While the Bush administration faces congressional hearings on the use of prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, across the Atlantic, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is fighting for his political future as questions arise over the failure to find any clear evidence of chemical or biological weapons in Iraq.
The recent controversy revolves around a dossier Blair released in September 2002 detailing Iraq’s alleged efforts to continue developing biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. Blair cited Iraq’s pursuit of such weapons as the primary justification for the U.S. and British invasion of that country. The dossier was approved by the Joint Intelligence Committee, which includes the heads of the British intelligence agencies and provides assessments to the prime minister.
Although some skeptics questioned the dossier’s claims from the beginning, the current row began in early June when the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) quoted “a senior British official” saying that Blair’s office had revised the September dossier “‘six to eight times.’” In particular, the unnamed official criticized the prime minister’s office for including information in the report—“Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government”—claiming that Saddam Hussein’s military planning would allow for some of his chemical and biological weapons “to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them.” According to the BBC, the official said the intelligence services had not included that statement in the original draft because of doubts about its reliability.
The debate over the September dossier follows earlier disclosures about another report released in February on Iraq’s attempts to deceive inspectors. That dossier included 12-year-old information copied from a thesis by a U.S. graduate student.
Blair has forcefully denied that his office tampered with the evidence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs or that there is any serious breach between the intelligence community and the Cabinet.
In response to concerns over the use of intelligence by the Blair government, the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee are launching investigations. Opposition leaders also called for an independent inquiry, expressing concern that the two committees would not be objective. The Intelligence and Security Committee, in particular, reports to the prime minister, who decides whether to make the committee’s reports public. The opposition, however, lost a June 4 vote to hold an independent inquiry 301-203. Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith also asked Blair to release the original dossier that the Joint Intelligence Committee provided before it was publicly released in September; Blair has so far refused to do so.
Blair has offered full cooperation with the investigation by the Intelligence and Security Committee, promising to provide the committee with all Joint Intelligence Committee reports and to publish the parliamentary committee’s final report. Blair insists that more time is necessary to uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but that they will be be found.