THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Iraq arms claim not in British dossier

Email|Print| Text size + By David Stringer
Associated Press / February 19, 2008

LONDON - An early version of a British dossier of prewar intelligence on Iraq did not include a key claim about weapons of mass destruction that became vital to Tony Blair's case for war, the newly published document showed yesterday.

The 2002 document insisted Saddam Hussein's regime had acquired uranium and had equipment necessary for chemical weapons, but does not contain a claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes - an allegation crucial to Blair's push to back the 2003 US-led invasion. The allegation was eventually discredited.

Campaigners allege that the 45-minute claim was inserted into later drafts of the document on the orders of Blair's press advisers, who were seeking to strengthen the case for invasion - an assertion the government has strongly denied.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who published the document yesterday following a request filed under Freedom of Information laws, said the early draft - produced by then-Foreign Office press office chief John Williams - was not used as the basis for later documents, drafted by the Joint Intelligence Committee, or JIC.

Blair presented a final draft of the JIC dossier, called "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction," to parliament on Sep. 24, 2002 - a document that included the 45-minute claim.

Yesterday opposition Liberal Democrat lawmaker Edward Davey said he believed the Williams document is proof of the role government press officers had in drafting Iraq intelligence reports.

"A press official should never have been drafting a document that ended up being used as the justification for going to war," Davey said. "There has to be a clear distinction between those that offer impartial intelligence advice and the government's spin machine."

A second document, published in February 2003 - which became known as the "dodgy dossier" - was found to have repeated verbatim parts of an academic study on Iraq's supposed concealment of weapons of mass destruction.

Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector, said last year he believed Blair had replaced "question marks with exclamation marks" in intelligence dossiers to justify the decision to invade Iraq.

Lord Butler's 2004 official inquiry into intelligence on Iraq did not fault Blair's government, but criticized intelligence officials for relying in part on seriously flawed or unreliable sources.

Butler said the dossiers had pushed the government's case to the limits of available intelligence and left out vital caveats.

Government weapons scientist David Kelly killed himself in 2003 after he was exposed as the source of a British Broadcasting Corp. report that accused Blair's Downing Street office of "sexing up" intelligence to make a stronger case for war.

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