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Congressman Tries to Renew Focus on US Justifications for War in Iraq

A Democratic member of Congress is trying to focus new attention on a document known as the Downing Street Memo, in which British officials are quoted as describing the Bush administration as having shaped intelligence findings to justify a pre-determination to go to war against Saddam Hussein.

Revealed first in the British press in May, the Downing Street memo describes pages of notes based on meetings between British Prime Minister Tony Blair, cabinet members and other officials in July, 2002.

In it, Britain's head of intelligence is quoted as saying he had concluded war was inevitable because President Bush was determined to remove Saddam Hussein through military action.

In the most controversial quote, the head of British intelligence is quoted as saying, "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" and that war would be, in the words of the memo, "justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD."

The Bush administration and Prime Minister Blair have strongly denied that their intentions were pre-determined, pointing to U.S. efforts to obtain a U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq before military plans moved ahead.

On Thursday, Democratic Congressman John Conyers, who has criticized the Republican congressional leadership for not holding a hearing on the subject, staged a public forum in the U.S. Capitol.

"We can't do anything in this hearing to change the facts and the problems on the ground in Iraq today," said Mr. Conyers. "But we can pledge today to do everything within our power to find out how we got there, and to make sure it never happens again."

Joseph Wilson is a former U.S. ambassador who angered the Bush administration when he questioned President Bush's use of intelligence information, later determined to be faulty, on what was once alleged were Iraqi attempts to obtain "yellow cake" uranium from Niger:

"With the publication of the so-called Downing Street memo, as well as the subsequent documents that have appeared in the British press, it is increasingly clear that the intelligence and the facts were indeed being fixed around the policy, and that we sent our troops to war under dubious pretenses," said Mr. Wilson.

As part of his efforts to shine a new spotlight on administration justifications for going to war in Iraq, Congressman Conyers included a family member of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, Cindy Sheehan.

"As far as I am concerned, it doesn't matter whether one is a Democrat or Republican. A full investigation into the veracity of the Downing Street memo must be initiated immediately," said Ms. Sheehan.

At the White House Thursday, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed Congressman Conyer's efforts, implying the lawmaker has political motivations for focusing on it.

"This is an individual who voted against the war in the first place, and is simply trying to rehash old debates that have already been addressed," said Mr. McClellan. "Our focus is not on the past, it's on the future and working to make sure we succeed in Iraq."

Democrat-sponsored efforts include a petition signed by some 540,000 Americans demanding that President Bush answer questions about the Downing Street memo.

All of this comes amid renewed legislative steps, including one by a small group of four House Democrats and Republicans, to demand a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

The Bush administration says doing that would give comfort to terrorists and insurgents in Iraq, make U.S. troops in Iraq more vulnerable to attacks, and send the wrong message to them and to Iraqis trying to build democracy.