- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair’s powerful communications chief Alastair Campbell, a central figure in the controversy over whether Britain exaggerated the Iraqi weapon threat to justify war, announced yesterday that he will resign.

In a statement issued by Mr. Blair’s office, Mr. Campbell said he intended to step down in “a few weeks” for family reasons. Mr. Blair’s office named David Hill, a public relations expert and former Labor Party press officer, as his successor.

Mr. Campbell said his girlfriend, Fiona Millar, a media adviser to Mr. Blair’s wife, Cherie, would resign at the same time to return to a career in journalism. The couple have three children.

A former tabloid journalist who has worked for Mr. Blair since 1994, Mr. Campbell is often referred to as “the real deputy prime minister” and depicted as a shadowy and Machiavellian power behind the government.

In a statement, Mr. Blair said: “The picture of Alastair Campbell painted by parts of the media has always been a caricature.”

He praised Mr. Campbell as “an immensely able, fearless, loyal servant of the cause he believes in who was dedicated not only to that cause but to his country.”

Mr. Campbell was at the center of media charges that Mr. Blair’s office exaggerated the threat posed by Iraqi weapons in an intelligence dossier used to win support for military action against Iraq.

He has denied the charges, and intelligence chiefs have backed up his version of events.

But his decision to step down is likely to be seen as an admission that somebody in government must accept blame for what has become the biggest crisis in Mr. Blair’s six years in power. The dispute over Iraq and the death of a key government scientist caught up in the crisis has damaged public trust in Blair and the government.

In an interview after his announcement, Mr. Campbell said the decision had nothing to do with the controversy.

“I wanted to go a year ago and the prime minister asked me to stay on because the Iraq issue was developing in a particularly alarming way and we agreed back in April that I would definitely go this summer,” he said.

Mr. Campbell appeared last week before a judicial inquiry into the death of government weapons adviser David Kelly, who apparently committed suicide after being identified as the source of a British Broadcasting Corp. report on the government’s Iraq policy.


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