Report: Iraqi military officer was source for controversial claim on Iraqi weapons

Thursday, June 5th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) -- A senior officer within Saddam Hussein's army was the source for a British intelligence claim that Iraq could deploy some weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes, a British newspaper reported Thursday.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is under fire from lawmakers because of the failure to find Iraq's alleged chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, which were his main justification for war.

The controversy has focused in particular on claims that Blair's office redrafted an intelligence dossier, published in September, to emphasize a single-source report that Saddam could fire chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of the Iraqi leader giving an order to do so.

The Financial Times, basing its report on unnamed "senior" civil servants, said that information came from a "senior Iraqi officer on active service within the country's military."

The paper said British officials in two central government departments described the Iraqi source as having a record for providing reliable data over years.

The September dossier said Iraq had "military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, including against its own Shia population. Some of these weapons are deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them."

The officials also said the source's claim was analyzed by the independent Joint Intelligence Committee, which distributed the information to Cabinet ministers in August, several weeks before the government compiled its intelligence dossier on Iraqi weapons.

A report by British Broadcasting Corp. radio last week quoted an unidentified source as saying that Blair's office had included the 45-minute claim in the dossier even though intelligence officials believed the information was unreliable.

Blair has insisted that the intelligence material used to support his case for military action was approved by the independent Joint Intelligence Committee.

On Wednesday, he announced he would cooperate with a parliamentary investigation into the government's use of intelligence material on Iraqi weapons. But the Intelligence and Security Committee probe may not quiet the controversy, as the body conducts its business in private.

The influential House of Commons Foreign Relations Committee will also hold an inquiry into the use of intelligence and is likely to conduct its investigations in public.

Nevertheless, one of Blair's most outspoken critics over the issue of Iraqi weapons, former Cabinet member Robin Cook, said he would have preferred an independent judicial inquiry -- something opposition leaders also favor, but which the government has rejected.

"I would have preferred to have a more open and transparent inquiry by somebody outside politics like a judge, who could also challenge the Attorney General and whether he still stood by his legal opinion (that military action was legal)," Cook, who quit as Leader of the House of Commons before the war in protest at Blair's Iraq policy, told BBC radio.

"I think that what's happened here is the government started out from a conclusion, it wanted to go to war. It therefore needed the evidence to support war," he said.