The White House is coming under increasing pressure to back an independent inquiry into the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. The president has maintained that U.S. arms inspectors in Iraq should finish their work before an independent intelligence probe is considered.
But now there are signs of a change. Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, a top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, says the White House appears to be rethinking its stand.
"I understand that they are looking at the situation and they want to get the whole story," he said.
Speaking on the Fox News Sunday television program, Mr. Lott, who once served as Republican leader in the Senate, said he believes an independent inquiry is warranted.
"In this case, there is no question there was an intelligence failure in some form or another," said mr. Lott.
Demands for an independent probe began to increase last week when David Kay, the former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, went before television cameras and congressional committees. Mr. Kay said many people were misled by faulty pre-war intelligence, and said it was unlikely large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction would ever be found in Iraq.
On Fox News Sunday, he said White House support for an independent inquiry would be welcome. He noted an internal inquiry is underway at the CIA and several Congressional committees have launched their own probes. But he stressed an independent study by experts with no political ties is needed, especially with a president election in November.
"I think this is not a witch hunt," said Mr. Kay. "This is a hunt about fundamental flaws in the way we collect, and have collected over a considerable period of time, our intelligence."
The case for war in Iraq has already become a big issue in the election campaign. The current front runner for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, is among those who have called the justification for invading Iraq into question.
"I think there has been an enormous amount of exaggeration, stretching, deception," said Senator Kerry.
West Virginia Democrat John Rockefeller, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, picked up that theme on Fox News, as he debated Trent Lott on the outlook for an independent commission. He rejected the notion that the timetable for the inquiry should be dictated by the election, with results possibly delayed until after voters go to the polls in November.
"We have got to do it fairly," said Mr. Rockefeller. "And we have got to do it promptly. You do not put the future of American security on hold."
The controversy surrounding pre-war intelligence is also making news in Britain. Last week, a senior judge issued a report accusing the British Broadcasting Company of significant errors in its reporting on the matter.
At issue was a news story that accused the Blair government of intentionally embellishing intelligence on the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, public opinion polls in Britain, mirroring the pressure on the Bush administration, show increased support for an independent inquiry into the evidence Prime Minister Blair put forward in making his case for war.