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Iraq WMD claims 'seriously flawed'

Spy chief should keep job, says report


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The official findings on the quality of Britain's pre-war intelligence are out. Robin Oakley has details.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- An official inquiry into the quality of British intelligence used to justify the Iraq war has found that some of the sources were "seriously flawed."

However, former senior civil servant Lord Butler said there was no evidence of deliberate distortion or culpable negligence by the spy services.

Shortly after Butler's report into intelligence on Iraq was published on Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair told MPs: "No one made up the intelligence."

But Blair admitted that evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program was "less certain" than was stated before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Butler's report dismissed calls for the resignation of John Scarlett, who, as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee drew up a key government dossier on the threat posed by Iraqi WMDs.

"We have a high regard for his abilities and his record," he said. Butler told a news conference on Wednesday that failures were "collective" and Scarlett should not bear sole responsibility.

The report's findings echoed last week's Senate committee report that criticized U.S. intelligence services for exaggerating the threat from Iraq. But it found no sign President George W. Bush had put pressure on them. (Full story)

However, CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley said Butler's criticisms were less severe than those in the Senate report.

As a result the report contained no "silver bullet" which the opposition could use to bring down Blair, Oakley added.

Butler was commissioned by Blair in February to investigate the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, following the failure to find any such arms.

His inquiry said when ministers started to consider military action against Iraq in March 2002, the intelligence was "insufficiently robust" to justify claims that Iraq was in breach of U.N. resolutions requiring it to disarm.

But Butler said the dossier published on September of that year on the threat posed by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein pushed the government's case to the limits of available intelligence.

And Opposition Conservative Party leader Michael Howard noted that the report said the intelligence services' assessment included "serious caveats, qualifications and cautions," but they were not included in Blair's pronouncements.

Howard said "qualified judgments" became Blair's "unqualified certainties" and the prime minister must give an explanation.

Butler said the dossier should not have included its controversial claim that Saddam could deploy WMD within 45 minutes.

And it said a statement by Blair to MPs possibly "reinforced the impression" that there was "fuller and firmer" intelligence behind the assessments in the dossier than was actually the case.

Three British inquiries have already been held on events surrounding the Iraq war -- two by parliamentary investigators, one by the judge Lord Hutton into the death of weapons scientist David Kelly.

Butler: No undue pressure

Blair and his government have so far been cleared of "sexing up" intelligence but observers say the controversy caused their popularity to plummet and deeply damaged the prime minister's credibility.

The two main UK opposition parties did not support the inquiry, arguing it would examine only "structures, systems and processes," and not the political decision to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

However, Lord Butler dashed hopes by political opponents that he would endorse their view that ministers put undue pressure on spy chiefs to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

Lord Butler
Lord Butler's report follows the Senate committee report highlighting failings in U.S. intelligence.

Blair later told the House of Commons that Butler found that "no one lied. No one made up the intelligence. No one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services."

"That issue of good faith should now be at an end."

"But I have to accept: as the months have passed, it seems increasingly clear that at the time of the invasion Saddam did not have stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons ready to deploy."

Blair said that although evidence of WMD was "less certain, less well founded than was stated at the time", Saddam retained "strategic intent on WMD."

CNN's Oakley said Blair was finding it difficult to move the agenda on from Iraq because of the way he had made the case for war.

"He insisted that Iraq had military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons which could be activated within 45 minutes ... someone blundered."

Gary Samore, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told CNN: "In the case of Iraq the quality of intelligence and the analysis of that intelligence was abysmally bad."

"The most difficult thing for leaders of the intelligence community is to tell the political leadership that they're really not sure, that they really don't have good information and therefore they're in the realm of guesswork," Samore said.

The Stop the War campaign group was more blunt: "However many reports Tony Blair and his government commission on the Iraq war, one indisputable fact remains -- Tony lied and thousands died," it told Reuters.


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