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Hoon criticized over Iraq report


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LONDON, England (CNN) -- British defense chief Geoff Hoon has expressed regret for any "misunderstanding" over his evidence to lawmakers on Iraqi weapons.

Hoon was responding to a report Thursday by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) saying the UK government did not "sex up" its dossier on Iraq, but that its claim Iraq could fire banned weapons in 45 minutes was "unhelpful."

In a report issued two years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the committee also said intelligence officials had warned Prime Minister Tony Blair that invading Iraq would make it easier for terrorists to obtain chemical or biological weapons.

Undermining a main U.S. argument for toppling Saddam Hussein, they had predicted "any collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology or agents finding their way into the hands of terrorists."

The warning was delivered on February 10, five weeks before U.S. and British troops invaded Iraq. In response, Blair told the committee the danger of inaction was greater.

The report released Thursday said it was "disturbed" that Hoon did not disclose full details of staff concerns over the September 2002 dossier.

The initial failure of the defense ministry to reveal details of those concerns was "unhelpful and potentially misleading," the committee's report said.

The committee said the dossier was not "sexed up" by Blair's outgoing communications chief Alastair Campbell "or anyone else."

But the influential committee, from both houses of parliament, said claims in the dossier about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capacity did not give a "balanced view."

"The 45 minutes claim, included four times, was always likely to attract attention because it was arresting detail that the public had not seen before," the report said.

"As the 45 minutes claim was new to its readers, context of the intelligence and any assessment needed to be explained.

"The fact that it was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological munitions and their movement on the battlefield, not to any other form of chemical or biological attack, should have been highlighted in the dossier.

"The omission of the context and the assessment allowed speculation as to its exact meaning. This was unhelpful to an understanding of the issue."

On Hoon, the committee's report said: "We are disturbed that after the first evidence session (before the committee), which did not cover all the concerns released by the intelligence staff, the defense secretary decided against giving instructions for a letter to be written to us outlining the concerns."

Committee Chairwoman Ann Taylor told reporters Hoon was "potentially misleading" in his evidence in July but that he did not lie to the committee.

"He did not tell us lies," she said. "It was potentially misleading, events overtook it. ... We got the information in the end. It is speculative (to ask) what might have happened."

Hoon later rejected opposition calls for his resignation and told lawmakers he had "no intention whatsoever other than to be open and straightforward" with the committee but acknowledged the ministry "could have been more helpful."

"I regret any misunderstanding," he added.

The committee's report comes while a more serious verdict into the UK government's dealings over Iraq is awaited.

Judge Lord Hutton's inquiry into the apparent suicide of government weapons expert David Kelly is due to be released in a matter of weeks.

Kelly died after being named as a possible source for the BBC report claiming the government had "sexed up" the Iraq dossier.

There is already a question mark over Hoon's testimony to the Hutton inquiry, in which he distanced himself from the naming of Kelly. The judicial inquiry resumes next week.


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