United kingdom | Britain Supports Post-Sept. 11 America, Enters the Iraq War
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Britain Supports Post-Sept. 11 America, Enters the Iraq War
Britain became the staunchest ally of the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks. British troops joined the U.S. in the bombing campaign against Afghanistan in Oct. 2001, after the Taliban-led government refused to turn over the prime suspect in the terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden.
Blair again proved himself to be the strongest international supporter of the U.S. in Sept. 2002, becoming President Bush's major ally in calling for a war against Iraq. Blair maintained that military action was justified because Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction that were a direct threat. He supported the Bush administration's hawkish policies despite significant opposition in his own party and the British public. In March 2003, a London Timesnewspaper poll indicated that only 19% of respondents approved of military action without a UN mandate. As the inevitability of the U.S. strike on Iraq grew nearer, Blair announced that he would join the U.S. in fighting Iraq with or without a second UN resolution. Three of his ministers resigned as a result. Britain entered the war on March 20, supplying 45,000 troops.
In the aftermath of the war, Blair came under fire from government officials for allegedly exaggerating Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. In July 2003, Blair announced that “history would forgive” the UK and U.S. “if we are wrong” and that the end to the “inhuman carnage and suffering” caused by Saddam Hussein was justification enough for the war. The arguments about the war grew so vociferous between the Blair government and the BBC that a prominent weapons scientist, David Kelly, who was caught in the middle, committed suicide. In Jan. 2004, the Hutton Report asserted that the Blair administration had not “sexed-up” the intelligence dossier, an accusation put forth by BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan. The report strongly criticized the BBC for its “defective” editorial policies, and as a consequence, the BBC's top management resigned. In July 2004, the Butler Report on pre–Iraq war British intelligence was released. It echoed the findings of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee of the week before that the intelligence had vastly exaggerated Saddam Hussein's threat. The famous claim that Iraq's chemical and biological weapons “are deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them” was especially singled out as highly misleading. But like the U.S. report, it cleared the government of any role in manipulating the intelligence.
On May 5, 2005, Blair won a historic third term as the country's prime minister. Despite this victory, Blair's party was severely hurt in the elections. The Labour Party won just 36% of the national vote, the lowest percentage by a ruling party in British history. The Conservative Party won 33%, and the Liberal Democrats 22%. Blair acknowledged that the reason for the poor showing was Britain's involvement in the war in Iraq.