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Blair Orders Probe into Pre-War Iraq Intelligence - 2004-02-03

The British government has announced a special bi-partisan committee to investigate the handling of intelligence it used to make its decision to go to war in Iraq. Monday, President Bush made a similar announcement in Washington.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said for a long time that he wanted to wait and see what coalition inspectors, called the Iraq Survey Group, would report before he would consider authorizing an inquiry into pre-war intelligence.

But the British leader says that in light of the statements by the former chief U.S. weapons inspector he has decided to proceed with an inquiry now. The former inspector, David Kay, said he does not believe any of weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq.

Mr. Blair told a House of Commons Committee, that statement makes it appropriate to have the inquiry now.

"If what Dr. Kay has said was right, and I was just going through incidentally some of the rest of his evidence, understand, he has made the point that in respect to the stockpiles of WMD he believes the intelligence was wrong," he said. "Well, that is something to be looked into."

Later, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced the details of the inquiry committee.

He said it will be composed of six senior political figures, some from the main opposition party, the Conservatives, who supported the war. The committee will be chaired by Britain's former senior civil servant, Robin Butler, who served in five governments led by both major parties.

Mr. Straw said efforts were made to involve all the major British parties in the inquiry, but differences over the scope of the probe meant that one party will not be participating in the process.

"In settling the terms of reference of this inquiry and its membership, there have of course been discussions with the leaders of the two main opposition parties," he said. "I regret however that the leader of the Liberal Democrat party has declined to support this inquiry, and that and that alone explains the absence of a senior member of the Liberal Democrats upon it."

The Liberal Democrats, who opposed the war, refused to participate in the inquiry because they say it is too narrowly focused. They want an investigation of how political judgements were made based on the intelligence.

Prime Minister Blair said that would not be acceptable. "I honestly think the political judgement has got to be in the end for government and parliament," he said. "I mean you cannot sub-contract that to a committee, and I do not believe frankly that a committee would want to look into that."

The inquiry committee findings are expected to be published by the end of July.

Then, the final judgment will rest with the people of Britain as to whether the prime minister was justified in commiting his country to war. Elections must be held by the middle of next year.