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Last Updated: Friday, 22 August, 2003, 06:13 GMT 07:13 UK
Australia 'twisted Iraq intelligence'

Intelligence expert Andrew Wilkie speaking to the committee on 22 August
Intelligence expert Andrew Wilkie addessed the inquiry on Friday

A former senior Australian intelligence analyst has accused Canberra of exaggerating the case for going to war in Iraq, on the first day of an official inquiry.

The Australian parliamentary inquiry is examining the intelligence used by Prime Minister John Howard to justify sending more than 2,000 Australian troops to Iraq.

As in Britain and the United States, there has been public concern in Australia over whether intelligence information, especially that relating to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), was manipulated.

Andrew Wilkie, who resigned in March in protest at the war in Iraq, told the inquiry that the government had distorted intelligence information to suit its political purposes.

"Sometimes the exaggeration was so great, it was clear dishonesty," he told the inquiry.

"The government lied every time. It skewed, misrepresented, used selectively and fabricated the Iraq story," he said.

Howard 'unfazed'

In a speech to parliament before the invasion of Iraq, Mr Howard said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was prepared to sell them to "terrorists".

Mr Howard on Friday insisted his reasons for going to war were genuine and based on "bona fide" information available at the time.

Australia was the third military force in the Gulf. It was the country's biggest combat deployment since the Vietnam war.

Andrew Wilkie speaking to the committee on 22 August
Key intelligence qualifiers like 'probably', 'could', 'uncorroborated evidence suggests', were frequently dropped
Andrew Wilkie

The BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney says Mr Howard is relatively unfazed by the inquiry.

Despite a poll in July which suggested that 36% of Australians believe the government knowingly misled them on Iraq, he has very strong public backing and unanimous support from his conservative coalition.

The committee also heard evidence from Richard Butler, the former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq.

Mr Butler said he was "shaken" by the failure to find WMDs, but added that he was confident they would be found.

"Whether it will reveal the substantial quantity that's being talked of I don't know," he said.

Mr Butler said the US should be "putting us out of our misery" by revealing what former high-ranking Iraqi officials, such as former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, had told them under interrogation.

"What arrangement has been made with Tariq Aziz? He knew everything," he said.

Secret hearings

The committee, which was set up by the Australian Senate, will hear four days of submissions over the next two months and is due to report by 2 December.

Critics say they fear a whitewash, especially as evidence from the security services will not be given in public.

In a BBC interview, the committee chairman, David Jull, defended the secret hearings, saying some material could benefit the country's enemies.

"There is going to have to be a sense of trust with this," he told the BBC's World Today programme.

He said that although the government had a majority on the committee, all its members were independently minded.

The BBC's Juliet Dunlop
"The former intelligence officer didn't spare any punches"

Neil James, Australia Defence Association
"John Howard doesn't have Tony Blairs reputation for spin"

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