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Last Updated: Friday, 24 October, 2003, 22:29 GMT 23:29 UK
CIA 'exaggerated case for war'

By Jon Leyne
BBC correspondent in Washington

A key committee of the US Congress is preparing to issue a damning criticism of the quality of intelligence on Iraq before the war.

Saddam Hussein
Coalition leaders accused Saddam of retaining weapons of mass destruction
According to the Washington Post newspaper, the Senate Intelligence Committee will focus its criticism on the CIA and its director, George Tenet.

According to the newspaper, the committee will be highly critical of intelligence it believes overstated the case against Saddam Hussein.

But the report is already being seen as an attempt by the Republicans in Congress to deflect blame from the White House.

Members of the committee were, apparently, surprised by the amount of circumstantial evidence, and the quantity of information that was disputed or had only one source.

"The executive was ill-served by the intelligence community," the chairman of the committee, Republican Senator Pat Roberts, told the Washington Post.

"I worry about the credibility of the intelligence community," he added.

'Holdover'

But Democrats are deeply unhappy with the draft report. They are trying to hear more evidence from members of the Bush administration, and want publication of the report delayed.

For the Republicans, Mr Tenet is a particularly useful target for criticism . He's one of the few so-called "holdovers" - a Clinton appointee who survived the change of president.

As that might suggest, he is a particularly astute political player, and has shown himself willing to take the blame in previous rows over the intelligence against Iraq.

It also makes him a useful scapegoat for the administration.

The Republicans would like this argument closed as soon as possible, well before the election season is into full swing.

But what is likely to happen now is some complicated procedural manoeuvring. But the Democrats have the necessary votes to retaliate by opening a new inquiry, looking more directly at the failings of the administration.

In any case, intelligence committees in Congress have traditionally acted in a more bi-partisan fashion.

Blame game

For its part, the CIA is also now defending its corner.

This is one of the few intelligence agencies to have a press office and a spokesman.

The spokesman, Bill Harlow, said the committee still hadn't fully heard the CIA's side of the case or taken up an offer from George Tenet to appear.

So as the election approaches, the blame game can only intensify.

The stakes are different from Britain, where the issue has sometimes threatened the very position of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Most Americans still support the original decision to go to war with Iraq, and were less concerned about the details of its weapons of mass destruction.

What they are more interested in now, is the continued cost of occupying Iraq.

But the case for war is still a hot political issue that refuses to go away.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jon Leyne
"They say the evidence was uncorroborated"



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