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Last Updated: Friday, 12 September, 2003, 06:41 GMT 07:41 UK
Blair 'overrode terror warnings'
Tony Blair
Tony Blair got the warning a month before the war
Tony Blair led Britain to war against Iraq despite intelligence chiefs' warnings it could increase the risk of terrorists getting weapons of mass destruction, it has emerged.

The revelation comes in a report from the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) giving its verdict on how intelligence was handled in the run-up to the war.

The report says September's key dossier was not "sexed up", but it adds that ahead of the war Mr Blair was told the threat from al-Qaeda and allied terrorist groups would be made worse by invading Iraq.

The prime minister, who has repeatedly argued that disarming Iraq was needed to stop terrorists getting chemical or biological weapons, told the ISC he had acknowledged the dangers but argued inaction posed greater risks.

MPs and peers on the ISC criticised Geoff Hoon for initially failing to disclose fully how concerns were raised by Defence Intelligence Staff about parts of the Iraq dossier.
It remains my judgement and I suppose time will tell whether it's true or it's not true
Tony Blair

In a Commons debate, Mr Hoon said he regretted any "misunderstanding" and argued he had always intended to be open about disputes over the dossier's wording.

But the Conservatives continued to call for him to resign or be sacked.

The new report cleared Downing Street media chief Alastair Campbell, "or anybody else", of "sexing up" the Iraq dossier as claimed in a BBC report.

But it said the way the claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes was presented in the dossier was "unhelpful to understanding of this issue".

And it reveals the risks set out to Mr Blair just a month before war began.

Raising risks?

In February this year, says the report, the JIC said there was no intelligence that Iraq had provided chemical or biological materials to al-Qaeda.

"However, it judged that in the event of imminent regime collapse there would be a risk of transfer of such material, whether or not as a deliberate Iraqi regime policy," it says.

"The JIC assessed that al-Qaeda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.

INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY COMMITTEE
Oversees work of MI5, MI6, GCHQ
Made up of nine senior politicians
Meets in private and has access to intelligence reports
Government can cut sensitive details from its reports

"The JIC assessed that any collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology or agents finding their way into the hands of terrorists, not necessarily al-Qaeda."

The committee raised the issue when its members privately questioned Mr Blair.

He told them: "One of the most difficult aspects of this is that there was obviously a danger that in attacking Iraq you ended up provoking the very thing you were trying to avoid.

"On the other hand I think you had to ask the question: 'Could you really, as a result of that fear, leave the possibility that in time this developed into a nexus between terrorism and WMD in any event?'

"This is where you've got to make your judgement about this. But this is my judgement and it remains my judgement and I suppose time will tell whether it's true or it's not true."

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Paul Keetch said the government should have given the whole intelligence picture, not just the evidence which backed its case for war.

45 minutes

On the general dossier concerns, committee chairman Ann Taylor said: "There was not political interference - the dossier was not sexed up. In fact, the dossier was based on the JIC assessments that we have seen."

But her committee's report said the 45-minute claim was "always likely to attract attention because it was an arresting detail that the public had not seen before".

"The fact that it was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological munitions and their movement on the battlefield, not to any other form of chemical or biological attack, should have been highlighted in the dossier."

HAVE YOUR SAY
The blame has been constantly passed from one person to another
Andy, UK

The report also says the document failed to make it clear that Saddam Hussein's regime was not considered a "current or imminent threat to mainland UK".

And uncertainty among the intelligence community over Iraq's ability to produce chemical or biological weapons should also have been included, the committee said.

The Hutton inquiry into Dr Kelly's death last week heard evidence from two Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) members about their unhappiness with some of the content of the September dossier.

The BBC said its source cited the 45-minute claim as something included in the dossier at the behest of Downing Street against the wishes of the intelligence services.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Landale
"Tony Blair has spent months defending the war... now he is facing a new line of attack"



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