Alastair Campbell, speaking to the Iraq Inquiry, called the publication of the second intelligence dossier, dubbed the “dodgy dossier” in February 2003 a “mistake”.
He said the intention had been to expose Saddam’s efforts to undermine the UN weapons inspections process in the light of new intelligence from MI6.
However, he admitted it was damaging to public trust when the process of putting it together became known in what has infamously been called “the dodgy dossier”.
“That did not help, let’s put it that way,” he said. “That was a really difficult episode.”
I saw somebody who really deeply believed that unless the world confronted Saddam Hussein at that time then there would be a bigger day of reckoning later on. Alastair Campbell
“I saw the seriousness with which he took the decision, I saw how much it weighed upon him, but equally I saw somebody who fundamentally really deeply believed that unless the world confronted Saddam Hussein at that time, ultimately sadly in that way because the diplomatic route failed, then there would be a bigger day of reckoning later on. And I think he still believes that now.”
He acknowledged the scale of public opposition, particularly in light of the mass demonstrations, and said that Tony Blair, as a prime minister looking to go for re-election, did consider the strength of opinion “but ultimately I think it just made him think more deeply about the issues”.
“There was a political consideration. That was a big protest and [Tony Blair] thought about that a lot and was seized by its significance. But ultimately I think it just made him think more deeply about the issues.”
He insisted this afternoon that disarming Saddam Hussein was central to the reasons for going to war.
“If you actually look at what is in 1441 and the arguments that the prime minister was putting at the time, it was about disarming Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction, but right linked in to that are two other issues: one is the transatlantic relationship and the importance of preserving and maintaining that and secondly the history of the regime. That was an important part of the communiqué.”
“Sometimes I used to run to work and sometimes I used to get the 24 bus. I can remember listening to a conversation of two women on a bus about resolution 1441… and I thought ‘people are engaging in this now on a deeper level’.
“People were engaged, they were engaged in the debate.”
He admitted frustrations about the way some of the US administration dealt with the arguments for war at times:
“It was just really that position of not really understanding that their statements and positions would have an impact way beyond their shores. They felt very comfortable with the idea of just saying ‘look Saddam’s a bad regime, has been for a long time, it was Clinton’s policy to go in, to regime change, that’s our policy too. Now, to be fair to George Bush, I think he got this [difficulty] more than others in his administration, if I can put it like that.”
“The decision was taken that we would give this [dossier] as a briefing paper to the Sunday press, about half a dozen of them travelling with us on the plane.
“As it happens it got almost no coverage at all. I think they thought it was quite interesting.
Once the process point was exposed, I think by Channel 4 News then… woosh. Frenzy. Alastair Campbell
“Contrary to the September dossier which got massive global exposure, this got relatively little and it became much better known.
“I know it’s routinely stated that it was taken off the internet, it wasn’t. I’m not apologising or I’m not defending it on those terms.
“As a matter of fact it was taken from an article in the Middle East Journal and then once as it were the process point was exposed, I think by Channel 4 News then… woosh. Frenzy.”
Mr Campbell revealed that it was he who wrote the prime minister’s controversial foreword to a key intelligence assessment in the run-up to the Iraq war.