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Blair:  Government Did Not Manipulate Intelligence on Iraq's WMD - 2003-06-18

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has again rejected allegations that intelligence information on weapons of mass destruction was doctored to justify Britain's entry into the war in Iraq.

Mr. Blair has insisted once again that his government did not manipulate intelligence to persuade a skeptical public and Parliament that Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

His latest comments, at prime minister's question time in Parliament on Wednesday, came a day after the opening of a foreign affairs committee inquiry into the matter.

The prime minister made Iraq's biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs central to his argument that there was a case for war. The issue has now become perhaps the biggest controversy Mr. Blair has faced in his six years in office.

On Tuesday, two former senior Cabinet ministers, Robin Cook and Clare Short, told that committee that British foreign intelligence sources had told them just days before the outbreak of the war in March that Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction did not pose an immediate threat.

Also under scrutiny is the position that was taken by Mr. Blair, that Saddam's biological and chemical weapons could be unleashed on as little as 45 minutes' notice.

In the House of Commons Wednesday, the British leader said he stood by all the information contained in a special governmental report on Saddam's weapons.

"The intelligence that we put out in the dossier last September described absolutely accurately the position of the government. And that position is that, indeed, Saddam Hussein was a threat to his region and to the wider world," he said. "I always made it clear that issue was not whether he was about to launch an immediate strike on Britain. The issue was whether he posed a threat to his region and to the wider world."

The British leader also rejected calls that he and a senior adviser appear before that inquiry committee to face questions. "It has never been the case that officials have given evidence to select committees. Neither is it the case that the prime minister does so, except in very limited circumstances which we have set out," Mr. Blair said.

A second parliamentary body, the Intelligence and Security Committee, will hold its own inquiry into the issue. It will be held in private, but the prime minister has promised that its findings will be published.

Lawmakers in the United States and Australia are considering holding similar probes to examine whether the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was exaggerated for the sake of initiating the conflict in Iraq.