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Blair Rejects Calls for Inquiry on Intelligence About Iraqi WMD's - 2003-06-04

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has rejected calls for an independent public inquiry into the intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The prime minister was challenged in parliament about the failure to discover banned weapons in Iraq nearly two months after the fall of Baghdad.

Prime Minister Blair says it is completely false that his government fabricated evidence or exaggerated the threat from Iraq to win public and parliamentary support for going to war.

As for the still missing weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Blair said the first priority after the war was Iraq's reconstruction and humanitarian relief. He said a 1,400 member team of American, British and Australian experts is just arriving in Iraq to hunt for banned weapons.

Before parliament met, the leader of the House of Commons, John Reid, accused what he called "rogue elements" in the intelligence community of trying to use the controversy over Iraq's weapons to undermine Mr. Blair.

The leader of the opposition Conservative Party, Ian Duncan Smith, seized on Mr. Reid's assertions. He demanded Mr. Blair either issue a new document on pre-war intelligence findings or convene a public inquiry to investigate Iraq-related intelligence. Mr. Duncan Smith says the prime minister's credibility is in tatters.

"Nobody believes now a word that the prime minister is saying.," he said. " That is the truth. And now we have the unedifying sight of the leader of the House being sent out to do his bidding and attack elements of the security services, which is disgraceful. Will he now either publish that dossier, right now, or hold an independent inquiry so the public can judge for themselves."

Mr. Blair rejected those suggestions. Instead, he said he will cooperate with the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. Critics say that panel is powerless because the prime minister can block any controversial findings from being made public.

Mr. Blair says his critics are just as wrong about weapons of mass destruction as they were on many of the other predictions they made about the war.

"There have been many claims about the Iraq conflict, that hundreds-of-thousands of people were going to die, that it was going to be my Vietnam, that the Middle East was going to be in flames. And this latest one, that weapons of mass destruction were a complete invention by the British government," the prime minister said. "The truth is some people resent the fact that it was right to go to conflict, we won the conflict thanks to the magnificent contribution of the British troops, and Iraq is now free and we should be proud of that."

A new public opinion poll finds Britons are almost evenly divided on the question of whether they believe Mr. Blair or whether they think he distorted the truth to get Britain into the war.

Nearly half of those who say they voted for Mr. Blair's Labor Party in the 2001 election say they would no longer trust the prime minister on other political matters if weapons of mass destruction are not found in Iraq.