11 December 2009

The taxi driver and the WMDs

Graham Greene or John le Carré couldn't have done it better. Tony Blair topped them both.

In the run-up to the Iraq war, Blair's government produced a dossier that, among other things, claimed Saddam Hussein could unleash weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes, a claim that sent shivers down the spines of people who heard it, including mine. It was, of course, nonsense. Saddam Hussein couldn't unleash weapons of mass destruction in 45 years, never mind minutes. He didn't have any.

So where did this nonsense come from? Wait for it. Britain's MI6 obtained the information indirectly from a taxi driver on the Iraqi-Jordanian border who overheard a conversation between two Iraqi military commanders in the back of his cab two years earlier. Yes, it was on the basis of such evidence as the gossip of taxi drivers that Blair's government frightened its citizens into supporting an invasion of Iraq. Thus does farce descend into tragedy.

An interesting footnote is the career of the man in charge of the "dodgy dossier." Head of the Joint Intelligence Committee at the time, John Scarlett went on to become head of MI6.

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