- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

LONDON — A parliamentary committee reported yesterday that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government mishandled intelligence material on Iraqi weapons, but said it found no evidence Mr. Blair or his ministers lied to lawmakers.

The committee also cleared Mr. Blair’s communications chief of accusations he edited an intelligence dossier against the wishes of intelligence agencies to include unreliable information.

The accusations, arising from a British Broadcasting Corp. report, have soured relations between the broadcaster and the government, which yesterday repeated its demand for an apology.

The sharply critical parliamentary report heaped further pressure on the government to find tangible evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. It said without such proof, the accuracy of British intelligence dossiers would remain in doubt.



“It is too soon to tell whether the government’s assertions on Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons will be borne out,” said the report.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw defended the intelligence material and said the government had been right to go to war.

“Of course I understand that the public would like to see further evidence of the possession of chemical and biological weapons capability and plans to build nuclear capability,” Mr. Straw told reporters. “But the evidence available … at the time we took the decision to go to war was overwhelming.”

The government has been accused of exaggerating the threat posed by Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein to convince skeptical lawmakers of the need for military action, especially in two government intelligence dossiers published in September and January.

The September dossier has been in the spotlight since the BBC reported in May that an anonymous intelligence source said Mr. Blair’s office rewrote the file to include a claim that Saddam could launch chemical and biological weapons at 45 minutes’ notice.

Opposition lawmakers have also lambasted the January document since the government acknowledged it included material copied from a graduate thesis posted on the Internet.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said yesterday there was no evidence of “politically inspired meddling” in the drafting of the September dossier and cleared Mr. Blair’s communications chief, Alastair Campbell, of inserting the 45-minute claim.

However, the committee urged the government to explain why it gave the claim such prominence, given that the source was uncorroborated, and to say whether they still believe the claim is accurate.

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