and capable of being delivered with reliability over long distances. I had now expressed that view to both the chairman of the JIC and to the Prime Minister and both had assented to it."
In a New York Review of Books article (which unfortunately isn't available online except to subscribers and purchasers), James Fenton points out that John Scarlett has, in effect, verified Cook's claim. On August 26, Scarlett was testifying at the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr. David Kelley, the weapons scientist who was the source of a BBC report undermining the Blair government's claims about Iraq. Scarlett said this about Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter, and Gilligan's source, Dr. Kelley:
SCARLETT: ...certainly Andrew Gilligan, when quoting his source, said that the source believed that the report was relating to warheads for missiles.
LORD HUTTON: Yes.
SCARLETT: Which, in fact, it was not; it related to munitions, which we had interpreted to mean battlefield mortar shells or small calibre weaponry, quite different from missiles.
Fenton, in his NYRB article, makes clear what this means:
This, from Scarlett, was entirely new. After three months of daily public wrangling on this point, and nearly a year after the original dossier's publication, the Cabinet's head of intelligence finally vouchsafed the fact that the weapons of mass destruction Blair had thought merited a war were such as might be fired from mortars or small-caliber weapons -- devilishly tiny weapons of mass destruction. They were not installed in missiles that could reach Tel Aviv, Kuwait City, Cyprus, and other parts of the region. No wonder they have proved so elusive.
And yet Tony Blair had written this in his foreword to the September 2002 dossier:
Intelligence reports make clear that he [Saddam] sees the building up of his WMD capability, and the belief overseas that he would use these weapons, as vital to his strategic interests, and in particular his goal of regional domination. And the document discloses that his military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them.
That was untrue, and it's obvious that in early 2003 it was widely known in the Blair government that it was untrue.