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Butler report will contain no lethal 'silver bullet'

THE six-month Butler inquiry into the war in Iraq reports today. Tom Baldwin looks at some of the crucial questions.

What is the Butler review?

An inquiry set up in February by Tony Blair in the face of sustained political pressure on both sides of the Atlantic over Iraq’s missing weapons of mass destruction. The terms of reference cover the the collection, assessment and use of intelligence on WMD.

Is it an independent cross-party affair?

It has met in secret and reports to the Government. The Liberal Democrats have refused to co-operate and the Tories withdrew their support. Michael Mates, the Conservative representative, has stubbornly remained.

Will it be a “whitewash”, like the Hutton report?

After initially being dismissed by the many newspapers and opposition parties as an “establishment stooge”, there has been a recent flurry of stories predicting that Lord Butler of Brockwell, this fine, upstanding public servant, will deliver devastating blows to Mr Blair.

Where might those blows land and will they cause real damage?

Press speculation in the past few days has included the following:

  • Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, will be criticised for changing final drafts of the dossier

  • The inquiry has cast a sceptical eye over the dossier’s claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium through Niger, information that even the US did not believe to be true Jack Straw will be “in the dock” for ignoring Foreign Office legal advice that the war would not be justified under international law without United Nations support.

    Is all of that true?

    Maybe not. Well-informed sources suggested yesterday that the Government was relaxed about all this potentially incendiary material. They do not expect Mr Powell’s memo to feature significantly and point out that the Niger claims have already been declared valid by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. Whitehall officials say that the Government did not rely on Foreign Office advice but that of Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General.

    What is worrying the Government?

    It expects criticism over the inclusion in the dossier of claims that Iraq could deploy WMD within 45 minutes. The report is likely to quote former members of the Defence Intelligence Staff, who believed that this information was wrong, even if there is no evidence that Downing Street was aware of such concerns. It will go on to express dismay that the dossier, including Mr Blair’s personal foreword, did not contain the caveats and qualifications needed when presenting such intelligence.

    Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, and John Scarlett, the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, face criticism over the way information was collected and assessed. Leaked extracts suggested this week that Lord Butler will describe this as institutional, rather than personal, failure, and that there is no reason Mr Scarlett should not succeed Sir Richard as “C” next month.

    Possibly the most damaging conclusions will be about the informal style of Mr Blair’s Government, where crucial meetings were not minuted and key decisions apparently taken in a very casual fashion.

    Is there a “silver bullet” for Mr Blair in the report?

    Probably not. Aides say that it will be “embarrassing and tough; not lethal”.