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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Straw's low key 45 mins send-off
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

So the claim that Saddam Hussein could fire weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes notice has finally been laid to rest.

It was a rather low key send-off for a claim which prompted an unprecedented row between the government and the BBC, which led to Dr David Kelly's suicide, the Hutton report and, after that, the departure of the BBC's chairman and director general.

Until the last two months a minister admitting the 45 minutes claim was wrong would have been a huge event.

But the groundwork has been carefully laid, with Tony Blair already accepting that Saddam had not had weapons of mass destruction.

Jack Straw
Mr Straw offered no apologies
So Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's official withdrawal of the 45 minute claim, so central to the government's dossier on Iraq's weapons in September 2002, was not much of a surprise.

Indeed there were few surprises as Mr Straw faced MPs in the Commons for the first time since the Iraq Survey Group concluded Saddam had not had the WMD western intelligence had thought he had.

No one expected Jack Straw to say sorry for the war on Iraq.

No one expected the foreign secretary to declare that the Iraq Survey Group's conclusion that Saddam Hussein had not had WMDs for years meant the war had been wrong or even a mistake.

And no one expected him to admit it had all since gone horribly wrong and that those who had warned the war would make the world less safe had been right.

So, at least no one was disappointed when Mr Straw delivered his latest statement on Iraq.

Dangerous critic

But what most HAD been expecting was for Labour's anti-war faction to lay into the government from the backbenches.

After all, these are the people who, it is claimed, had given the prime minister a hard time when he addressed his MPs in private on the previous night.

And they have backed a Commons motion stating the government took Britain to war on a false prospectus.

Robin Cook
Mr Cook raised issue of casualties
Admittedly the shadow of the murder of Ken Bigley hung over these proceedings, but that in itself was not enough to explain the apparent lack of appetite for a fight.

Even the most senior and, from the government's point of view, dangerous critic, Robin Cook, fell short of launching an all-out offensive.

He gently pointed out that the ISG's report on Saddam's WMDs had proved what many had suspected all along.

And he stated that two thirds of civilian casualties in the country were the result of coalition bombing.

Let down

The usually fiery left-winger Alice Mahon was similarly low key, again demanding a full Commons debate on the ISG report.

And Tory spokesman Gary Streeter repeated his leader's demand for an explanation and apology from the prime minister.

Liberal Democrat Menzies Campbell once again went to the heart of it by seeking confirmation that going to war on the basis of regime change or Saddam's future threat would have been illegal.

So, as is so often the case with these "big" set-piece Commons occasions, it was all a bit of a predictable let down.

The prime minister and his supporters will clearly hope this is because the steam is going out of this issue.

The critics, however, are likely to claim they have long since given up hoping for any contrition from the government, particularly in the Commons.

And they have pointed out that voters appear to have made up their minds about the war, and what they think of Tony Blair as a result.

Nothing in this hour-long Commons exchange is likely to have made any difference there.


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