Tony Blair had a “wobble” on the eve of ordering a bombing raid on Saddam Hussein after a late-night session reading the Bible, former communications chief Alastair Campbell has said in an extract from his diaries.
Mr Campbell – who insisted during Mr Blair’s time in power that “we don’t do God” – made clear that the former prime minister’s religious beliefs played a part in his decision-making.
The insight into Mr Blair’s thinking comes a week ahead of his second appearance before the Chilcot Inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
According to Mr Campbell, the jitters came hours before an Anglo-American bombing mission against Iraq in 1998, in retaliation for Saddam’s failure to co-operate with United Nations weapons inspectors.
“TB was clearly having a bit of a wobble,” Mr Campbell wrote in an extract from the latest volume of his diaries, entitled Power and the People, serialised in The Guardian. “He said he had been reading the Bible last night, as he often did when the really big decisions were on, and he had read something about John the Baptist and Herod which had caused him to rethink, albeit not change his mind.”
Mr Campbell also reveals that, ahead of the 1998 operation, Mr Blair gave Saudi Arabia an undertaking that Britain “would not threaten the territorial integrity of Iraq”.
The diaries also contain details about the international action to remove Serb forces from Kosovo, revealing how senior figures in the US and UK feared the West was losing the propaganda war with Slobodan Milosevic, and how Mr Blair tried to get his predecessor Margaret Thatcher onside in the fight to win support for the military operation.
As the press questioned the handling of Kosovo, Mr Campbell records that “we agreed to try to get Thatcher and (her former foreign policy adviser) Charles Powell out saying the right hate the left fighting wars but they should be supporting what we are doing”.
Mr Blair spoke to Lady Thatcher, who said she was “appalled” that ambassadors from Nato countries were discussing bombing targets.
When Mr Campbell went to Brussels to help Nato sharpen up its communications effort, he was alarmed to hear the alliance’s supreme commander, US General Wesley Clark, say that the mission was “on the brink of a disaster”.