MPs press Blair and Campbell to explain WMD report

By Marie Woolf and David Usborne in New York

09 June 2003

Downing Street faces fresh pressure this week to explain why an intelligence report saying there was no proof Saddam Hussein posed a growing threat to the West was suppressed.

MPs said yesterday the Prime Minister and Alastair Campbell should be forced to appear before a parliamentary committee to explain why the intelligence dossier produced in March last year was shelved. The six-page report, from the Joint Intelligence Committee staff, said there was no evidence Saddam posed a significantly greater threat than in 1991.

It was written in the same month Mr Campbell, the Prime Minister's communications and strategy chief, told journalists in America the Government would produce evidence within two weeks proving Saddam was building weapons of mass destruction. The report was delayed, but six months later Tony Blair said Saddam was continuing to produce chemical and biological weapons.

Mr Campbell has written a personal apology to Sir Richard Dearlove, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, for discrediting the service. He apologised for the release to the media in January of the so-called dodgy dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The dossier "had not met the required standards of accuracy", he said.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, told BBC1's Politics Show that he thought the dossier was "just an honest appraisal by Alastair Campbell", adding: "I think it would be better if we hadn't published that dossier because it was about the background to Iraq; it wasn't about the identification of weapons of mass destruction."

The apology will fuel claims that Downing Street quoted selectively from intelligence reports and missed out crucial qualifying facts, such as the number and reliability of sources, to make the case for war against Iraq.

Downing Street does not deny the existence of the six-page March 2002 report. A spokesman said its content was reflected in the longer September dossier, which is alleged to have been "sexed up" by Downing Street before being released.

Yesterday the former health secretary Frank Dobson was among MPs calling for Mr Campbell to appear before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to answer questions on the Iraq dossiers.

The Bush administration was also on the defensive yesterday, vigorously denying the contention that it exaggerated the danger of Iraq's purported arsenal of weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion.

Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser to President George Bush, said that "if you join the dots" of all that was known about Iraq in the Nineties, there could be no doubt the arms existed and "that this was an active programme, that this was a dangerous programme, this was a programme that was being effectively concealed".

Ms Rice and Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, appeared on Sunday news magazine programmes to try to answer claims that the administration hyped the case for invading Iraq. The weapons controversy has been growing in America in recent days, just as it has become a severe political problem for Mr Blair.

Mr Powell denied that Dick Cheney, the Defence Secretary, had visited CIA headquarters to ensure intelligence reports reflected Bush administration policy objectives. He also insisted evidence of the weapons - if not the weapons themselves - would soon be unearthed.

"I think all the documents now coming forward, and people who are being interviewed will tell us more about what they have hidden and where they have hidden it," he added.

Ms Rice, asked where the weapons were, said: "This is a programme that was built for concealment. We've always known that. We've always known it would take some time to put together a full picture of his weapons of mass destruction programmes."

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency were surveying a looted storage area at the main Tuwaitha nuclear plant south of Baghdad yesterday. After weeks of trying, the IAEA finally won permission from America to inspect the plant last week. The team, escorted by US troops, began work on Friday.