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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
Timeline: The 45-minute claim
The claim in the government's dossier that Iraq could use weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order continues to cause controversy. BBC News Online charts its origins and the history of the row from the Hutton inquiry evidence.

29 August 2002

MI6 receives the 45-minute intelligence report - Lord Butler says it came "third hand" through a main well-established source via a second link in the reporting chain and originally an Iraqi military source - the middle link had since proved unreliable.

5 September 2002

The 45-minute claim first appears in a Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) assessment, with a request for comments.

The draft says: "Iraq has probably dispersed its special weapons, including its CBW [chemical and biological warfare] weapons. Intelligence also indicates that from forward-deployed storage sites, chemical and biological munitions could be with military units and ready for firing within 45 minutes."

6 September 2002

The biological weapons branch in the Defence Intelligence Service (DIS) sends an e-mail to the JIC assessment staff saying: "The intelligence refers to a maximum time of 45 minutes, the average was 20 minutes. This could have important implications in the event of a conflict."

9 September 2002

New draft of assessment reads: "Iraq has probably dispersed its special weapons, including its CBW weapons. Intelligence also indicates that chemical and biological munitions could be with military units and ready for firing within 20-45 minutes."

10/11 September 2002

The claim appears in a dossier draft for the first time as it says Iraq: "Envisages the use of WMD in its current military planning and could deploy such weapons within 45 minutes of the order being given.

"Within the last month intelligence has suggested that the Iraqi military would be able to use their chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes of being ordered to do so."

16 September 2002

New draft dossier's executive summary says intelligence allows the government to judge Iraq "has military plans for the use of chemical and biological, some of which could be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them".

The main text adds: "The Iraqi military may be able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so."

Concerns about the claim are discussed by the JIC assessment staff and the following day at a DIS meeting called by Tony Cragg, the deputy chief of defence intelligence, which decided the worries had been dealt with satisfactorily.

17 September 2002

A member of the Defence Intelligence Staff says in an email to the JIC assessment team that the wording of the 45-minute claim is "rather strong since it is based on a single source. 'Could say intelligence suggests...'"

Downing Street media chief Alastair Campbell tells JIC chairman John Scarlett that the "may" in the main text wording of the claim is "weaker than the summary".

18 September 2002

Mr Scarlett tells Mr Campbell the language on the claim in the main text has been "tightened".

19 September 2002

Defence Intelligence Staff experts discuss the dossier, with questions raised about the 45-minute claim - Mr A told the Hutton inquiry they had not seen the intelligence on which the claim was based.

Brian Jones, a top DIS official in the Defence Intelligence Staff, writes to his managers relaying the concerns. He is later only thanked for his input.

24 September 2003

The dossier is published with a foreword from Tony Blair, which says: "The document discloses that his military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them."

The prime minister tells MPs the intelligence concludes that Saddam Hussein "has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population".

London's Evening Standard carries the headline: "45 minutes from attack".

24 September 2002 to 29 May 2003

During this period between the dossier's publication and Andrew Gilligan's reports, the Commons library has told Labour MP Peter Bradley, the 45-minute claim was mentioned only once in passing in the Commons and twice in more than 38,000 written questions.

25 September 2002

The Sun newspaper, Britain's biggest selling daily, has the headline: "Brits 45 mins from doom" about the threat to troops in Cyprus.

The Star newspaper has the headline "Mad Saddam ready to attack: 45 minutes from a chemical war".

Other newspapers include the claim in their coverage of the dossier.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon was abroad and says he never saw the newspapers and only became aware of the reports later.

5 March 2003

Then Commons leader Robin Cook's diary entry says he told Mr Blair: "It's clear from the private briefing that I have had that Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction in a sense of weapons that could strike at strategic cities.

"But he probably does have several thousand battlefield chemical munitions. Do you never worry that he might use them against British troops?"

Mr Cook says the prime minister replied: "Yes, but all the effort he has had to put into concealment makes it difficult for him to assemble them quickly for use."

18 March 2003

Tony Blair makes his eve-of-war speech to MPs, without mentioning the 45-minute claim.

29 May 2003

BBC Today programme defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan says his source, now known to be Dr David Kelly, had said the 45-minute claim was the "classic example" of how the dossier was "sexed up". No 10 especially objected when Mr Gilligan said Downing Street "probably knew" the claim was wrong when it was put in the dossier.

26 August 2003

Mr Scarlett defends the 45-minute claim at the inquiry, calling it "well-sourced intelligence" and says it concerned munitions, mortar shells or similar weapons, not missile warheads.

28 August 2003

Mr Blair tells the Hutton inquiry it is "absolutely wrong" to suggest he had not mentioned the claim after the dossier's publication because the government had doubts about it.

The JIC had been "perfectly happy" with the document, he said.

22 September 2003

Mr Hoon tells the inquiry it was suggested to him that the claim only referred to battlefield arms, not strategic weapons.

Asked about why he had not corrected newspapers' interpretation of the claim, Mr Hoon said it was hard to get the press to make corrections.

MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove says he was confident the intelligence was accurate but in hindsight, and given the way it was "misinterpreted", he acknowledges the 45-minute claim might have been given "undue prominence".

"It did come from an established and reliable source equating a senior Iraqi military officer who was certainly in a position to know this information," he adds.

3 September 2003

Dr Brian Jones, a senior DIS official, tells the inquiry: "We at no stage argued that this intelligence should not be included in the dossier. We thought it was important intelligence."

But he said he had thought the language used about the claim in the dossier's executive summary and foreword had been "too strong".

11 September 2003

The Commons intelligence and security committee (ISC) says about the 45-minute claim: "The omission of the context and assessment allowed speculation as to its exact meeting. This was unhelpful to an understanding of this issue."

28 January 2004

Lord Hutton says the claim that the government probably knew the 45-minute intelligence was wrong before putting it into the dossier is "unfounded".

The JIC had approved the way the claim was worded in the dossier, he says.

3 February 2004

Downing Street, in its response to MPs' reports, says it understands concerns the wording of the claim could have led to speculation.

But it stresses the dossier never suggested it referred to ballistic missiles and denies suggestions it was given undue prominence.

4 February 2004

Tony Blair in the Commons debate on the Hutton report says he did not know before the war that the 45-minute claim only referred to battlefield munitions.

Mr Hoon says he found out the distinction when he asked his officials out of "curiosity" - but later explains this was after the dossier was published.

5 February 2004

Conservative leader Michael Howard says Mr Blair should resign after failing to ask "basic questions" before sending troops to war.

Downing Street accuses the media of "rewriting history" by over-egging the importance of the 45-minute claim at the time the dossier was published.

14 July 2004

Lord Butler's inquiry concludes that the 45 minute claim should not have been included in the dossier without explanations of what it referred to.

The report also reveals MI6 now says the intelligence report on the claim "has come into question", with doubts cast about one of the links in the reporting chain.

12 October 2004

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw tells the House of Commons that the head of MI6 has withdrawn the claim.




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