Before and after US President George W. Bush claimed in January that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa, US intelligence officials expressed doubts about the British intelligence report that Bush cited to back up his allegation, senior US officials said.
Those doubts were relayed to British officials before they made them public and across several agencies of the federal government before Bush gave his State of the Union speech, the officials said.
Television networks CBS, ABC and CNN reported Thursday that CIA officials who saw a draft of Bush's speech even questioned whether his statement was too strong given the quality of the British intelligence. But the remark was left in, provided it was attributed to the British.
The reports surfaced as Democrats kept up a drumbeat of criticism of the Bush administration's justifications for going to war. Much of the criticism has focused on Bush's contention that Saddam Hussein's government had chemical and biological weapons and was working to build more of them and develop nuclear bombs. No such weapons have been found in Iraq.
Critics also have attacked the administration's characterizations of the current outlook in Iraq, where the war's former commander, General Tommy Franks, told a House panel Thursday that US troops may have to remain in Iraq for four years.
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts was among several Democratic presidential candidates to assail Bush's postwar performance.
"We now know that the administration went to war without a thorough plan to win the peace," Kerry said. "It is time to face that truth and change course, to share the postwar burden internationally for the sake of our country."
The Senate on Thursday, in a 97-0 vote, called on Bush to work harder to get other countries to share the military burden in Iraq.
Bush, on an African tour, conceded there was a security problem in Iraq and said US forces would have to "remain tough" in the face of attacks that Franks said were coming at the rate of 10 to 25 a day.
Officials declined to discuss the nature of discussions between the White House and CIA just before Bush's State of the Union speech, but noted the CIA's own assessment before the Iraq war about Saddam's efforts to make weapons of mass destruction did not give strong credence to the British report.
US officials have said the doubts about the uranium allegations date back to early last year, when a retired diplomat asked by the CIA to investigate the reports went to Niger and spoke with officials who denied having any uranium dealings with Iraq.
Though the US officials expressed their doubts to the British, the British included their information in a public statement on Sept. 24 last year, citing intelligence sources, that said Iraq "sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
US officials noted that a speech Secretary of State Colin Powell gave just a week after the president's address also did not repeat the African uranium allegations.
"When we looked at it more thoroughly and I think a week or two later when I made my presentation to the UN, and we really went through every single thing we knew about all of the various issues with respect to weapons of mass destruction, we did not believe that it was appropriate to use that example anymore," Powell explained Thursday in Pretoria, South Africa, where he was touring with Bush. "It was not standing the test of time."