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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 May, 2004, 02:38 GMT 03:38 UK
Blair's post-Gilligan year
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Exactly a year after the now infamous Andrew Gilligan broadcast and British politics is still dominated by one single issue - Iraq.

Tony Blair
A year on and Blair is still facing troubles
The government's decision to go to war, the way it persuaded people and Parliament to support it and the consequences of that decision continue to overshadow just about every other issue, domestic or foreign.

Tony Blair - who in the immediate aftermath of the Gilligan affair and the subsequent Hutton report had every reason to feel a sense of vindication and even triumph - is probably deeper in the mire than he was then.

Put bluntly, he won the battle with Andrew Gilligan and the BBC, but he is still far from winning the war - in all senses of that statement.

Of course, a huge amount has changed in the past 12 months.

Saddam Hussein has been captured, but his weapons of mass destruction have still not been found.

Protracted conflict

And the row over their existence and their readiness for use, which was at the centre of the Gilligan affair, continues, with the Butler inquiry set to report soon on the intelligence aspect of the affair.

Iraq may be "liberated", but, even some of those MPs and commentators who originally backed the war have now publicly changed their minds.

Andrew Gilligan
Gilligan: Rejected claim he "failed to follow BBC procedures"
The original relief that the conflict had been relatively swift and, as far as the coalition troops was concerned, clean, has given way to a sense of frustration at best, possibly despair at worst.

Far from being over, the war has descended into a messy, protracted conflict with insurgents determined to harry the coalition out of the country, if at all possible.

And politically, Tony Blair just cannot escape it.

Each time he has attempted to draw a line under the war and re-focus onto the crucial domestic issues, which will still play a huge part in the next general election, he is overtaken by events in Iraq.

Most recently it was the scandal of abuse by US soldiers of Iraqi prisoners and then the continuing controversy over the deployment of troops to the country.

Leadership future

And, as the 30 June deadline for the handover to the Iraqi government approaches, fresh problems are emerging.

UK soldier in Iraq
Troops at centre of new row
Questions have been raised over precisely how soon the coalition will be able to withdraw from the country, under whose authority the troops will operate and just how secure the country will become on 1 July.

It is probably true to say that, seven years after his first historic election victory, Tony Blair's premiership seems set to be defined by his decisions on Iraq.

And then there are the serious and unrelenting questions about his own leadership future.

That speculation has erupted as a direct result of the fallout from the war.

Some backbench MPs are beginning to believe that large enough numbers of voters are now so anti-Blair because of his handling of Iraq that he has become a liability.

There have even been suggestions, encouraged - accidentally or otherwise - by some of his most senior ministers, that he has questioned his own future.

For his part, he is adamant he will not "cut and run" from Iraq but stay to see through the job he started.

Just a year ago there was speculation whether, if he wins the next general election, he would stand down shortly after.

Now there is genuine speculation over whether he will actually fight that election as leader, despite his assurances.

The BBC has paid a price for its broadcast, the question now is whether Tony Blair may pay a price for the war.

The BBC's Nick Higham
"It's not clear if they're going to face disciplinary action"

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