LONDON – A parliamentary committee on Monday sharply criticized the government's handling of intelligence on Iraqi weapons but cleared Prime Minister Tony Blair's (search) communications chief of "improper influence" over the drafting of an intelligence dossier.
The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (search) said the dossier, published in September, gave undue prominence to a claim that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of Saddam Hussein giving the order to do so.
It said the language used in the dossier was "more assertive than that traditionally used in intelligence documents."
The cross-party committee also said Blair misrepresented to lawmakers the status of another dossier on Iraqi arms, published in January, which included material copied from a graduate thesis posted on the Internet.
The committee said that it was "wholly unacceptable" for the government to plagiarize work without attribution, as happened with the January dossier.
"We further conclude that by referring to the document on the floor of the House (of Commons) as 'further intelligence,' the prime minister -- who had not been informed of its provenance, doubts about which only came to light several days later -- misrepresented its status," the committee's report said.
The 45-minute claim has become the focus of a bitter dispute between the government and the British Broadcasting Corp. (search), which quoted an unidentified intelligence source as claiming Blair aides redrafted the dossier to include the reference and boost the case for war. Blair has described the BBC report as "absurd," while Campbell said it was a lie.
The Foreign Affairs Committee, which questioned Campbell, said the powerful communications chief played no role in including the 45-minute claim in the September document.
"We conclude that on the basis of the evidence available to us, Alastair Campbell did not exert or seek to exert improper influence on the drafting of the September dossier," the report said.
That verdict was only reached after the committee chairman, ruling Labor Party lawmaker Donald Anderson, used his tie-breaking power as chair to exonerate Campbell.
The government has acknowledged that the 45-minute claim was based on a single source which it considered reliable.
The failure to find banned arms since Saddam's ouster has raised questions about the intelligence Blair used to persuade skeptical lawmakers to back military intervention. The prime minister had made the threat posed by Iraq's alleged chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs the backbone of his case for war.