What is the connection between World Cup soccer and the possibility of war against Iraq? Very little, it might seem, but the wily Tam Dalyell, Labour MP and Father of the House of Commons, demonstrated yesterday that there might be an important link with his question to the Prime Minister about the dossier on Iraqi human rights abuse published by the Foreign Office on Monday. Was the Prime Minister aware, he asked, that the allegation in the dossier, that the players in the Iraq soccer team eliminated from the World Cup qualifying stages had been punished by severe caning on the soles of their feet had been investigated by FIFA and found to be false? Blair did not know this and unwisely brushed it on one side as of no importance – insisting that the dossier showed that Saddam ran “an appalling, brutal and barbaric regime”. It was a serious misjudgement by Blair. If the allegation about the Iraqi football players was false, how many other cases in the dossier might be questionable? There are very few people who still need convincing that Saddam is an evil brute. Why was it necessary to publish the dossier at this point? If the intention was to ratchet–up public opinion in favour of early military action this will not have been helped by doubts about the reliability of the information. Blair will not carry public opinion with him if he is careless with his facts.

MONITOR

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