Blair aide: Murdoch pressed UK chief over Iraq war

June 15, 2012 - 4:17 PM

LONDON (AP) — Tony Blair's ex-communications director claimed Friday that media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's warned the British leader over the dangers of delaying the 2003 U.S.-led invasion as he made efforts to press the U.K. to support the conflict.

In the latest volume of his diaries, excerpts of which were published by The Guardian newspaper, Alastair Campbell said Blair found Murdoch's protests clumsy and that they both suspected he had been urged to intervene by the White House.

Giving evidence to Britain's media ethics inquiry last month, Blair acknowledged that he and Murdoch had spoken by phone three times in the immediate run up to the war, and that he had explained Britain's likely course of action.

Campbell's diary recounts that in a call a week before a key House of Commons vote on joining the U.S. invasion, when Blair secured a majority and won over many skeptical legislators, Murdoch pressed the British chief over the possible problems that could be caused by any delay in the start of conflict.

Blair "felt the Murdoch call was odd, not very clever," wrote Campbell, who has previously published three volumes of diaries culled from his 1994-2003 tenure as the leader's media chief and close aide. Blair held power from 1997 to 2007.

In an entry on March 11, 2003 — eight days before the invasion of Iraq began — Campbell wrote that Murdoch had telephoned Blair and urged him to speed up Britain's decision on joining a conflict being promoted by President George W. Bush and his Republican administration.

Campbell said that Murdoch had pledged that News International — the division which runs his British newspapers — would support Britain if it backed the United States on the issue.

Blair "took a call from Murdoch who was pressing on timings, saying how News International would support us," Campbell wrote. He said that both he and Blair "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," he wrote.

In his own evidence to Britain's media inquiry in April, Murdoch insisted he had never made demands on any British leader. "I've never asked a prime minister for anything," the tycoon said.