Editor's note: The following ran as the lead editorial in the April 20th edition of The Independent, one of several daily newspapers published in London, England.
In case we forget, distracted by the thought of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, looted museums, and gathering political chaos, the proclaimed purpose of this war, vainly pursued by Britain and the U.S. through the United Nations, was to disarm Saddam Hussein and to destroy weapons of mass destruction deemed a menace to the entire world.
A month has passed since American and British troops entered Iraq, more than a week since the fall of Baghdad. But thus far not even a sniff. Not a drum of VX or mustard gas, not a phial of botulin or anthrax, not a shred of evidence that Iraq was assembling a nuclear-weapons program.
But that wasn't what they told us. Remember Colin Powell at the Security Council two months ago (though today it seems another age on another planet): the charts, the grainy intelligence satellite pictures, the crackly tapes of the intercepted phone conversations among Iraqi officials? How plausible it all sounded, especially when propounded by the most plausible figure in the Bush administration.
And what about those other claims, wheeled out on various occasions by Messrs. Bush, Blair, Cheney, and Rumsfeld? The Iraqi drones that were supposed to be able to attack the U.S. East Coast, the imports of aluminum tubes allegedly intended for centrifuges to enrich uranium, the unaccounted-for lethal nerve and germ agents, in quantities specified down to the last gallon or pound, as if exact numbers alone constituted proof. All, it seems, egregious products of the imagination of the intelligence services -- one commodity whose existence need never be doubted.
Maybe the Saddam regime was diabolically cunning in the concealment of these weapons, but the shambolic manner of its passing suggests otherwise. Maybe, as those "U.S. officials" continue to suggest from behind their comfortable screen of anonymity, the weapons have been shipped to Syria for "safekeeping." But that theory too is dismissed by independent experts.
Indeed, it collapses at the first serious examination. Why should Saddam part with his most effective means of defense, when the survival of his regime and himself was on the line? Nor will that hoary and disingenuous line advanced by our political masters wash any longer -- oh yes, we know a lot more, but if we told you, we would be showing our hand to Saddam and endangering precious intelligence sources.
Just believe us, old boy, the government told us, and you'll see we were right all along. And the British, being on the whole a reasonable and trusting people, mostly accepted the word of their rulers.
Well, Saddam is now gone. And with him has disappeared any conceivable risk to those intelligence sources (assuming they ever existed). So just what was this information on the basis of which Washington and its faithful ally launched an unprovoked invasion of a ramshackle third-world country? A country with a very nasty regime to be sure but not a great deal nastier than some other potential candidates for "liberation" in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Having rushed into war to suit its own military and domestic electoral timetable, the Bush administration now has the nerve to claim that a year may be required to establish the whereabouts of the WMD -- and that it may never do so unless led to them by cooperative Iraqis. But no longer can London and Washington rely simply on the impossibility for the former Iraqi regime to prove a negative, that the weapons do not exist. It is up to the coalition of two to provide proof positive that they do.
This pointless war cannot be unmade. But we urgently need to know that the invasion was not illegal as well. With Britain and the U.S. in full control of Iraq, a month should suffice. If no "smoking gun" has turned up by then, a full parliamentary inquiry is essential -- into the competence and accountability of the intelligence services and into how our government used them to sell a mistaken and reckless policy.