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Last Updated: Monday, 7 July, 2003, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Closure for Campbell?

By Andrew Marr
BBC political editor

The best possible outcome for Alastair Campbell would have been a unanimous select committee report clearing him of any involvement in "sexing up" the controversial dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and criticising the BBC's journalism.

Instead, the foreign affairs committee split, avoided attacking the BBC, and posed a series of difficult questions which it says the government should now answer.

These focus on the substance of the issue, the extent to which the intelligence dossiers suggested Saddam Hussein's regime was such a military risk Britain needed to go to war to disarm it.

But Mr Campbell has got enough to allow some newspapers to give him the "Campbell cleared" headlines he wants.

Alastair Campbell
Mr Campbell is 'personally affronted'
Split it may have been, but the committee did conclude that he "did not play any role in the inclusion of the 45 minutes claim" and that, according to the evidence it had seen, he "did not exert or seek to exert improper influence" on that September dossier.

On the basis of that he insists the BBC owes him an apology for reporting a senior intelligence source who believed he had done just that.

The corporation is refusing to give it because it thinks that to report a source who turned out to be right about key questions was justified.

There is no doubt that Mr Campbell is genuinely furious. MPs, including the former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, believe that he has played a brilliant diversionary tactic by making this a story about his fight with the BBC, rather than the missing weapons of mass destruction.

But it is possible to have more than one motive: it is hard to talk to the prime minister's communications chief without believing that he feels personally angry and affronted.

But this is nothing like the end of the story.

'Sexed up'

The MPs on the committee share the view that the claim that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction could be prepared within 45 minutes "did not warrant the prominence given to it" and say the language used in the dossier was "more assertive" than traditional in intelligence documents.

So if Number Ten didn't sex it up, who did? The only answer can be the intelligence services themselves, almost as uncomfortable a conclusion.

US troops search in Iraq
Where are those weapons?
There are many other tough questions, including about the forged documents used to support the claim by Mr Blair that the Iraqis were trying to buy uranium from Niger, and whether it is right for special advisers like Mr Campbell to chair intelligence meetings.

But the overall argument will only be settled when, and if, significant weapons of mass destruction are actually found in Iraq.

It has been a bitter and increasingly personal struggle which has soured the victory won by coalition forces against a brutal regime.

In London, neither side has an obvious exit route - except to the beach and a much-needed summer break.

At-a-glance: BBC rebuttal
27 Jun 03  |  Politics

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