Inquiry says British Iraq intelligence "seriously flawed"
Associated Press Writer
LONDON (AP) – Iraq had no stockpiles of useable chemical or biological weapons before the war, and British intelligence relied in part on “seriously flawed” or “unreliable” sources in deciding to join the U.S.-attack to oust Saddam Hussein, an official inquiry reported Wednesday.
Prime Minister Tony Blair accepted the report’s findings and took “personal responsibility,” although his government was absolved of “deliberate distortion or culpable negligence.”
“I have to accept, as the months have passed, it seems increasingly clear that at the time of invasion Saddam did not have stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons ready to deploy,” Blair told the House of Commons.
But, he insisted, “I cannot honestly say I believe getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all. Iraq, the region, the wider world is a better and safer place without Saddam.”
Opposition Conservative Party leader Michael Howard questioned whether the British public would trust Blair’s judgment in the future.
“The issue is the prime minister’s credibility. The question he must ask himself is does he have any credibility left?” Howard asked the Commons.
Lord Butler’s report, echoing the damning findings of last week’s U.S. Senate report, said that Iraq “did not have significant, if any, stocks of chemical or biological weapons in a state fit for deployment or developed plans for using them.”
It said a September 2002 dossier prepared by Blair’s government on the Iraqi threat pushed the government case to the limits of available intelligence and left out vital caveats.
“Language in the dossier may have left with readers the impression that there was fuller and firmer intelligence behind the judgments than was the case,” the report said.
Butler, a retired civil service chief, was also highly critical of British intelligence gathering in Iraq. One source on chemical and biological weapons was “open to doubt,” while other reports “on Iraqi production of biological agent were seriously flawed.”
Like a previous inquiry, Butler censured the government over a claim that Saddam could launch some chemical and biological weapons at 45 minutes’ notice.
He said the detail should not have been in the dossier, without clarification that it referred to battlefield munitions, not missiles. The claim received widespread news coverage, including headlines that British troops in Cyprus were in danger. Butler said he suspected the detail may have been included as it was “eye-catching.”
However, the report supported Britain’s disputed claim that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger, saying it came from “several different sources” and had not relied on documents exposed as forgeries by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“No single individual is to blame. This was a collective operation in which there were the failures we have identified but there was no deliberate attempt on the part of the government to mislead,” Butler told a news conference.
The report also tacitly criticized Blair’s informal system of government, in which powerful and unelected special advisers help him formulate policy, often without the presence of elected ministers or civil service officials taking minutes.
“We are concerned that the informality and circumscribed character of the government’s procedures which we saw in the context of policy making toward Iraq risks reducing the scope for informed political judgment,” the report said.
Blair has weathered three previous inquiries, all of which cleared his government of misusing intelligence on Iraq. His popularity and credibility have suffered and Blair said Wednesday he hoped the issue could now be put to rest.
“No one lied, no one made up the intelligence, no one inserted things into dossier against the advice of intelligence services,” Blair said.
“Everyone genuinely tried to do their best in good faith for the country in circumstances of acute difficulty. That issue of good faith should now be at an end.”
Butler’s five-strong committee spent six months probing the quality of British intelligence, interviewing Blair, Cabinet ministers and top ranking spy chiefs.
The report said in the future the government should not use the Joint Intelligence Committee, whose assessments of raw intelligence normally remain secret, to give its publications a public stamp of approval.
“There was as a result of the process some strain between the desires of the government to have a dossier which helped to support the case they were making and the Joint Intelligence Committee’s normal standards of objective assessment,” Butler told the news conference.
Butler said he had “high regard” for Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett, who signed off on the September dossier, and said he should be allowed to take up a new post next month as head of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service.
Butler said British intelligence had not relied too heavily on dissident Iraqis for WMD intelligence. U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration has conceded it accepted misleading information from Ahmed Chalabi, a prominent exile who wanted to get the United States to overthrow Saddam so he could return to Iraq.
“We do not believe that over-reliance on dissident and emigre sources was a major cause of subsequent weaknesses in the human intelligence relied on by the U.K.,” Butler wrote.
Butler noted that British intelligence had not suggested there was evidence of cooperation between Saddam and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
“The (Joint Intelligence Committee) made clear that, although there were contacts between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaida, there was no evidence of cooperation.”