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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
Prime minister's questions
Commentary
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online Political Correspondent

Was the prime minister rattled, was he angry or was he using anger to camouflage the fact he was rattled?

Iraq was back on the menu
Whatever he was, the prime minister was definitely it when Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy once again attempted to nail him down over his reason for going to war on Iraq.

To the prime minister's undoubted dismay, Iraq is back on the menu in, for his palate, a pretty unappetising manner.

Thanks to the ISG report he has accepted there never were WMDs in Iraq, that the infamous 45-minutes-from- attack line was wrong and that Saddam was no immediate threat.

So there is a growing clamour from his opponents for him to make a full Commons statement on the issue, to say sorry for allegedly misleading MPs and for returning to the issue of why he went to war in the first place.

Illegal war

And it is the latter line of questioning from Mr Kennedy that rattled him, made him angry or brought out the actor's instincts.

Kennedy could not ask third question
Mr Kennedy dug a neat bear trap for the prime minister by pointing out that, now the WMD issue was dead, the only justification the prime minister had left for the war was the removal of Saddam Hussein.

As a result, he had led the country into an illegal war, he declared.

That really rattled/angered the prime minister who sneered back that he did not accept the argument.

"If he had his way, Saddam Hussein and his sons would still be running Iraq."

If Mr Kennedy had been allowed another question he might have shouted "bingo".

Instead it was left to a Labour backbencher Bob Wareing to take up the line of argument by pointing out that on 25 February last year - before the war- the prime minister had said that if Saddam had complied with UN resolutions his "detestable regime" could continue.

Or, to put it another way, if the prime minister had had his way last February, Saddam and his sons would still be running Iraq.

No closure

It was all another example of just how unsatisfying and frustrating question time can be for the opposition parties and why they are continuing to demand a full-scale Commons debate to allow them to pursue their arguments.

That doesn't look likely. But the prime minister desperately needs closure on Iraq.

One way of getting might be to use the "s" word. He put it in the text of his party conference speech, then took it out when he delivered it.

Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt has used it and Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer used it three times on Wednesday morning - and once on the prime minister's behalf.

Needless to say none of them amounted to saying sorry for the war, rather for the dodgy intelligence.

But the prime minister will not even go that far - presumably because it might imply culpability.

He angrily told Tory leader Michael Howard he had not misrepresented to MPs the intelligence that was available on Iraq's weapons.

We do know, from the ISG and other reports, that the information the prime minister gave to the Commons has turned out to be wrong.

Mr Howard said that the way the intelligence was presented to MPs was not the way it had been presented to Downing Street.

But Mr Blair was having none of it. And neither was he about to say sorry.

Closure seems as far away today as it has ever been.




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