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'It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me', Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator Paul Bremer on Tony Blair's WMD claims, December 28

'US rejects Blair's Iraq claims'

Excerpts from the ITV News website, December 28, 2003.

The top US official in Iraq has rejected claims be Prime Minister Tony Blair that evidence of hidden weapons laboratories have been unearthed in Iraq.

He said the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) had unearthed "massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories".

It showed Saddam Hussein had attempted to "conceal weapons", he told British forces, including thousands serving in the Gulf.

But that was not true, said Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, who did not realise Mr Blair had made the claim when it was put to him.

In fact, he said it sounded like a "red herring" put about by someone opposed to military action to undermine the coalition.

"I don't know where those words come from but that is not what (ISG chief) David Kay has said," he told ITV1's Jonathan Dimbleby programme.

"I have read his reports so I don't know who said that. It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me.

"It sounds like someone who doesn't agree with the policy sets up a red herring then knocks it down."

Mr Bremer was forced to row back when told the claims were made by Mr Blair.

"There is actually a lot of evidence that had been made public," he said.

The diplomat insisted that the group had found "clear evidence of biological and chemical programmes, ongoing".

And he added that war was justified "historically" regardless of the issue of WMD.

"I invite anybody, British or American, who thinks it was wrong to go to war, to come and see the mass graves in Halabjah," he said.

"Come there and then tell me that we were not right to liberate this country from Saddam Hussein.

"Weapons of mass destruction or no weapons of mass destruction, it's important to step back a little bit here, to see what we have done historically."

Source: ITV News, http://www.itv.com/news/1100227.html.

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'PM thanks armed forces', Prime Minister Tony Blair has thanked the armed forces on behalf of the whole country in an interview with the British Forces Broadcasting Service (16 December).

INTERVIEWER: Now that you have found Saddam Hussein, do you believe in any way that it might lead you to possible weapons of mass destruction?

PRIME MINISTER: There is obviously that possibility there, but I think in any event we have got to carry on the work that we are doing, because contrary to some of the things that appear, the Iraq Survey Group has already found massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories, workings by scientists, plans to develop long range ballistic missiles. Now frankly these things weren't being developed unless they were developed for a purpose, and I think it will take us time, but I just say to people continually, when a country with a ruler like Saddam tries to hide what it is doing, in a large country like Iraq it is relatively easy to hide it, but we have got to carry on until we find it. Because frankly until we find it, obviously all sorts of issues about justification for war, but it is also important to find it for reasons of making sure that we secure the peace...

Source: 10 Downing Street website, http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page5062.asp.

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© 2003 The Acronym Institute.