British Iraq Dossier Surfaces, Without Crucial Weapons Claim
NY Times
Published: February 19, 2008

LONDON (AP) — An early version of a British dossier of prewar intelligence on Iraq did not include a claim about unconventional weapons that became crucial to Prime Minister Tony Blair's case for war, the newly published document showed Monday.

The document, from 2002, says Saddam Hussein's government acquired uranium and had equipment necessary for chemical weapons, but it does not include a claim that Iraq could launch chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to use them. That statement, later discredited, became central to Mr. Blair's case for supporting the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Critics of his policy contend that the 45-minute claim was inserted into later drafts of the document on the orders of Mr. Blair's press advisers, who were seeking to strengthen the case for invasion — an accusation the government has strongly denied.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who published the intelligence document on Monday after a request filed under freedom of information laws, said the early draft — produced by John Williams, then the chief of the Foreign Office press office — was not used as the basis for later documents, drafted by the Joint Intelligence Committee.

Mr. Miliband criticized the decision by freedom of information authorities to order the release of the Williams document, saying officials should be free to draft policy papers without fears they could be made public.

Mr. Blair presented a final draft of the Joint Intelligence Committee dossier, "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction," to Parliament on Sept. 24, 2002. It included the 45-minute claim.

On Monday, Edward Davey, an opposition Liberal Democrat lawmaker, said the Williams document was 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," he said. "There has to be a clear distinction between those that offer impartial intelligence advice and the government's spin machine."

A second document, on Iraq's supposed concealment of unconventional weapons, which was published in February 2003 and became known as the "dodgy dossier," was found to have repeated, sometimes verbatim, parts of articles from magazines and academic journals.

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

An inquiry in 2004 into intelligence on Iraq did not fault Mr. Blair's government, but criticized intelligence officials for relying partly on seriously flawed or unreliable sources. The inquiry said the dossiers had pushed the government's case to the limits of available intelligence and left out major caveats.

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

Writing in The Guardian, Mr. Williams acknowledged Monday that many in the government had failed to spot problems with Mr. Blair's case for joining the invasion of Iraq.

"Others were more perceptive, including one of the ministers I advised for a time," Mr. Williams wrote, referring to Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. Mr. Cook, who died in 2005, resigned from Blair's cabinet in opposition to the war.

"He was right," Mr. Williams wrote. "Those of us who carried on working for the government were wrong."

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