Campbell unrepentant over Iraq war
Alastair Campbell tells inquiry into Iraq war he never had "any doubt" WMD would be found in Iraq
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Alastair Campbell has offered a staunch defence of his and Tony Blair's role in the build-up to the Iraq war, telling the inquiry into the conflict he "never had any doubt" they would find weapons of mass destruction.
In a lengthy appearance before Sir John Chilcot's inquiry panel in central London, Mr Blair's former head of communications rejected any criticism against the September 2002 dossier claiming that Saddam Hussein could train nuclear weapons against the west within 45 minutes.
Mr Campbell, the most high-profile individual to appear before the inquiry so far, also admitted that former prime minister Mr Blair had told George Bush the UK would back military action against Iraq in 2002, the year before the eventual invasion.
He was largely unrepentant about almost all aspects of the war, insisting that Britons should be "proud their country brought down one of the most barbarous regimes in history"; calling on people to appreciate the magnitude of the decision which faced Mr Blair over whether to go to war or not.
When questioned about the September 2002 dossier put together by Sir John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Mr Campbell, said he stuck by "every word".
The document earned infamy over its claim Saddam could have weapons of mass destruction trained on the west within 45 minutes.
It was also followed by the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly, revealed as the source of a BBC story that the dossier had been "sexed up" by No 10.
Mr Campbell told the inquiry today that "at no time did I ask Sir John Scarlett to beef up judgments" in the document.
"The prime minister would have accepted if there was no intelligence to support the cause for war," he continued.
"The JIC had to be happy with the dossier before it was published."
He said furore over the dossier was down to the prevailing media culture and defended it as a "genuine attempt to engage with the public" on the case for war.
"I defend every word of the dossier and every part of the process that led to it being published," Mr Campbell said.
A central claim of the dossier was that Saddam Hussein could train weapons against the west within 45 minutes, but Mr Campbell insisted this fact was promoted extensively by the media and not Downing St.
Earlier, Mr Campbell revealed that Mr Blair gave explicit British support for US military action in Iraq the year before the eventual invasion in 2003.
Under questioning from inquiry panellist Sir Roderic Lyne, Mr Campbell confirmed that correspondence with President Bush in 2002 showed the UK would back an invasion with or without United Nations support.
He was at pains to insist in the first half of this morning's session that former prime minister Mr Blair was always convinced of the threat Iraq posed the wider world - concerns magnified by the September 11th attacks.
He repeatedly stated that President Bush did not need to convince Mr Blair of the dangers Saddam Hussein posed, although the prime minister's priority was always disarmament and not regime change.
But when questioned he was unable to illuminate the panel as to when Mr Blair's priorities aligned with the US; insisting that military action was not discussed at the infamous Crawford meeting in April 2002.
Mr Campbell also claimed that post-invasion Iraq was discussed at Chequers in the same year, despite no firm commitment to regime change being agreed.
At the beginning of today's session Mr Campbell tried to paint Gordon Brown as one of Mr Blair's key advisers in the run-up to the war.
The spin doctor's appearance at the inquiry begins a three-week period in which major political figures will be questioned, culminating in Mr Blair himself.
The former prime minister is expected to appear on the week beginning January 25th, with a ballot for seats in the public gallery at the inquiry opening next Monday.
Mr Brown is also due to appear, but not until after the general election.