Iraq arms claim ‘not supported’




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 8 July 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 is said by those familiar with its contents to have examined the “45 minutes” issue in detail and found it wanting. The report, 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 was scrutinised 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. The ensuing row between the government and the BBC culminated in Mr Kelly’s suicide and Lord Hutton’s inquiry into the circumstances of his death.

During the inquiry 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.”

Lord Butler’s criticism will have repercussions for both MI6, which gathered the intelligence, and the joint intelligence committee, which assessed it.

The report’s conclusions could prove troublesome for John Scarlett, the JIC chairman who replaces Sir Richard shortly. Mr Scarlett told Lord Hutton intelligence on the 45 minute claim “was consistent with established JIC judgments” and was incorporated into the dossier.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008