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Blair accused over Iraq WMD threat

Blair has declined to appear before the committee of British MPs.

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CNN's Jim Boulden reports that a former senior British minister accuses Blair of using intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction to justify a predetermined policy. (June 17)
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LONDON, England -- A former senior British minister has accused the government of using intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction to justify a predetermined policy.

Speaking to a parliamentary inquiry on whether Tony Blair's government misled the public about the evidence it had on illegal weapons held by Saddam Hussein, former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said there was no "full consideration of evidence."

The multi-party House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee is investigating claims that reports saying that former Iraqi leader Saddam's regime was in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) were overstated.

It is examining, in particular, the government's statement before the war that Iraq was capable of launching such weapons within 45 minutes -- a claim widely disputed among MPs and those outside the Blair government.

Cook said on Tuesday he did not doubt the British prime minister's good faith, but added that intelligence released by officials did not present the whole picture. "We used intelligence to justify a policy on which we'd already settled," he said.

He also told the committee that a dossier released in September was "highly suggestible" and did not contain any evidence that Saddam had the capacity for WMD.

CNN's Jim Boulden said Cook, who resigned his Cabinet job before the war, was in effect saying "there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and I told you so."

The threat posed by Iraq's illegal weapons was the main reason given by the British government for going to war, but inspectors have found no hard evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear arms.

Blair has resisted calls for a full public inquiry into WMD and has refused to appear in front of the more limited parliamentary inquiry, some of which will take place behind closed doors.

The U.S. Congress is to begin hearings into the intelligence case for war this week, but Republicans have rejected calls for a more formal inquiry.

Cook, a former foreign secretary, quit as Leader of the Commons before the war.
Cook, a former foreign secretary, quit as Leader of the Commons before the war.

Former International Development Secretary Clare Short, who also resigned from the Cabinet after the war, also told the inquiry on Tuesday that Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush decided to go to war last summer -- and that it had to be in the spring. Short said this was the reason why U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix was not allowed any more time to search for evidence in Iraq.

Cook walked out of his job as Leader of the House of Commons before the conflict began, while Short resigned later after a period of soul-searching about whether to stay on in the post.

Both were called to give evidence of the first day of the committee hearing, which will also hear from a number of other witnesses.

After the war was declared over, Blair faced pressure from media critics and his own backbenchers over his repeated assertions that Saddam's regime had weapons of mass destruction.

Another inquiry by the UK parliament's Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee is also looking at the weapons issue.

Last week that committee criticized the Blair government for publishing another dossier on Iraq's weapons program in February 2003 without first clearing its contents with Britain's intelligence services. Blair has also denied accusations that the intelligence information was "sexed up" to make war seem more justifiable.

The intelligence and security committee said the document -- "Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation" -- had not been endorsed by intelligence chiefs before it was published.

The dossier, which set out evidence about Saddam's alleged chemical and biological weapons programs, caused embarrassment for the government after it was revealed it included material copied from an American student's thesis that was posted on the Internet.

Cook said on Tuesday the revelation meant the dossier was a "spectacular own goal."

"I do not see there is anything wrong with a representation of an academic study of Saddam Hussein but it should have been labelled as that -- an academic study."

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