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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Parliamentary Inquiry Criticizes Iraq Dossier

LONDON -- A British parliamentary committee on Monday sharply criticized the government's handling of intelligence on Iraqi weapons but cleared Prime Minister Tony Blair's communications chief of "improper influence" in drafting a controversial intelligence dossier. It also found no evidence that Blair or other ministers misled lawmakers in making the case for military action.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said a dossier published in September gave undue prominence to a claim that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of Saddam Hussein giving the order.

It said the language used in the dossier was "more assertive than that traditionally used in intelligence documents," and that the "jury is still out" on the accuracy of the information contained in the dossier.

Blair's office rejected the criticism.

"We stand by the September dossier," a Blair spokesman said, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.

The cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee said Blair "misrepresented" to lawmakers the status of another dossier on Iraqi arms, published in January, which included material copied from a graduate thesis on the Internet.

The committee said it was "wholly unacceptable" for the government to plagiarize work without attribution, as happened with the January dossier.

"We further conclude that by referring to the document on the floor of the House [of Commons] as 'further intelligence,' the prime minister -- who had not been informed of its provenance, doubts about which only came to light several days later -- misrepresented its status," the committee's report said.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the government believed it had been right in taking military action, despite the failure by coalition forces to find banned weapons since Hussein's ouster.

"Of course I understand that the public would like to see further evidence of the possession of chemical and biological weapons capability and plans to build nuclear capability," Straw told reporters. "But the evidence available ... at the time we took the decision to go to war was overwhelming."

Straw again demanded an apology from the BBC, which in May quoted an unidentified intelligence source as claiming a Blair official -- identified as communications chief Alastair Campbell -- had redrafted the dossier to include the 45-minute claim. Blair has described the BBC report as "absurd," while Campbell said it was a lie.

The committee questioned Campbell, and said the powerful official "did not exert or seek to exert improper influence" in including the 45-minute claim in the September document. That verdict was only reached after the committee chairman, Labour Party lawmaker Donald Anderson, used his tie-breaking power as chair to exonerate Campbell.

The government has acknowledged that the 45-minute claim was based on a single source, which it considered reliable. The committee urged the government on Monday to explain why it gave the claim such prominence, given that the source was uncorroborated, and asked officials to say whether they still believed the claim had been accurate.

The failure to find banned arms since Hussein's ouster has raised questions about the intelligence Blair used to persuade skeptical lawmakers to back military intervention. The prime minister had made the threat posed by Iraq's alleged chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs the backbone of his case for war.

John Stanley, a Conservative member of the committee, said the quality of the September dossier was of "paramount importance. Never before has Britain gone to war on the basis of an intelligence assessment."