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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 July, 2004, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Analysis: How bad for Blair?
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

By any measure, the Butler Report represents a pretty damning indictment of the way Britain was taken to war on Iraq.

Butler attacked weapons dossier
The intelligence on which the action was based was flawed and it was then presented to the public by security chiefs and the government without accompanying reservations.

There was "some strain" between the government's desire to support its case for war and intelligence chiefs' "normal standards of objective assessment".

In particular, the infamous claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes should not have been included in the document in the way it was.

The way the Joint Intelligence Committee and its head John Scarlett - since promoted by the prime minister to head of the Secret Intelligence Service - were involved in the preparation of the dossier and agreed to take ownership of it was also criticised as a mistake.

Named no names

But having come to those serious and controversial conclusions, Lord Butler stopped.

It was not his job to go wider into the way the intelligence was used - that is precisely why the Liberal Democrats and Tory party refused to take part.

John Scarlett
Scarlett was not singled out for blame
So when it came to pronouncing on who was responsible for the way the intelligence was "sold" to the public and Parliament, he named no names.

There was a "collective" responsibility, he said - while also stressing there was no suggestion the government or the prime minister had not acted in good faith.

So speculation that Mr Scarlett, the prime minister's ex-spin chief Alastair Campbell and his chief of staff Jonathan Powell or Mr Blair himself would be singled out for criticism proved groundless.

Later, in the Commons, the prime minister was happy to declare that, in effect, the buck stopped with him.

Key questions

But in another of his supremely self-confident performances, he insisted he still believed he had done the right thing.

Many MPs - particularly Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy - were clearly frustrated that, once again, the key questions they wanted answered appeared not to have been addressed directly.

Michael Howard
Howard supports the war
None the less, there was enough to give Michael Howard grounds for what was a powerful attack on the prime minister's trustworthiness.

In what must be one of the most serious questions to raise over a prime minister's position he asked whether the public would ever trust him to take them to war again on a matter of his personal judgement.

There were audible gasps from MPs across the Commons chamber at this suggestion.

And in other circumstances it may have given the prime minister serious grounds for concern - possibly worse.

But, thanks to Mr Howard's continued support for the war, Mr Blair could fairly easily turn the tables, accusing Mr Howard of opportunism.

One way

But once the limitations of the inquiry and its terms of reference have been taken into account, this remains a pretty severe assault on the way the key players handled the processes which led to war.

It is unlikely it will change very many minds, however.

Indeed, there is enough in it for just about every side in the argument to cherry pick at will. And there is some evidence to suggest that, at this relatively late stage in proceedings, minds are already made up.

But that is not to suggest the prime minister is off the hook on this most damaging of his leadership crises.

The direction of the report is virtually all one way by pointing out serious failings in the way the country was taken to war with all the consequent loss of life.

So the arguments over how the prime minister, his government and the security services led this campaign will very likely continue.




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