- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2003

LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair, under fire from lawmakers over failure to locate any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, said yesterday that he will cooperate with a parliamentary probe into his handling of intelligence reports.

Mr. Blair, who made his case for war by citing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as the prime motivator, rejected contentions that his government had exaggerated the threat or had misused intelligence material. Opposition politicians called for an independent inquiry.

“The truth is nobody believes a word now that the prime minister is saying,” shouted Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, as Mr. Blair’s supporters jeered.

Questions have been raised in Britain as well as in the United States about why coalition forces have not found any evidence that Saddam Hussein had chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in stock and ready to use.

Any proof that Mr. Blair or his government had lied to Parliament about the weapons threat from Iraq could prove embarrassing for the prime minister, though he enjoys broad support from his Labor Party lawmakers.

In heated exchanges in the House of Commons, Mr. Blair let his exasperation show.

“In the end, there have been many claims made about the Iraq conflict, that hundreds of thousands of people were going to die, that it was going to be my Vietnam, that the Middle East was going to be in flames and this latest one, that weapons of mass destruction were a complete invention by the British government,” Mr. Blair said.

“The truth is, some people resent the fact it was right to go to conflict. We won the conflict thanks to the magnificent contribution of the British troops, and Iraq is now free and we should be proud of that.”

In Washington, where two Senate committees were pushing for an investigation into U.S. intelligence on Iraqi weapons, a senior Pentagon official yesterday rebutted reports that he had put a political spin on sensitive information about Iraq’s links to terrorism to build a case for war.

Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, denied news reports that members of a small group of Defense Department officials were directed in 2001 to find evidence of connections among Iraq, terror network al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction.

Britain made a major contribution of military forces to the U.S.-led campaign to topple Saddam. The deployment was the country’s biggest since the Falkland Islands war in 1982, and included 26,000 ground troops, an 18-ship naval deployment, 100 fixed-wing aircraft, including fighter bombers, and 27 helicopters. Thirty-four British military personnel were killed in the conflict.

Mr. Blair announced yesterday that the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee had contacted the government early last month to conduct an inquiry into intelligence on Iraq.

That investigation is separate from the one announced late Tuesday by the influential House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. Blair described as “completely and utterly untrue” a media report that his office had redrafted an intelligence service report to emphasize a contention that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. He also rejected reports that the assertion was based on information from a sole Iraqi defector, saying the details came from an “established and reliable source.”

Robin Cook, who resigned from the Cabinet to protest the war, challenged Mr. Blair to admit that the government had been wrong on the 45-minute contention and in asserting that Iraq had sought uranium in Africa for a weapons program.

Mr. Blair said intelligence had supported both contentions at the time but that the assertion about Africa might prove to be wrong.

The latest furor about Iraqi weapons was fueled by a report on British Broadcasting Corp. Radio quoting an unidentified “senior British official” as saying that intelligence officers were unhappy about the inclusion in the dossier of evidence they regarded as unreliable.

John Reid, a senior member of the Blair Cabinet, said yesterday that “rogue” elements within the intelligence services were responsible for the BBC report.


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