No significant weapons finds have been made in Iraq
A top UK scientist has accused the government of "weasel words" in its dossiers about Saddam Hussein's weapons capability.
Dr Thomas David Inch, who used to work at the UK's biological and chemical weapons establishment at Porton Down, told MPs that he could not understand why weapons of mass destruction have not been found in Iraq.
Giving evidence to the Commons foreign affairs select committee' inquiry into the UK's decision to go to war with Iraq, Dr Inch questioned the quality of the intelligence used in a dossier that claimed Saddam Hussein could launch a strike in 45 minutes.
He said it would be very difficult to move chemical and biological weapons or to conceal their manufacture without leaving traces.
The pressure on Tony Blair over the weapons issue prompted George W Bush to insist that charges the UK government exaggerated the Iraq threat were "simply not true".
The US president took time out from discussion on American health reforms to say: "[Tony Blair] operated on very sound intelligence, and those accusations are simply not true."
Dr Inch's evidence followed the appearance of Robin Cook and Clare Short before the inquiry on Tuesday.
The Foreign Office's former political director Dame Pauline Neville-Jones also gave evidence on Wednesday saying that it was "extraordinary" weapons of mass destruction had not been found in Iraq.
Dame Pauline said that though she thought the prime minister had sincerely believed the claim that Saddam could launch a chemical or biological strike within 45 minutes, she questioned the reliability of the intelligence behind it.
"I think that it is so extraordinary not yet to have found any weapons of
mass destruction," she said.
"I do think questions have to be asked, for reasons nothing to do with the
integrity of the people involved - was the intelligence after so many years when we had not had inspectors in there somehow off beam?" she said.
Former cabinet minister Mr Cook accused Mr Blair's government of "not presenting the whole picture" in the run-up to war with Iraq.
Fellow ex-minister Clare Short also gave evidence in which she accused the prime minister of a "series of half truths, exaggerations, reassurances that weren't the case" in the run-up to war.
She said she presumed Mr Blair saw the devices he used to get the UK to back America against Iraq as "honourable deception".
Mr Cook, an ex-foreign secretary and former leader of the Commons, told MPs he had "no doubt about the good faith of the prime minister", but said the "burning sincerity and conviction of those involved in exercise" was a "problem".
This conviction had led to intelligence material being carefully selected to back up their case for war - rather than being used as a basis for assessing whether or not Saddam posed a threat, he said.
Cook said government had not presented "full picture"
The London inquiry comes ahead of a similar probe by Congress in Washington into whether the Bush administration misread or inflated threats posed by Iraq before going to war.
Mr Cook quit Mr Blair's cabinet ahead of the conflict, in his case because he believed the US-led coalition should seek further UN sanction before attacking.
Ms Short quit her post after the war having publicly agonised before the conflict over whether she should stay on as international development secretary.
The foreign affairs select committee is looking in particular at claims that Iraq had the capacity to launch a strike using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) within 45 minutes.
Since the war was declared over, there have been no significant finds in the search for Saddam Hussein's WMD and in recent days there has also been a resurgence of military clashes involving US forces.
No full inquiry
Both the prime minister and his director of communications, Alastair Campbell, have refused to appear before the committee, which takes evidence in public and publishes its reports.
And Downing Street said it would await the committee's report before it responded.
A separate inquiry by Parliament's intelligence and security committee, which meets in private, is also going to look at Iraq's WMD.
Downing Street has rejected calls for a full public inquiry into its pre-war claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons capability.
Mr Blair has denied accusations a dossier about Saddam's threat contained intelligence information which had been doctored, insisting he stands "100%" by the evidence shown to the public about Iraq's alleged weapons programmes.