LONDON – Britain's Foreign Office on Monday released an early version of a 2002 dossier of prewar intelligence on Iraq that became vital to Tony Blair's case for war.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband published a draft of the document on Iraq's weapons capabilities following a request under Freedom of Information laws.
The document includes references to intelligence claims that Iraq had acquired uranium and had equipment necessary to produce chemical weapons. But the file does not contain a claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes — an allegation which was later discredited but became crucial to Blair's push to back the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Campaigners allege the assertion was inserted into later drafts of the document shortly before it was published on the orders of Blair's office, which was seeking to strengthen the case for war — a claim the government has strongly denied.
Miliband insisted the early draft, produced by then Foreign Office press office chief John Williams, was not used as the basis for later documents, drafted by the Joint Intelligence Committee.
Blair presented a final draft of the JIC dossier, called "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction," to parliament on Sep. 24, 2002 — a document which included the 45-minute claim.
A second document, published in February 2003 — which became known as the "dodgy dossier"_ was found to have repeated verbatim parts of an academic study on Iraq's supposed concealment of weapons of mass destruction.
Ex-U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said last year he believed Blair had replaced "question marks with exclamation marks" in intelligence dossiers to justify the decision to invade Iraq.
A 2004 official inquiry into intelligence on Iraq did not fault Blair's government but criticized intelligence officials for relying in part on seriously flawed or unreliable sources.
Lord Butler, who headed the inquiry, said the dossiers had pushed the government's case to the limits of available intelligence and left out vital caveats.
Government weapons scientist David Kelly killed himself in 2003 after he was exposed as the source of a British Broadcasting Corp. report that accused Blair's Downing Street office of "sexing up" intelligence to make a stronger case for war.
Writing in The Guardian newspaper, Williams said Monday that many within the government failed to spot problems with Blair's case for joining the invasion of Iraq.
"Others were more perceptive, including one of the ministers I advised for a time, (ex-Foreign Secretary) Robin Cook," Williams wrote.
Cook, who died in 2005, resigned from Blair's Cabinet in opposition to the war, claiming he could not support military action without international approval.
"He was right. Those of us who carried on working for the government were wrong," Williams wrote.
Miliband criticized the decision of freedom of information authorities to order the release of the Williams document.
"Officials and others who draft policy documents should not feel constrained in presenting free and frank advice through fear that their ideas will be made public," Miliband said in a written statement.