LONDON – A British parliamentary committee said it will investigate whether Prime Minister Tony Blair's (search) government presented accurate information about Iraq's weapons before making the decision to go to war.
With no weapons of mass destruction yet found in Iraq, the British and U.S. governments are under increasing pressure to explain intelligence reports that the weapons presented a real threat.
Britain's House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (search) announced late Tuesday that it would hold an inquiry into the decision to go to war. In a statement it said it would consider whether the Foreign Office, "presented accurate and complete information to Parliament in the period leading up to military action in Iraq, particularly in relation to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction."
On Wednesday, The New York Times, citing unnamed officials, said the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (search) was investigating a "national intelligence estimate" produced in October to summarize Iraq's weapons programs.
The report was the Bush administration's last major overview of Iraq's capabilities before the United States and its allies went to war. The Times said a team of retired intelligence analysts had been brought in by CIA director George Tenet to conduct the investigation.
In Britain, the latest round of controversy about the weapons was fueled by a report on BBC Radio quoting an unidentified "senior British official" as saying that intelligence officers were unhappy about parts of an intelligence dossier that they regarded as unreliable -- such as a claim that weapons could be activated within 45 minutes.
John Reid, leader of the House of Commons, was quoted by London's Times as saying the furor over the failure to find the weapons seven weeks since the fall of Baghdad was "ridiculous."
"We have not found WMD (weapons of mass destruction) yet, but we have not found Saddam Hussein -- and everyone knows he existed," Reid was quoted as saying.
In an interview published Wednesday, he blamed "rogue elements" in the intelligence services for raising questions about the British weapons report.
Some legislators, including the leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat Party, had called for a public inquiry, but Blair's office resisted that. His official spokesman suggested Tuesday that he favored an inquiry by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which meets in private and reports to the prime minister, not to Parliament.
But the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which holds most of its hearings in public and does report to Parliament, said Tuesday it would hold an inquiry into the decision to go to war.
Committee chairman Donald Anderson said the Foreign Affairs inquiry would be more credible than any the Intelligence and Security Committee could conduct.
"They are not a select committee, they are appointed by the prime minister and reporting to the prime minister," he said. "There would be a credibility problem with them which there would not be with our inquiry."
But his inquiry still would fall short of the full independent inquiry that some legislators have demanded. The Foreign Affairs Committee is dominated by Blair's Labor Party, but it has shown independence in the past and Anderson said he hoped the investigation would satisfy the legislators' demands.
The committee hopes to publish a report in July, after taking evidence in June, possibly from Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and serving intelligence officers, Anderson said.
"All options are open. We would aim to get as wide a range of witnesses as possible," he said. "The obvious concern we would be addressing is the quality of intelligence material and the use of that material."
The committee may be prepared to take evidence behind closed doors if national security was at stake, he said.
The leader of the main opposition Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith, who had supported the government before and during the war, said allegations of distortion of evidence could undermine the credibility of Britain's intelligence services.
He called on the prime minister to make a statement to Parliament. But Blair declined and said he would answer any queries on weapons of mass destruction during Wednesday's regular question session at the Commons.