LONDON – Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) escaped harsh criticism in an official inquiry into prewar intelligence on Iraq, which faulted him Wednesday for informal decision-making and pushing available intelligence to the limit, but found no deliberate distortions.
Blair said he took full, personal responsibility. But he told parliament, "No one lied, no one made up the intelligence" after the much-awaited report was released.
The commission -- headed by Lord Butler (search), a retired civil service chief -- found prewar Iraq had no usable stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and that British intelligence was flawed, unreliable and incomplete. The five-member commission interviewed Blair, senior Cabinet figures and key intelligence officials.
But while criticizing Blair's "informal" governing style, it absolved him of misleading the public over Iraq, a charge that has dogged the prime minister since he took Britain into the U.S.-led war.
Protesters -- including some who wore masks depicting Blair with a Pinocchio-like long nose -- greeted the announcement by gathering outside the news conference where the report was released and carrying signs that featured Blair's face and read: B.liar.
Butler's judgment vindicates the British government of some of the harshest charges against it, a week after a Republican-led U.S. Senate committee excoriated a "broken corporate culture" at the CIA and said there had been a "global intelligence failure" on Iraq. CIA director George Tenet (search) resigned before the report was released.
In Washington, the CIA declined comment on the British report.
The verdict takes some pressure off Blair, whose popularity and credibility have been battered by the war and continuing violence in Iraq, and by the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction.
His Labour Party did poorly in recent elections, and there have been rumblings within the party calling for his ouster.
Blair's future has wider symbolic and political ramifications months after a pro-war government was voted out in Spain, and with Bush -- Blair's chief ally -- facing a re-election campaign.
"We have no reason, found no evidence, to question the prime minister's good faith," Butler told reporters.
He concluded "no single individual" was responsible for intelligence failures that led Blair's government to overstate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein (search).
"This was a collective operation in which there were the failures we've identified, but no deliberate attempt on the part of the government to mislead," he said.
Before the war, Blair said Saddam "has chemical and biological weapons ... [and] existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons."
Addressing the House of Commons on Wednesday, however, he acknowledged it was likely Saddam "did not have stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons ready to deploy."
But Blair -- who appointed the investigating commission five months ago -- defended his decision to go to war.
"I cannot honestly say I believe getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all," he said. "Iraq, the region, the wider world is a better and safer place without Saddam."
He added: "Any mistakes made should not be laid at the door of our intelligence and security community.
"They do a tremendous job for our country. I accept full personal responsibility for the way the issue was presented and therefore for any errors made."
Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, an opponent of the war, said the report showed "we committed British troops to action on the basis of false intelligence, overheated analysis and unreliable sources."
Like a U.S. Senate report released last week, the Butler report found human intelligence sources lacking.
One source's reporting was "open to doubt," while a second was "unreliable," the report said. And it found intelligence received from another nation on Iraq's biological agents was "seriously flawed." It didn't name the country.
The report criticized Britain's intelligence agencies for failing to check all their sources and relying on secondhand reports.
It also noted a "strain" between the measured assessments of intelligence officers and the government's desire to find strong evidence of the Iraqi threat -- but insisted that did not amount to exaggerating or manipulating intelligence.
Butler said "there was no evidence we came across that the intelligence collectors were asked to collect intelligence to justify a particular course of action."
The report was the latest to exonerate Blair's government. Three previous inquiries also cleared officials of misusing intelligence or lying to build a case for war.
The government was accused in a May 2003 British Broadcasting Corp. report of falsely claiming that Iraq could deploy some chemical and biological weapons on 45 minutes' notice. The BBC has been criticized for the report.
Butler said the 45-minute claim was the weakest piece of intelligence published about Iraq, and should not have been made without explaining that it referred to battlefield munitions rather than missiles.
Butler did mention Blair's "informal" style of government -- which relies heavily on the advice of unelected special advisers rather than Cabinet ministers -- "risks reducing the scope for informed collective political judgment." But the report made no recommendations for change and called for no resignations.
The report stressed that Joint Intelligence Committee head John Scarlett should not step down from his new job as chief of the MI6 spy agency (search). "We have a high regard for his abilities and his record," the report said.
Butler also noted that British intelligence had not suggested there was evidence of cooperation between Saddam and Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.