The killing of Saddam's sons won't divert attention for long from the specious reasons given for invading Iraq
by Richard Norton-Taylor
Uday and Qusay are killed and the delighted British and American governments suggest that Iraq will be a safer place. Yes, Iraqis may well feel safer. And - with the dictator's brutal sons out of the way for ever - more confident about continuing the resistance against the American occupiers.
Shortly before their deaths were announced, Richard Gephardt, Democrat presidential hopeful, delivered a blistering attack on Bush's foreign policy which was driven, he said, by "machismo" and "arrogant unilateralism". Bush, he continued, had treated US allies "like so many flies on America's windshield". He added: "Foreign policy isn't a John Wayne movie."
The attack on the villa where Saddam's sons were hiding might be seen as driving home the point. Instead, the announcement that they had been killed by US troops in a shoot-out is welcomed by Tony Blair as "great news".
Jack Straw was more circumspect. He said the death of what he called "extremely unpleasant psychopaths" would bring relief for the Iraqi people. But he added: "I am not rejoicing. I mourn the death of anybody, but it has to be said that it is a very great relief for all Iraqis."
Both the prime minister and the foreign secretary seized the opportunity to remind us about the brutality of Saddam's regime. This was something many of us pointed out more than 15 years ago. But then, Straw says, there was a Conservative government and, anyway, Iraq was at war with Iran. It was as though they were mightily relieved that attention had been diverted away from the increasingly damaging controversy over what weapons of mass destruction, if any, Iraq possessed when Bush and Blair decided to invade the country, and from the death of David Kelly in particular.
And it was another welcome opportunity to remind us of the nature of the Saddam regime. Uday and Qusay, Blair told journalists yesterday, were responsible for the torture and killing of thousands of Iraqis. That is not, of course, what we were told we were going to war for and is not the legal justification the attorney general gave for it. Never mind; let's milk the deaths of Saddam's sons as much as possible and hope the dictator soon shares their fate.
But Dr Kelly's death will continue to haunt the government. The man described by Blair after his death as a "fine public servant" was dismissed, before it, by those in Whitehall battling with the BBC as some kind of middle-ranking expert, pretty marginal in the general scheme of things.
In fact, he was a central figure in the government's continuing quest for evidence of banned weapons in Iraq. He had recently been to Iraq to advise the US-led Survey Group of scientists (including former UN inspectors damned so recently by Washington as incompetent), which Bush and Blair so desperately hopes will come up with credible evidence which could give them a post-hoc justification for war. It is a tragic irony that Kelly will not be able to continue the work. A fellow expert on biological and chemical weapons familiar with Iraq described Kelly yesterday as a "real loss - he knew the place so well, the individuals so well, he's not somebody you could easily replace".
Kelly was one of the toughest and most effective Unscom weapons inspectors in Iraq in the 1990s. He was convinced Saddam Hussein had possessed weapons of mass destruction. As a senior adviser to both the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office on the threat posed by chemical and biological weapons he had to have access to up-to-date intelligence to do his job.