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Iraq arms inquiry raps Blair

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A British parliamentary committee has issued its report into whether Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government exaggerated intelligence against Iraq to convince the country to go to war.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair "misrepresented" the findings of intelligence information on Iraq's weapons program, but the government did not mislead the public ahead of the war, a parliamentary committee has found.

The committee on Monday cleared the government's communication director of any wrongdoing in the preparation of a dossier used to justify the UK joining the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

The Foreign Affairs Committee, made up mostly of members of Blair's ruling Labour Party, has been looking into allegations the government "sexed up" intelligence information to strengthen its argument that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

The committee looked into two dossiers, one from September 2002 and a second from February this year.

The September document contained a claim that Iraq could deploy lethal weapons within 45 minutes.

"We conclude that the claims made in the September dossier were in all probability well founded on the basis of the intelligence then available," the committee said.

But it said the dossier "was in places more assertive than that traditionally used in intelligence documents."

The government has acknowledged that the 45-minute reference came from a single source. However, it said that source was thought to be reliable.

As for the February dossier, the committee concluded that Blair, in comments to the House of Commons, "misrepresented its status and thus inadvertently made a bad situation worse."

"We conclude that the effect of the February dossier was almost wholly counterproductive. By producing such a document the government undermined the credibility of their case for war and of other documents which were part of it," the committee said.

Parts of the February dossier were taken from a student's thesis which had been posted on the Internet.

But the committee believed that "ministers did not mislead Parliament."

"We conclude that it appeared likely that there was only limited access to reliable human intelligence in Iraq and that as a consequence the United Kingdom may have been heavily reliant on U.S. technical intelligence, on the defectors and on exiles with an agenda of their own."

Row between government and BBC

The committee's public hearings into the allegations sparked a bitter row between the government and the BBC, which reported that government communications chief Alastair Campbell altered the September dossier to include the 45-minute claim.

Campbell has vigorously denied the report and has threatened to sue the BBC.

On Monday, the committee said Campbell "did not play any role in the inclusion of the 45-minute claim in the September dossier."

But said it was "wrong for Alastair Campbell or any special adviser to have chaired a meeting on an intelligence matter, and we recommend that this practice cease."

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called on the BBC to apologize for the report. "They should have the grace to acknowledge that they got it wrong," he told reporters Monday. (Full story)

Concern that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was the main justification for the war with Iraq. So far, no evidence has been found that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed such weapons.

"We conclude that it is too soon to tell whether the government's assertions on Iraq's chemical and biological weapons will be borne out," the committee said.

"However, we have no doubt that the threat posed to United Kingdom forces was genuinely perceived as a real and present danger and that the steps taken to protect them were justified by the information available at the time."

Former House of Commons leader Robin Cook has accused Campbell of using the row with the BBC to draw attention away from the coalition's failure to find any weapons.

"He has managed to convince half the media that the Foreign Affairs inquiry is into the origins of his war with (the BBC) ... not in to the war with Iraq," Cook told The Guardian newspaper Monday.

"The serious allegation is that they got it wrong, and they should not be allowed to get off answering that issue because Alastair has souped up this controversy," said Cook, who quit the cabinet before the war began.

Blair is expected to be asked about both dossiers when he appears before a separate parliamentary committee Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a former U.S. diplomat said Sunday he told the Bush administration that Iraq had not tried to buy uranium from Niger in the late 1990s to develop nuclear weapons. (Full report)

Former Ambassador to Gabon Joseph Wilson told NBC's "Meet the Press" he informed the CIA and the State Department that such information was false months before U.S. and British officials used it during the debate that led to war.

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