http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/story.jsp?story=419050
 

'There is not a single fact in either dossier that is actually disputed'

So said Tony Blair yesterday. Well then, what about ...

26 June 2003

1. The 45-minute warning

As Tony Blair struggled last September to convince the public and his own party of the need to confront Saddam Hussein, Downing Street published an unprecedented dossier on the threat posed by Iraq.

One of its main claims, referred to four times in the document, highlighted in Mr Blair's foreword and later used by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, was that Saddam could deploy a chemical and biological capability within 45 minutes.

Yesterday, in a three-hour quizzing by a Commons inquiry into the use of intelligence in the run-up to the war, Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's director of communications, rounded on the BBC for alleging he pressurised security chiefs to insert the claim. Mr Blair had earlier said that not a single fact in that dossier, or a second, published in February, was in dispute.

Mr Campbell went on the offensive, demanding an apology from the BBC over its "totally untrue" allegation. The corporation issued a statement standing by its story.

Many ministers are distancing themselves from the 45-minutes claim. Mr Straw said this week that "it was not my claim", putting the ball firmly in the court of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which produced the dossier. Mr Straw also said the claim was "not central" to the case against Saddam andpointed out that it did not refer to actual missiles, only "deployment".

Yet it lay behind the Government's implication at the time: Iraq posed an urgent threat because it could very quickly launch an attack. The biggest problem for Mr Blair remains: if weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes, why were they not used and why have they not been found?

2. The Niger connection

Questions on the Government's claims that Saddam Hussein attempted to acquire uranium from the African state of Niger for his nuclear weapons programme were still unanswered last night.

MPs asked Mr Campbell why the claim was said by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to be based on "blatant forgeries". The claim formed an important part of the Government's dossier on Saddam's arsenal, providing evidence that the Iraqi dictator was attempting to build nuclear weapons that could pose a threat to the West.

The Government has stood by reports that Iraq "sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa". British officials say the intelligence was based on multiple sources, despite the IAEA's verdict. Mr Campbell said yesterday that the questions could only be answered by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).

He said: "This is probably something best raised with the JIC itself, the JIC say it does not necessarily negate the material that they put forward. Whilst I understand there is this issue to do with forgeries ... my understanding is that that is not British intelligence material that is being talked about." Only access to the secret intelligence briefings seen by Mr Blair and his senior colleagues will clear up questions on the claims.

But the issue will remain a thorn in the sides of governments on both sides of the Atlantic. Critics in the United States are also angry that President George Bush may have misled Congress over the affair.

3. The propaganda

Downing Street has also been accused of demanding that the September dossier be "sexed up". Although Mr Campbell vigorously denied that charge yesterday, he did make clear for the first time that he had a role in amending the early drafts.

In a memo to the committee he revealed the nature of his input. "I had several discussions with the chairman of the JIC on presentational issues arising from the dossier, and, in common with other officials, made drafting suggestions as the document evolved," he said.

Mr Campbell stressed that he had tried to "sex down" the dossier, rejecting some of the more emotional language about Iraq's human rights record. He said he had recommended stylistic changes and ideas for graphics, and claimed his input had "not very much" impact on the final shape of the document. But as a result of his failing to give details of the changes, he has left in the air the precise nature of any amendments he suggested.

Perhaps more troubling, as Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary, writes in today's Independent, is that ministers seemed to back off several of the assumptions made in the September dossier.

Mr Cook says: "I have long been puzzled that its more alarming claims were not repeated in the March debate. There was no reference then to weapons ready within 45 minutes, to a nuclear weapons programme that had been restarted, or to the purchase of uranium from Niger.

"All of these threats were expressed in September but suppressed in March, although the Government by then was desperate to convince a majority in Parliament to back war."

4. The terrorist links

The second, so-called dodgy dossier, which No 10 now prefers to be known as a "briefing paper", plagiarised an article on Iraq's security apparatus by Ibrahim al-Marashi, a Californian PhD student.

Mr Campbell revealed the exact process by which Mr Marashi's work was woven into the dossier without attribution. He said he and Mr Blair had been unaware of the "mistake" but both were convinced its contents were still accurate.

After an unnamed official within the Downing Street Communications Information Centre (CIC) lifted whole sections of the academic article, intelligence experts then changed sections on Iraq's threat to the stability of other countries. As a result, the words "aiding opposition groups" were changed to "supporting terrorist organisations". Mr Campbell said the intelligence agencies had wanted the change because they were more, not less, accurate. A "lifted" section on Iraq's secret police said their duties included "monitoring foreign embassies". This was changed to "spying on foreign embassies".

Mr Blair told the Commons on 3 February that the second dossier was an "intelligence report". Mr Campbell pointed out yesterday that the report's front page said it drew "on a number of sources including intelligence material". But the MPs made plain they felt that this was disingenuous.

Mr Campbell's main defence was that the February dossier had not tarnished the overall case. Yet it seems that is exactly what it has done.