Blair returns to new weapons row
LONDON, England -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair returned home Tuesday to renewed calls for an independent inquiry into claims his government exaggerated the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
But an official spokesman for Blair -- fresh from the G-8 summit in Evian, France -- said a parliamentary committee was already looking into whether intelligence material was toughened up to justify war against Saddam Hussein's regime.
"Given its remit, I would not be surprised if the ISC [Intelligence and Security Committee] did not already have this matter in hand," the UK's Press Association quoted the spokesman as saying.
"We do not see the need for an independent inquiry of the nature that people are demanding."
On Monday in Evian, Blair told a news conference that he stood "absolutely 100 percent" behind intelligence information on Iraqi weapons published before the war in Iraq. (Full story)
He called accusations that the information had been doctored "completely absurd" and urged the public to be patient as the search for weapons continued.
"I think it would be useful if we waited until we actually got the full evidence before us," he said. "In the meantime, it's important that people don't make a judgment until they actually get what the experts uncover."
In the United States, an U.S. intelligence official said Monday the CIA would provide Congress with the weapons intelligence that formed the basis of Secretary of State Colin Powell's pre-war presentation to the United Nations. (Full story)
But in the UK, an investigation by the ISC -- which reports directly to the prime minister and not the House of Commons like other committees -- is unlikely to satisfy those calling for an independent inquiry.
"In trying to make the case for war, Tony Blair stretched his credibility to the limit and has potentially done serious harm to his own standing and public trust in government,'' Charles Kennedy, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, told Reuters.
"We must now have an independent inquiry by a special Select Committee of the House of Commons to investigate the alleged politicization of intelligence.''
Blair is also facing pressure from members of his own Labour Party.
Former foreign secretary Robin Cook -- one of two cabinet members to resign over the war -- said Tuesday said it was unacceptable for the government to try to "cover up" mistakes.
In addition, 50 Labour MPs have signed a motion calling on Blair to publish in full his evidence against Saddam.
Blair is expected to come under more pressure Wednesday during the regular question time in the House of Commons.
Despite the ongoing controversy, some observers believe Blair will survive this latest crisis -- even though his credibility could to diminished.
"I think he'll stay but I wonder if his reputation for both trustworthiness and sagacity can really survive this?'' Anthony King, professor of politics at Essex University, told Reuters.