Blair must admit error over Iraqi weapons, Cook saysROBIN COOK told The Times last night that Tony Blair must now admit he was wrong about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Mr Cook, who resigned as Leader of the House last spring because he opposed war in Iraq, was speaking after David Kay, the head of the US-led group searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, resigned, admitting that none could be found. "This confirms what many of us have been saying for the past year," Mr Cook, formerly Foreign Secretary, said.
"Tony Blair did ask us to wait until the Iraq Survey Group had finished its work. As far as David Kay is concerned, it has now finished its work and the conclusion could not be more stark. There were no weapons of mass destruction and there have not been since the early 1990s.
"I have never doubted that Tony Blair acted in good faith but he cannot now go on insisting he was right," Mr Cook said.
"Next week, in his response to the Hutton report, is a good opportunity to put the record straight and to recognise that mistakes were made. If we do not face up to those mistakes, there is a danger we will not learn any lessons from them."
Glenda Jackson, another former Labour minister and one of the most outspoken critics of the war, went further, calling on Mr Blair to resign. "If one of the servants (Mr Kay) of the main architect of the war (President Bush) is now saying there are no weapons, I think the Prime Minister should resign," she said.
"People have died. Our troops were sent there based on what our Prime Minister led the country to believe was incontrovertible evidence that such weapons existed and could be deployed in 45 minutes," Ms Jackson, MP for Hampstead and Highgate, said.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said that Mr Kay's statement constituted another blow to the Government's assertion that Iraq presented such a threat to Britain that military action was the only solution. "David Kay's candid admission that he does not believe that Iraq possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons casts severe doubt on the Government' s case for war," Sir Menzies said.
"Nearly 12 months after we went to war the Government is still unable to prove that it was essential for us to do so to protect the UK."
Downing Street said: "It is important people are patient and let the Iraq Survey Group do its work. There is still more work to be done and we await that. Our position is unchanged."
The White House said that Dr Kay's own report before he left the post had demonstrated that Saddam Hussein had been in serious violation of UN resolutions.
"The Iraq Survey Group's work is ongoing and we remain confident that they will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," a spokesman said." UN inspectors too had concluded that weapons had been unaccounted for.
Disillusioned inspector quits Iraq arms hunt
By Alec Russell
The man who led the Coalition's post-war hunt for weapons of mass destruction stepped down yesterday, saying he did not believe there were stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq.
David Kay, who resigned after a fruitless eight-month search as head of the 1400-strong Iraq Survey Group (ISG), also said he did not believe Saddam Hussein had produced weapons of mass destruction on a large scale in the 1990s - since the first Gulf War.
His comments came as a further blow to Tony Blair's case for war and challenged previous comments by the Bush administration.
"I don't think they existed," Mr Kay said. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last  Gulf War and I don't think there was a large-scale production programme in the 1990s."
The remarks will be embarrassing for the Blair government as they come just before next week's publication of Lord Hutton's report into the death of David Kelly. The remarks are all the more striking coming from a man who until recently was bullishly confident that weapons would be found.
Last August after three months of searching, Mr Kay told the Senate that America had found evidence of an active programme to make weapons of mass destruction including "truly amazing" testimony from Iraqis ordered to dupe UN weapons inspectors before the war.
Critics of President George W Bush will seize on his remarks to accuse him of leading America into an unnecessary war.
On Wednesday Vice President Dick Cheney said America had not abandoned hope of finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "The jury is still out," he told National Public Radio.
But the controversy over weapons of mass destruction is less highly-charged in America than Britain, because in the heightened security fears of the post-September 11 era, many Americans accept the administration's argument that the invasion of Iraq was an integral part of the global war against terrorism.
In his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday Mr Bush suggested that Saddam had pursued dangerous weapons programmes in the countdown to the US-led invasion in March.
But he was careful when defending the war and its rationale, saying that it had ended "dozens of mass-destruction related programmes", a vague term that could spare him from embarrassment over Mr Kay's remarks.
Mr Kay was speaking after the CIA announced that he would be succeeded by a former UN weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, who has previously expressed scepticism that any weapons of mass destruction would be found.
Mr Kay was appointed in June at the head of the 1,400-strong team of American, British and Australian experts scouring Iraq.
In an interview with Reuters news agency he said he left his job due to a "complex set of issues" relating in part to the redeployment of ISG members from searching for weapons of mass destruction to helping in the fight against insurgency.
"When I had started out I made it a condition that ISG be exclusively focused on WMD. That's no longer so," he said.
"We're not going to find much after June [the deadline for the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis]. Once the Iraqis take complete control of the government it is just almost impossible to operate in the way that we operate.
"I think we have found probably 85 per cent of what we're going to find."
Mr Duelfer said last month: "I think that Mr Kay and his team have looked very hard. I think the reason that they haven't found them is they're probably not there." But in a statement yesterday he said he had not given up hope.
Saddam's WMD never existed, says chief American arms inspector
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
24 January 2004
David Kay, who stood down yesterday as head of the Bush administration's hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, said that he did not believe that any stockpiles of such weapons ever existed.
Mr Kay, a former UN inspector, said that most of what was going to be found in the hunt for Saddam Hussein's WMD had already been uncovered. The returning of sovereignty to the Iraqis would make the search more difficult, he added. "I don't think they existed," Mr Kay said, referring to Saddam's alleged stockpiles of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the  Gulf War and I don't think there was a large-scale production programme in the Nineties."
Mr Kay's comments will be an embarrassment for the Bush administration. Earlier this week the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, one of Washington's most outspoken hawks who led the rallying cry for war insisting that Saddam possessed WMD, said the outcome of the search was not clear. "I think the jury is still out," he said. "It's going to take ... time to look in all of the cubby holes and ammo dumps in Iraq."
Despite having the resources of more than 1,000 personnel dedicated to the hunt for such weapons, an interim report issued by Mr Kay in October conceded that no weapons had been found, even though there was evidence Iraq had retained the "template" of a weapons programme.
The Bush administration appears determined to continue its public stance that such weapons could be discovered.
Donald Anderson, the Labour chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said that Mr Kay's comments posed serious problems for British and American intelligence agencies. "My understanding is that the President and the Prime Minister were acting on intelligence then available [at the time of deciding to go to war]. So this raises very important questions about the quality of that intelligence," he told BBC's Newsnight.
A Downing Street spokesman said: "It is important that people are patient and we let the Iraq Survey Group do its work. Their work is continuing and we should await the outcome of that. Our position is unchanged."