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Parliamentary Committee:  Blair Government Did Not 'Deliberately' Exaggerate Iraq Report - 2003-09-11


A British parliamentary committee says Prime Minister Tony Blair's government did not deliberately exaggerate Iraq's weapons threat before the war, but it says his defense ministry was not helpful and potentially misled the panel in its investigation.

The parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee report criticizes the government's presentation of its case against Iraq, but says intelligence assessments were not deliberately manipulated to win public support for the war.

In a key finding, the committee concludes Mr. Blair's government did not purposely exaggerate a report last September that detailed the potential threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

But the committee questioned the government claim that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons in 45 minutes, saying the information was presented out of context. In the words of the report, the 45-minute claim was "unhelpful to an understanding of the issue."

The report is also critical of Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon's department. The report says the Ministry of Defense was "unhelpful and potentially misleading" during the probe. It says defense officials should have been more diligent in telling the committee there were differences among intelligence experts over the seriousness of the threat from Iraq.

The committee chairwoman, Ann Taylor, says Mr. Hoon did not deceive the panel, but he should have been more forthcoming.

"He did not tell us lies," she said. "He told us there had been a dispute and he was quite explicit about the fact that there had been a dispute. But the fact that people had put concerns in writing did not come out at that stage and we felt it should come out. It came out later. We hope and assume it would have come out anyway. It was potentially misleading. Events overtook it and it therefore was not."

Reacting to the report, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw predicted Mr. Hoon's career will survive the episode and he will remain in his job.

"I am in no doubt that the defense secretary should and will continue in his post," said Mr. Straw. "He has every confidence of the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues."

But the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith, said Mr. Hoon should go.

"I think this report is quite damning," he insisted. "To have a secretary of state for defense referred to as misleading a committee, withholding information, that report means his position is quite untenable.

"His authority is gone," he continued. "There is only one course for him, and that is to resign, or if he will not resign I am afraid the prime minister must act and must dismiss him today and put somebody in who has the authority and the trust of government and of the people."

The Iraq controversy will continue for Mr. Blair. A judicial inquiry into the apparent suicide of British weapons expert David Kelly resumes Monday, to gather more information for a report to be issued later this year.