Wednesday 20 August 2003

Blair's own office knew Iraq posed no urgent threat


Prime Minister Tony Blair's case for war against Iraq suffered what may prove to have been a mortal blow yesterday when documents from his own office showed Saddam Hussein's weapons program was not an "imminent threat".

Mr Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, warned on September 17 last year that a dossier being prepared about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction did not show he was an imminent threat either to the West or his Arab neighbours.

However, documents released to the Hutton inquiry into the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly showed that Mr Blair's communication chief, Alastair Campbell, had responded to this by saying the intelligence dossier needed a "substantial rewrite".

When Mr Blair presented the dossier on September 24, he described the Iraqi weapons program as "active, detailed and growing" and said the threat was "serious and current".

Mr Blair also included the now controversial claim that the weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes.

The inquiry already has been told that the original wording was that Saddam "may be able to" deploy them. It also has heard the 45-minute claim was not in the first draft at all.

The British Government already has insisted that it never used the word "imminent" to describe the Iraqi threat but critics said "serious and current" amounted to the same thing.

An indication of how the issue is hitting the Government came in a new opinion poll in which 50 per cent of Britons canvassed now believed the case for war was deliberately embellished.

Only 6 per cent said they trusted the Government to tell the truth ahead of its foe in this affair, the BBC.

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