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PM silent on death of Saddam Hussein

London Sunday Telegraph | December 30, 2006
Patrick Hennessy

The Prime Minister was criticised last night for staying silent on the death of Saddam Hussein despite having played such a leading role in the downfall of the former Iraqi president.

Saddam Hussein in numbers

A Downing Street spokesman said there were "no plans" for Mr Blair to break into his holiday in Florida, where he is staying at a mansion owned by Bee Gees star Robin Gibb, to deliver a personal response to the hanging.

Fourteen hours after Saddam's death, there were no plans to put out a statement on the Prime Minister's behalf, the spokesman added. By contrast, the White House released an immediate statement in the name of George Bush, the other main architect of Saddam's toppling. The execution was an "important milestone" on Iraq's road to democracy, Mr Bush said.

The Government's official reaction was left to Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, who was not at the Foreign Office or in Mr Blair's inner "war cabinet" during the 2003 invasion.

She said Saddam had been "held to account" for his crimes in Iraq, but emphasised that Britain "does not support the use of the death penalty, in Iraq or anywhere else". Mrs Beckett "spoke for the entire Government", Downing Street added.

Peter Kilfoyle, Labour MP for Walton, said that he found it "extraordinary" that Mr Blair has not spoken. "It's yet another error in a long catalogue of mistakes the Prime Minister has made in his handling of Iraq," he said.

Jeremy Corbyn, the MP for Islington North and a member of the Labour Against The War group, said: "I am very surprised that the Prime Minister hasn't made a statement by now.

"He is, after all, very much his own Foreign Secretary most of the time. It is striking that on this occasion, he hasn't seen fit to say anything."

Glenda Jackson, the former Labour minister and prominent critic of the war, said last night: "Tony Blair took us into Iraq. It's amazing how silent he has suddenly become. He has not said anything, he's too busy being on holiday.

"We've gone in there and turned that country into total, unmitigated mayhem so we could show the Middle East that there is a better way of conducting civil liberties. I don't think this is a particularly good message."

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, by contrast had issued his own personal reaction to the execution, saying: "Saddam Hussein's death does not vindicate in any way the ill-conceived and disastrous decision to invade Iraq. His execution does not make an illegal war legal, any more than it will put an end to the violence and destruction."

Mr Blair's silence was all the more baffling when taking into account the way in which Iraq - and Saddam in particular - defined his premiership. He split the Labour Party by following Mr Bush and taking Britain into a war, which was unpopular and, according to his critics, illegal.

He lost two Cabinet ministers – Robin Cook and Clare Short – over the decision and 122 Labour MPs, more than a quarter of the parliamentary party, voted against it in a landmark Commons debate days before the first shots were fired. One million people marched in London to oppose the war in one of the biggest demonstrations ever held in Britain.

 

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