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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
Blair defiant ahead of Iraq inquiry
Lord Butler
Butler's verdict: Due Wednesday
Tony Blair has insisted the world is safer without Saddam Hussein as he ponders a key inquiry's findings about the intelligence before the Iraq war.

The prime minister spoke after Lord Butler handed him an advance copy of his report into intelligence on Iraq, which will be published on Wednesday.

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy is urging the prime minister to apologise for misleading people over Iraq.

But Mr Blair denied "duff" intelligence had made him look foolish.

'Foolish' claim

At a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Mr Blair urged people to wait for Lord Butler's report.

But he said he felt the same about Iraq as he had before the war.

Tony Blair
We are better, safer, more secure without Saddam Hussein in office
Tony Blair

"With the history of Saddam and what he did, not just to his own country but to the wider world, we are better, safer, more secure without him in office," said Mr Blair.

He said the situation in Iraq was changing, although it was far too early to be anything other than "immensely cautious".

Lord Butler will publish his report at a news conference on at 1230 BST on Wednesday, with Mr Blair addressing MPs on the issue at about 1330 BST.

Spy chief criticism?

The Tories and Lib Dems will be able to see the report from 0600 BST on Wednesday, leaving about seven hours to prepare for a Commons statement by Mr Blair.

The timings are similar to those used in January when Lord Hutton published his report into Dr David Kelly's death.

As speculation mounts about what the Butler inquiry's findings will mean for Downing Street and the intelligence services, Mr Kennedy predicted it would again raise issues about trust in the prime minister and his decision to take the country to war.

Downing Street said it would not comment on a claim by ITV News that the report would criticise MI6 boss John Scarlett but also say he should not be sacked.

The inquiry was set up in February in the wake of the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, amid suggestions that the UK's pre-war intelligence might have been wrong.

Intelligence doubt

Last week Mr Blair admitted that Iraq's WMD might never be found.

John Ware, from the BBC's Panorama programme, was told that key intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction used to back the case for war has recently been withdrawn.

Two ex-intelligence officers meanwhile have cast doubt over the way the premier went about trying to justify war with Iraq.

Dr Brian Jones, formerly of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS), told the BBC's Panorama programme that nobody on his staff had seen evidence of the scale of weapons capability being touted by Downing Street.

Over-egged?

John Morrison, former deputy chief of DIS, said Mr Blair's claims on Iraqi WMD were met by disbelief in Whitehall.

"The prime minister was going way beyond anything any professional analyst would have agreed," he said.

Their statements seem to challenge assertions by the prime minister in the run-up to war that Iraq posed a "current and serious" threat to Britain.

Panorama also claimed that Mr Scarlett, chairman of the JIC, was warned a month after the dossier's publication the intelligence was not strong enough to back the presentation of some of its claims.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"Lord Butler's report is likely to be one of the defining moments in Tony Blair's premiership"



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