Sat, Jul 05, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Documents support idea Blair `sexed up' evidence

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The British government's controversial dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction contains significantly more alarming language than the intelligence assessments on which they were based, documents passed to the House of Commons foreign affairs committee show.

In particular, they reveal that British Prime Minister Tony Blair used much stronger language to describe how Iraq could use chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so -- the issue at the heart of the dispute between Alastair Campbell, the prime minister's communications chief, and the BBC.

The claim is made four times in the dossier published by the UK government last September in its attempt to convince members of parliament (MPs) and the British public of the case for war.

Three times in the body of the report reference is made to to how these weapons were deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them.

In his foreword to the report, Blair goes further, stating that under former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's military plans some weapons of mass destruction would be "ready within 45 minutes".

But documents given to MPs by the UK Foreign Office show that the raw intelligence on which the dossier was based was worded more tentatively than the body of the dossier, let alone Blair's foreword.

The documents state that according to the original assessment by the UK's joint intelligence committee (JIC), some chemical and biological weapons "could be delivered to units" within 45 minutes of an order being issued.

The Foreign Office plays down the significance of this much vaguer form of words, equating them with the term "deployed" used in the dossier.

However, there is no explanation of how the banned weapons could be delivered to Iraqi military units, in what form they would be delivered, what the chemical and biological agents consisted of and, crucially, how long it would then take to get them primed to fire.

The documents were handed to the foreign affairs committee by the Foreign Office on behalf of the joint intelligence committee. They are answers to questions posed by Tom Inch, of the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry, one of the select committee's expert witnesses.

Ministers and Campbell furiously deny the BBC story broadcast by Andrew Gilligan, one its defence correspondents, that the 45-minute claim was included in the dossier at the behest of the prime minister's office in Downing Street to "sex up" the dossier.

The documents reveal other examples making it clear that intelligence about Iraq's banned weapons was much less certain than the dossier suggests.

The dossier refers to stocks enabling Iraq to produce large quantities of mustard gas within weeks and of nerve agent within months.

The Foreign Office has now told the committee that "this was an assessment not based on specific intelligence." It adds, "We did not know where production would take place."

Inch asked, "If it is known that Iraq continued to produce nerve agent then it should be known where that was when the intelligence was obtained."

The Foreign Office responds, "The intelligence did not identify specific sites" where chemical agent production took place.

The dossier refers to Iraqi sites previously linked to chemical warfare including the chlorine and phenol plant at Fallujah 2.

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