Inquiry will confirm that Iraq sought uranium



 

 

 

 

By Mark Huband in London

Financial Times, 7 July 2004

A UK government inquiry into the intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq is expected to conclude that Britain’s spies were correct to say that Saddam Hussein’s regime sought to buy uranium from Niger.

The inquiry by Lord Butler, which was delivered to the printers on Wednesday and is expected to be released on July 14, has examined the intelligence that underpinned the UK government’s claims about the threat from Iraq.

The report will say the claim that Mr Hussein could deploy chemical weapons within 45 minutes, seized on by UK prime minister Tony Blair to bolster the case for war with Iraq, was inadequately supported by the available intelligence, people familiar with its contents say .

But among Lord Butler’s other areas of investigation was the issue of whether Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger. People with knowledge of the report said Lord Butler has concluded that this claim was reasonable and consistent with the intelligence.

President George W. Bush referred to the Niger claim in his state of the union address last year. But officials were forced into a climbdown when it was revealed that the only primary intelligence material the US possessed were documents later shown to be forgeries.

The Bush administration has since distanced itself from all suggestions that Iraq sought to buy uranium. The UK government has remained adamant that negotiations over sales did take place and that the fake documents were not part of the intelligence material it had gathered to underpin its claim.

The Financial Times revealed last week that a key part of the UK’s intelligence on the uranium came from a European intelligence service that undertook a three-year surveillance of an alleged clandestine uranium-smuggling operation of which Iraq was a part.

Intelligence officials have now confirmed that the results of this operation formed an important part of the conclusions of British intelligence. The same information was passed to the US but US officials did not incorporate it in their assessment.

The 45-minute claim appeared four times in a government dossier on Iraq’s WMD issued in September 2002, including in the foreword by Mr Blair.

It became the subject of intense scrutiny when government scientist David Kelly was alleged to have voiced concerns about the claim’s accuracy to Andrew Gilligan, then a BBC reporter.

Mr Gilligan’s report of his conversation with Mr Kelly unleashed a fierce dispute between the government and the BBC that culminated in Mr Kelly’s suicide, an inquiry into the circumstances of his death, and the resignation of the BBC’s two most senior officials.

Lord Butler is said to have produced a report that criticises the process of intelligence gathering and assessment on Iraq but refrains from criticising individual officials.

 

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Iraq missile claim ‘not supported’

 

By Mark Huband in London, FT.com site

Published: Jul 07, 2004

 

The claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes – seized on by Tony Blair to back the case for war with Iraq – was inadequately supported by the available intelligence, Lord Butler’s report is expected to conclude.

 

The claim that Iraq could launch an attack using weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order being given was made four times in the government’s dossier on Iraq’s WMD issued in September 2002, including in Tony Blair’s foreword..

 

But Lord Butler’s report into the use of intelligence material to justify the war in Iraq is said by those familiar with its contents to have examined the “45 minutes” issue in detail and found it wanting. The report, which was delivered to the printers on Wednesday and is expected to be released on July 14, is expected to conclude that the intelligence to substantiate the claim was of insufficient quality, and that the intelligence material gathered on Iraq was generally inadequate.

 

It is also understood that the report criticises the credibility of the source of the 45 minutes claim and the process by which the information was assessed.

 

The claim became the subject of intense scrutiny when David Kelly, the government scientist, was alleged to have voiced concerns about the accuracy of the claim to Andrew Gilligan, then a BBC reporter.

 

Mr Gilligan’s report of his conversation with Mr Kelly unleashed a furious row between the government and the BBC which culminated in Mr Kelly’s suicide and Lord Hutton’s inquiry into the circumstances of his death.

 

During Lord Hutton’s inquiry last year Sir Richard Dearlove, the chief of MI6, described the “45 minutes” issue as “a piece of well-sourced intelligence…from an established and reliable source…who was certainly in a position to know this information.”

 

Lord Butler’s criticism will have repercussions for both MI6, which gathered the intelligence, and the joint intelligence committee, which assessed its inclusion in the government dossier.

 

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