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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 July, 2003, 06:43 GMT 07:43 UK
Howard apologises over Iraq claim
By Dominic Hughes
BBC correspondent in Sydney

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has apologised for using false intelligence reports to justify sending troops to Iraq as part of the US-led coalition.

Mr Howard cited the now discredited claims that Iraq tried to buy uranium from the African country of Niger when he was making the case for sending troops to Iraq during an address to Parliament.

John Howard
Howard committed 2,000 troops to the US-led war effort
In fact, the Office of National Assessments - which directly advises Mr Howard on intelligence matters - knew the information was doubtful, but failed to tell the prime minister.

Other spy agencies also failed to pass on warnings.

Mr Howard apologised for misleading parliament, but he says it was not deliberate and, even if he had known, he says his decision to send Australian troops to Iraq would not have been affected.

The main opposition Labour Party says Mr Howard has been loose with the truth when it comes to issues of national security, but the reality is that the prime minister is under nothing like the sort of pressure facing his British counterpart, Tony Blair.

There is no sign of dissent in the governing Liberal and National Party coalition, and Mr Howard has not faced any cabinet resignations.

The Labour Party is relatively weak and Mr Howard has a commanding lead in opinion polls.

But it is embarrassing at best that the prime minister was never told that the claims about African uranium were suspect - even though Australian intelligence organisations had known this for several months.

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