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Murdoch pushed Blair on Iraq: ex-media chief

17 June, 2012

LONDON: Rupert Murdoch took part in an 'over-crude' attempt by US Republicans to push Tony Blair into action before the invasion of Iraq, the former British prime minister's ex-media chief claimed on Saturday.

Alastair Campbell said the News Corporation media baron warned Blair in a phone call of the dangers in delaying signing up to the March 19, 2003 invasion, as part of an attempt to speed up Britain joining the military campaign. The claim came in "The Burden of Power: Countdown to Iraq" - the final volumes of Campbell's diaries from his years at Blair's side, which are being serialised in The Guardian newspaper.

Campbell suggested Murdoch made moves to help the right-wing Republican Party of then US president George W. Bush before the March 18 vote in the British parliament's lower House of Commons on deploying troops to Iraq, which was passed. On March 11, 2003, Campbell wrote that Blair "took a call from Murdoch who was pressing on timings, saying how News International would support us, etc.

"Both TB and I felt it was prompted by Washington, and another example of their over-crude diplomacy. Murdoch was pushing all the Republican buttons, how the longer we waited the harder it got." The following day he added: "TB felt the Murdoch call was odd, not very clever." News International is News Corp.'s British newspaper arm, publishing The Times, The Sun and The Sunday Times. Blair faced a tough challenge getting his centre-left Labour Party lawmakers to back Britain's involvement. They rebelled in large numbers.

Speaking to The Guardian, Campbell said Murdoch's intervention came "out of the blue". "On one level (Murdoch) was trying to be supportive, saying 'I know this is a very difficult place, my papers are going to support you on this'. Fine. "But I think Tony did feel that there was something a bit crude about it. It was another very right-wing voice saying to him: 'Look, isn't it about time you got on with this?' "I think, as I recall Tony saying, he didn't think it was terribly clever."

End.

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