British Parliament committee criticizes Blair’s cabinet over WMD dossier in run-up to Iraqi war
The all-party British foreign affairs committee Monday said a claim that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes should not have been given such prominence.
However, in a 54-page report on how the British government made the case for war against Iraq, the parliament members - in a split decision - say Tony Blair's press chief and key aide Alastair Campbell did not "sex up" a dossier on Iraqi weapons.
In another finding upon which the committee members were divided, the report says ministers did not mislead parliament over Iraq's weapons.
However, the MPs also argued that Prime Minister Blair "misrepresented" the status of the second so-called "dodgy dossier" in parliament and "thus inadvertently made a bad situation worse".
According to the committee, ministers "hampered" their work by refusing to allow them access to intelligence papers and security services personnel.
In addition, they say "the jury is still out on the accuracy" of the first dossier on Iraq, published last September.
The MPs examined a BBC report in which an unnamed British official alleged that Blair’s director of communications Alastair Campbell had "sexed up" the dossier published last September.
The source suggested that a claim that Baghdad had biological and chemical weapons that could be deployed in 45 minutes had been included in the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services.
But the report says Campbell "did not play any role in the inclusion of the 45 minutes claim in the September dossier."
However, the MPs were split over that finding, with one, Richard Ottaway, saying, "On the key amendment to leave open the question of Alastair Campbell's involvement in the publication of the 45 minute claim the committee divided 5-5 and was only defeated on the chairman's casting vote.
"While I fully support most of the report's contents I could not agree with the finding that Alastair Campbell played no role in the inclusion of the 45 minute claim.
"This is simply not proven and therefore far too categorical a conclusion to reach."
The committee, according to the BBC, argued that the 45 minutes claim "did not warrant the prominence given to it in the dossier, because it was based on intelligence from a single, uncorroborated source".
Furthermore, they called on the government to explain why it was "given such prominence" - and say it was wrong for Campbell to have chaired meetings on intelligence issues.
The report said, "We conclude that the claims made in the September dossier were in all probability well founded on the basis of the intelligence then available....although we have concerns about the emphasis given to some of them."
Moreover, the report calls for an investigation into the "alleged contacts" of BBC correspondent Andrew Gilligan, whose report provoked the row between the UK government and the public broadcaster.
But the MPs say some of the language in the dossier was "too assertive", and they claim it is "too soon to tell" whether the government's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction will prove correct.
They continue by saying, "However, we have no doubt that the threat posed to United Kingdom forces was genuinely perceived as a real and present danger and that the steps taken to protect them were justified by the information available at the time."
In the meantime, the BBC’s board of governors have defended the corporation's news team in the row with the government over claims Downing Street had "sexed up" last September's dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
"The Board is satisfied that it was in the public interest to broadcast (Andrew) Gilligan's story, given the information which was available to BBC News at the time," the 12-member Board of Governors said in a statement.
BBC radio reported in May that a September dossier on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction had been "sexed up" despite reservations among intelligence heads. (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)