Weapons Claims Take More Hits

Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair pauses during his monthly briefing at 10 Downing Street in central London, Tuesday March 25, 2003. Blair predicted Tuesday difficult days ahead in the assault on Iraq.
AP
Some parts of British intelligence dossiers on Iraqi weapons were "plainly inaccurate," former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Friday, contesting the government's continuing insistence that the documents were correct.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has been on the defensive over two dossiers, published in September and early this year. The government has acknowledged that the second document included material from a student thesis lifted from the Internet.

But it has defended the September dossier, which contained a claim that Iraqi plans called for some chemical and biological weapons to be deployed within 45 minutes of an order.

In the past week, there has been a heated exchange between the BBC and the Blair government over the network's story that a Blair aide "sexed-up" a September dossier with the 45-minute claim.

The Blair aide, communications head Alastair Campbell, has denied the charge. He says the BBC is lying.

For his part, Blair insists the 45 minute claim and other assertions his government made were true. Cook, in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio, disagreed.

"For me, the real issue is that we were told things as a justification for war which have plainly turned out to be wrong since the war was over," Cook said. He cited the 45-minute claim, word of an active nuclear program, and charges Iraq tried buy uranium from Africa.

"All of those were in the September dossier, all of them were wrong," Cook said.

Two Parliamentary committees are investigating the government's case that Iraqi weapons programs justified military intervention.

Testifying on Friday before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw insisted that the decision to go to war against Iraq was based on evidence available to the House of Commons on March 18, and said the 45-minute claim made in the September 2002 dossier was not central to that decision.

"I hope we find further corroborative evidence about Saddam's chemical and biological capabilities and his nuclear plans, but whether or not we do, the decision to take military action was justified," Straw said.

On Capitol Hill, where three committees are reviewing prewar intelligence, the House passed an intelligence bill that calls for the CIA director to submit a report on how intelligence was handled during the Iraq war.

Democrats failed to win support for additional inquiries. An amendment proposed by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas to require the U.S. comptroller general to study U.S. intelligence-sharing with U.N. inspectors was defeated 239-185.

By a 347-76 vote, the House rejected an amendment by Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio to require the CIA's inspector general to audit all telephone and electronic communications between the CIA and Vice President Dick Cheney relating to Iraq's weapons. Kucinich is a presidential candidate and an outspoken opponent of the war.

Iraq's alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction was a leading rationale for the war, but none have been found.

The U.S. has discovered two trailers that the CIA believes were mobile labs for producing germ weapons. The State Department's intelligence arm contends that conclusion was premature.

The U.S. has also uncovered, with the help of an Iraqi scientist, parts of a device that could be used as a component in a system to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons use.

More important than the parts themselves, experts said, might be what happens to the scientist, Mahdi Shukur Obeidi.

"Many scientists are watching the Obeidi case as they decide whether to come forward," said Corey Hinderstein, with the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, a nuclear research center which facilitated contact between Obeidi and the CIA.

The Bush administration has said intelligence would be forthcoming once Iraqi scientists begin to cooperate.

U.S. military broadcasts in Iraq have repeatedly called on scientists and other experts to come forward. But the announcements have not included guarantees or offers in return.

Obeidi apparently wanted to exchange hidden information about Saddam Hussein's former nuclear weapons program for asylum.

He contacted a former nuclear inspector, who tried to broker a deal between the U.S. and Obeidi. Talks occurred but U.S. officials hesitated on granting asylum.

Obeidi then turned over components of a centrifuge that he claims Saddam told him to bury in his backyard to preserve for future weapons development.
In the midst of talks with the CIA, the U.S. military arrested and jailed him. They released him, but he want into hiding before being whisked out of the country.

U.S. authorities said the information Obeidi provided wasn't the long-sought "smoking gun" they sought. But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said it buttressed the administration's claim that Saddam had concealed weapons of mass destruction.

Nuclear experts disagreed and said the revelations strengthened U.N. findings that the program was not being revived.

Meanwhile, the U.N. terrorism committee has found no evidence linking Iraq to al Qaeda and did not investigate Bush administration claims of such ties, officials said Thursday.