There were no WMD: official

SO, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, poised, ready to fire at 45 minutes notice against British interests - the very reason this country was taken to war.

By Graham Dines

SO, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, poised, ready to fire at 45 minutes notice against British interests - the very reason this country was taken to war.

Therefore, in pure terms, it was illegal for the US-UK led “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq in March last year.

Yesterday's report of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) could have a massive bearing on the outcome of the General Election.

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Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, who opposed military action from the outset, has been proved right; Tory leader Michael Howard may be right, after the event, having accused the Prime Minister of lying; and Tony Blair, the man whose decision it was, got it wrong.

He was still refusing yesterday to say sorry as he escaped the fall out in the Labour Party for photo opportunities in the Sudan and Ethiopia to publicise his latest crusade - tackling world poverty.

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Mr Blair now justifies the war on the grounds that the world and Iraq are safer places without Saddam Hussein. Millions in this country will disagree - the Muslim fundamentalist world is so incensed at the war that we are all at risk from some major terrorist outrage.

The Prime Minister had already put himself under intense pressure when he announced last week that he intended to serve only one more term as Labour leader. Immediately turning himself into a lame duck, it is now open season for his critics inside his party who want to see the back of him.

Anti-war MP Robert Marshall-Andrews says the ISG's report is a defining moment for Labour movement. “I think there is a deep neurosis in the party about Iraq and this report will increase it. There is only one way to remove that problem, and that is to remove the Prime Minister.”

For the Tories, who supported and even egged on the Prime Minister, the fact than on weapons of mass destruction have been found is irrefutable proof - in the words of Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael An cram - that the Prime Minister is “untruthful, untrustworthy, and unrepentant.”

Instead of apologising at his conference, Mr Blair pulled a flanker by telling the BBC - after all delegates had left Brighton - that he was going to undertake a minor heart procedure and that he would serve a full third term in power before quitting.

As if to emphasise that all was well, he took just a couple of days to recover from the operation before flying off to the heat of famine ridden Africa. Not, I would suggest, the wisest thing to do.

Instead of pretending he's infallible, Tony Blair would have been better advised to have taken advantage of the spotlight moving to the Tory conference to fully recover. After all, he has a young family to consider.

What he did do was set in motion the longest ever leadership struggle. Labour politics will now be overshadowed for years to come - should Labour win the election - with would-be candidates Gordon Brown, Dr John Reid, Peter Hain and Charles Clarke fighting like ally cats.

The Liberal Democrat conference reverberated to the usual “we're on our way to victory” battle cry. But the hoped for by-election success in Hartlepool saw tears flowing from defeated candidate Jody Dunn, a scene likely to be replicated in counting centres all over Britain at the next election.

The UK Independence Party's conference in Bristol pressed the self-destruct button. Its decision to fight Eurosceptic Tories caused its chief bank roller Paul Sykes to put his cheque book back in his pocket.

Mr Sykes's decision cheered the Tories in Bournemouth, in need of a boost after their catastrophic showing in Hartlepool.

Iraq will be just of the issues on which voters will have to make up their on come polling. How to finance public services, what to do about the looming pensions crisis and just who is to blame for it, and our future relations with Europe will all play a part.

As will trust, which has been the buzz word for the Tories in Bournemouth this week.

But the sad truth for politicians is that the public at large cares little about the party conferences. Viewing figures will confirm that very few people will have tuned into satellite channel BBC Parliament to watch the hours of live coverage.

Most people in Britain this week will have been more interested in the adventures of Red, the lurcher caught on film organising escape committees at the Battersea Dogs' Home, than will have been energised by the speech of Michael Howard.

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