LONDON – Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) tried to fend off claims that intelligence did not support the need for war in Iraq, insisting on Wednesday that Saddam Hussein did pose a threat to the Middle East and the rest of the world.
Blair faces two investigations into claims he made about Iraqi weapons programs before the war. More than two months after Saddam's fall, U.S. and British troops have yet to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraqnd technicians who provide information, the Foreign Office said Wednesday.
The measures would not be offered to scientists or technicians accused of war crimes, a foreign office spokesman said.
Blair, meanwhile, faced an aggressive question-and-answer session in the House of Commons, a day after two former senior Cabinet ministers accused his government of exaggerating the danger represented by Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction.
"Saddam Hussein was a threat to his region and to the wider world," Blair insisted Wednesday. "I always made it clear that the issue was not whether he was about to launch an immediate strike on Britain. The issue was whether he posed a threat to his region and to the wider world."
Blair has resisted calls for a full public inquiry into his use of intelligence to back up his claims that Saddam had chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
But the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee began an inquiry Tuesday, televised live. The Commons' Intelligence and Security Committee plans to hold its own investigation behind closed doors.
The committees will especially look at two files about Iraqi weapons published by the government before the war. One file published in February has since been found to be substantially copied from an American researcher's thesis available on the Internet. Another in September made the claim — since disputed — that Iraq could fire chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of Saddam giving an order to do so.
Blair has said there is not "a shred of truth" in allegations that his government manipulated evidence, and that he still believes coalition forces will find proof Saddam possessed banned weapons.
On Tuesday, the Foreign Affairs Committee heard from Clare Short (search), the former International Development Secretary, and Robin Cook (search), the former House of Commons leader — both of whom quit Blair's Cabinet in protest over his Iraq policy.
Short said Blair had "pre-committed" Britain to conflict months before the war, even as the United Nations was working to resolve the crisis peacefully.
Cook told the committee that officials "used intelligence as the basis on which to justify a policy on which we had already settled."
Home Secretary David Blunkett said Wednesday that Cook and Short had not had access to all the information on Iraqi weapons. "Those outside the security services, the prime minister, the secretary for Northern Ireland, (Foreign Secretary) Jack Straw, myself, do not see the detailed briefings," Blunkett told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Straw denied that "a fixed decision for war was taken at an early stage."
Also Wednesday, Blair's office denied a newspaper report claiming that an official British investigation of two trailers found in northern Iraq has concluded they were not mobile germ warfare labs.
The Observer newspaper reported on Sunday that the probe found the two trailers were used instead for the production of hydrogen to fill artillery balloons, as the Iraqis had repeatedly claimed.
A spokesman for Blair's office said that the government's investigation was still under way.