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Critics slam 'no blame' WMD report

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The official findings on the quality of Britain's pre-war intelligence are out. Robin Oakley has details.
start quoteHowever sincere Blair was about going to war, that does not change the fact the British people were hoaxed and misled.end quote
-- Daily Mirror
Does the failure to find WMDs in Iraq lessen the case for toppling Saddam Hussein?
Tony Blair
Lord Butler
David Kelly

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Many British politicians and newspapers have criticized an official inquiry that said no single person was to blame for the "seriously flawed" intelligence used to justify the Iraq war.

Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed the report cleared his government of deliberately exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq and showed Britain joined the war against Saddam Hussein in good faith.

His opponents are far from convinced. They hope to capitalize on widespread public opposition to the war during elections on Thursday to fill two vacant parliamentary seats.

The long-awaited report headed by former senior civil servant Lord Butler found no evidence of deliberate distortion or culpable negligence by the spy services.

The inquiry dismissed calls for the resignation of new MI6 spy chief John Scarlett, who as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, drew up a key government dossier on the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. (Full story)

Opposition Conservative Party leader Michael Howard accused Blair of taking what spy chiefs called "sporadic and patchy" intelligence on Iraqi WMD and hardening it into fact.

"I hope we will not face in this country another war in the foreseeable future, but if we did and you identified the threat, would the country believe you?" Howard asked in the Commons.

Former foreign secretary Robin Cook, who resigned from the government in March 2003 in protest at the looming war in Iraq, was astonished that nobody was made accountable by the inquiry.

"This must be the most embarassing failure in the history of British intelligence," Cook wrote in The Independent on Thursday.

"Yet according to Butler, no one is to blame. Everybody behaved perfectly and nobody made a mistake.

"The only ministers who have left the government over the chapter of errors that led us into war in Iraq are those who could not support the war," Cook said.

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.

The Times said in its editorial on Thursday: "While Mr Blair may not have positively embellished the intelligence to make his case, he certainly deleted any doubts.

"He has yet to explain why he did so, or to apologise to the British people for having misled them by omission. He must do so now," the daily demanded.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said he doubted MPs would have backed the war if it had "known then what it knows today about the state of Saddam Hussein's weapons."

The Daily Mirror went further. In an editorial, the left-of-center tabloid said: "President Bush and his White House warriers were intent on attacking Iraq and removing Saddam. For some reason Tony Blair wanted to go along with them.

"Everything was moulded to that end. Information didn't need to be invented, simply exaggerated, taken out of context and warnings about its accuracy omitted.

"However sincere Mr. Blair was about going to war, that does not change the fact that the British people were hoaxed and misled."

But the best-selling Sun tabloid took the opposite view. "The prime minister did not lie to the nation before the war in Iraq. And the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein.

"Butler says Blair acted in good faith but, through no fault of his, the assessment he made about the immediacy of the threat presented by Saddam was based on weak intelligence reports.

"At the time, Britain was not alone in believing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The intelligence services of Russia, China, France, Germany and America believed it too."

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