Published February 03, 2004
LONDON – Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) said Tuesday that the British government would hold an inquiry into the intelligence used in deciding to go to war with Iraq (search), a day after President Bush (search) announced a similar investigation.
Blair told a parliamentary committee that Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (search) would announce details later Tuesday.
"I think there are issues" about intelligence that need to be looked at, Blair said. But he insisted Saddam Hussein had had "weapons of mass destruction capability" when Britain and the United States went to war.
The announcement comes less than a week after a senior judge cleared the British government of allegations it distorted what it knew about Iraqi weapons to build a case for war.
On Monday, Bush announced that he would name an independent inquiry into faulty intelligence in Iraq and intelligence gaps concerning other areas, including Iran, North Korea and terrorist groups.
Blair denied he had been forced into an inquiry by Bush's announcement.
"It did not take us by surprise," he said. "We've been working very closely with the Americans about this."
The threat posed by Iraq's alleged nuclear, chemical and biological weapons was Blair's main argument for war. No such weapons have been found, and David Kay, the former head of the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group, has said he doesn't believe they ever will be.
Kay, who quit last month, told the U.S. Congress last week that "it turns out we were all wrong, probably" about the Iraqi threat.
"What is true about David Kay's evidence, and this is something I have to accept as one of the reasons why I think we now need a further inquiry ... we have not found stockpiles of actual weapons," Blair told the lawmakers.
"What is untrue is to say that he is saying that there was no weapons of mass destruction program or capability, and that Saddam was not a threat."
The British government previously rejected calls for an inquiry. But on Monday, Blair's spokesman said last week's ruling by senior judge Lord Hutton that the government had not "sexed up" intelligence cleared the air and allowed for a rational discussion of Iraqi weapons.
Before last year's war, Blair maintained that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In September 2002, the government published a dossier of intelligence about Iraq; Blair told the House of Commons that Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction program is active, detailed and growing." Blair said some of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons "could be activated within 45 minutes."
Eight months later, a BBC report claimed some people in the intelligence services had had doubts about the 45-minute claim, were unhappy that it was included in the dossier and that the government "probably knew ... that it was wrong."
The story sparked a feud between the British Broadcasting Corp. and the government that culminated in Hutton's investigation that exonerated Blair but was harshly critical of the BBC. Hutton said the government had not manipulated intelligence, but said the issue of the accuracy of that intelligence was outside the scope of his inquiry.
After publication of the Hutton report, Blair acknowledged that "it is absolutely right that people can question whether the intelligence received was right, and why we have not yet found weapons of mass destruction."
On Tuesday, he insisted his position on Iraq's weapons had not changed.
"It's not a question as it were of changing a position, it's a question of recognizing the fact that though there has been ample evidence of weapons of mass destruction programs and capability, the actual weapons have not been found as yet in Iraq," he said.
"And the view of the head of the Iraq Survey Group is that he does not believe that the intelligence in relation to the stockpiles of the weapons. Now that's exactly what we need to look into."
He said he still believed the war had been just.
"I have no doubt whatever that we did the right thing," Blair said. "Now I think there issues to do with intelligence that we need to look at -- and that's not just the intelligence agencies but the government as well, incidentally."