LONDON – British intelligence agents were unhappy with the government's claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction ready to use within 45 minutes, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Thursday.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's office responded that the claim, contained in an intelligence dossier released on Sept. 24, was entirely the work of British intelligence agencies.
"Not one word of the dossier was not entirely the work of the intelligence agencies," Blair's office said in a statement to the BBC.
The BBC, however, said its intelligence source didn't dispute the origin of the information, but said the agencies were skeptical of the claim that weapons of mass destruction could be ready for use within 45 minutes.
"The information which I'm told was dubious did come from the agencies, but they were unhappy about it because they didn't think it should have been in there," said BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan.
"They thought it was not corroborated sufficiently, and they actually thought it was wrong. They thought the informant concerned had got it wrong, they thought he had misunderstood what was happening."
The BBC quoted an unidentified official as saying the claim was not in early drafts of the dossier, but was added in the week before publication at the behest of Blair's office.
"It was included in the dossier against our wishes because it wasn't reliable. Most things in the dossier were double-sourced but that was single-sourced, and we believe that the source was wrong," the BBC quoted its source as saying.
Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram confirmed in an interview that there was a single source for the 45-minute claim. He denied, however, that Blair's office had insisted on including the claim in the dossier.
"That is not the case. There was no pressure from No. 10 [Blair's office]. That allegation is not true," Ingram told BBC radio.
Claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction were the heart of the British government's case for joining the United States in military action.
So far, U.S. and British forces in Iraq have produced no evidence of such chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programs.
Blair, who was visiting southern Iraq on Thursday, told reporters en route that he was convinced that Saddam did have such weapons.
"I have said throughout and I just repeat to you, I have absolutely no doubt at all about the existence of weapons of mass destruction," Blair said. "And rather than speculating, let's just wait until we get the full report back from our people who are interviewing the Iraqi scientists," Blair said.
The question flared anew after U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested Tuesday that Iraq might have destroyed its weapons of mass destruction before the war.
Robin Cook, a former foreign secretary who quit as leader of the House of Commons in protest against the war, said Rumsfeld's comments vindicated his own stance.
"If Donald Rumsfeld is now admitting the weapons are not there, the truth is the weapons probably haven't been there for quite a long time," Cook said Wednesday.
"It matters immensely," he said, "because the basis on which the war was sold to the British House of Commons, to the British people, was that Saddam represented a serious threat."