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Lawmakers Debate Downing Street Memo on Iraq War

There has been new debate in Congress over the Downing Street memo, the document quoting a British official in 2002 as saying the Bush administration shaped intelligence to justify a pre-determination to go to war against Saddam Hussein.

The Downing Street memo describes notes from meetings involving British Prime Minister Tony Blair, cabinet members and other officials on July 23, 2002.

It contains comments attributed to the then head of Britain's MI-6 intelligence service, Richard Dearlove, quoting him as saying he had concluded war was inevitable because President Bush was determined to remove Saddam Hussein through military action.

He was also quoted as saying "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" and that war would be "justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD [weapons of mass destruction]."

President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have strongly denied having had any pre-determination regarding action against Saddam Hussein, citing among other things, their efforts to obtain a U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq before military plans proceeded.

House Democrats earlier this year introduced two resolutions of inquiry seeking records from the State Department, Pentagon, and White House on pre-war communications with Britain regarding U.S. policy on Iraq.

Both were considered Wednesday by the House International Relations Committee, where Republicans downplayed the significance of the Downing Street document.

Committee chairman, Henry Hyde, argued that while pre-war intelligence had been flawed, dredging up what he called conspiracy theories now serves no purpose, adding many Democrats shared the belief Iraq posed a weapons of mass destruction threat:

"The Downing Street memo does not raise anything new," said Mr. Hyde. "The decision to go to war in Iraq and the intelligence surrounding the decision have been examined, and re-examined and re-examined."

Republicans also accused Democrats of playing politics with the Downing Street memo with the objective of attacking President Bush.

"Rather than focus on the future and taking an active role in helping to drive policy to assist Iraq in the transformation into a Democratic nation, and as a catalyst for further reforms in the region, there are those who simply wish to focus on partisan political efforts," said Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Democrats such as Congresswoman Diane Watson fired back, accusing Republicans of trying to bury the truth about pre-war planning.

"Let us arm ourselves with the facts, as we know them," she said. "Let us seek truth whenever we can. Do not stifle truth, if we want to regain credibility and our position among the leading nations of the world."

Congressman William Delahunt sought to connect public opinion polls showing growing concerns among Americans about President Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq, with questions raised by the Downing Street memo.

"It is the American people that have the right to know, that want to know, that are demanding answers," he said. "That is why, in some respects, the confidence of the American people in terms of their support for this war is eroding. Not because of what is being said about the president, but they want a full examination and explanation of how we got ourselves here and what we're going to do about it."

With the exception of one Republican, Congressman Jim Leach of Iowa, the Republican-controlled committee voted mostly along party lines to report both resolutions on the Downing Street memo unfavorably to the full House of Representatives.

Also sent with an unfavorable vote was a separate resolution on another issue related to Iraq that sought documents regarding the disclosure of the identity of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame, whose husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, is a key critic of the Bush administration, over its justifications for using military action.

The leak of her identity is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.