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Last Updated: Friday, 4 November 2005, 12:18 GMT
Italy spy chief denies Iraq claim
Nicolo Pollari in March 2005
Nicolo Pollari testified to Italian MPs in a closed-doors briefing
Italy's chief of military intelligence (Sismi) has denied any role in passing bogus documents to the US claiming Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger.

Sismi chief Nicolo Pollari was briefing a parliamentary committee investigating the forged Niger dossier claim.

The claim was used by US President George Bush to help justify the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. It is now at the centre of a CIA leak investigation.

Sismi "had no role in the fabrication of the dossier," Mr Pollari said.

He was quoted as saying the dossier had been passed to the US "via a journalist for the Panorama weekly, who left it at the US embassy in Rome, and it was delivered to the French intelligence services by Rocco Martino".

Mr Pollari said Mr Martino had earlier been dismissed from Sismi.

Spy agency 'confused'

The special session of the parliamentary intelligence committee was called after the Italian daily La Repubblica alleged that Sismi had circulated the dossier, knowing it to be fake.

Bush delivers his State of the Union address in January 2003
President Bush cited the Niger-Iraq allegations in an address in 2003
But Mr Pollari insisted that "from the start we shared the confusion of other intelligence agencies about the dossier, until we declared it was not credible".

Mr Bush used the claim that Iraq's Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium in Niger in his address on 28 January 2003, ahead of the Iraq invasion.

In the weeks after the president's address, the US moved away from the allegations.

A separate British intelligence report later also accused Iraq of seeking to buy uranium ore from Niger.

A member of the Italian investigating committee, Senator Massimo Brutti, denied his earlier statement that the committee was told Sismi had warned the US that the dossier was fake.

Mr Brutti said he had made his earlier statement in confusion, when facing a barrage of questions by reporters.

'No recollection'

After Mr Bush's January 2003 address, US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley - then a deputy national security adviser - took responsibility for the mistaken inclusion of the Niger uranium claim and offered to resign.

Lewis "Scooter" Libby
Lewis Libby's indictment is a huge blow to the Bush administration

US officials confirmed on Wednesday that Mr Hadley did meet Mr Pollari in September 2002.

But Mr Hadley said nobody involved in the meeting "has any recollection of a discussion of natural uranium, or any recollection of any documents being passed".

Mr Hadley said the documents containing the uranium claims had emerged via the US State Department and then the CIA, but had not directly come to the National Security Council (NSC).

The UK government also used the Niger claim in making the case for the war. It said it had received the information independently from an unnamed intelligence source.

An Italian journalist, Elisabetta Burba, has previously said she received a copy of the dossier in 2002 from a man she knew as a security consultant and passed it to the US embassy in Rome for verification.

Prior to Mr Bush's address, the CIA had sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to investigate the Iraq-Niger link and he reported that no such attempt to buy uranium - which can be used to make nuclear weapons - was likely to have taken place.

An inquiry into his mission and the leaking of a CIA agent's name led to the indictment and resignation last week of Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby.

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