Alastair Campbell to appear at Iraq probe

Last Updated: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 - 14:54

London: Tony Blair`s controversial former chief spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, will give evidence to a public inquiry into the Iraq war on Tuesday, days before his one-time boss takes the stand.

Campbell, one of the ex prime minister`s closest allies, will be the first big name witness to appear before the Chilcot inquiry and is likely to face questions about the intelligence the government used to make the case for war.

His evidence session will last for three hours, from 1000 GMT.

Blair is due to appear in late January or early February, while Geoff Hoon, defence secretary at the time of the 2003 invasion, gives evidence on January 19 and ex foreign secretary Jack Straw follows two days later.

Campbell, Downing Street`s former director of communications and strategy, resigned in August 2003, the month after Ministry of Defence weapons expert Dr. David Kelly was found dead near his home with slashed wrists.

Earlier that year, he fiercely denied a BBC report that he "sexed up" a dossier claiming Iraq could launch a chemical or biological attack within 45 minutes to help justify the war.

Kelly believed he may have been the source of the BBC`s story and officials confirmed his name as such to some reporters.

Campbell insisted he had decided to resign to spend more time with his family well before Kelly`s death. An official inquiry subsequently exonerated him over the affair.

Campbell has kept a relatively low profile since leaving Downing Street, publishing his memoirs and a novel about a psychiatrist.

He is also advising Prime Minister Gordon Brown`s ruling Labour party informally ahead of this year`s general election and co-founded an Internet campaign to drum up grassroots Labour support.

Blair will give evidence sometime in the two-week period from January 25, although the exact date for his one-day session has not yet been disclosed. Public interest is so great that a ballot is being held for seats.

Some Labour figures are reportedly worried that his evidence could revive memories of the unpopular Iraq war and cause Labour problems on the campaign trail for the election, which must be held by June.

The former premier faced a major backlash over the decision to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with then US president George W. Bush over the war. He resigned in 2007 despite having led his Labour party to three election wins.

Blair insisted last month he would have supported the war, which did not gain explicit United Nations approval, even if he had known Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.
The Iraq inquiry, led by retired top civil servant John Chilcot, has faced claims from some critics that it is not questioning witnesses rigorously enough.
But Chilcot hit back last month, insisting it was "not here to provide public sport or entertainment" but "to get to the facts."

PTI



First Published: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 - 14:54

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