London, Feb. 7 (Reuters): British Prime Minister Tony Blair was accused today of playing the same propaganda games as Saddam Hussein after chunks of an “intelligence” dossier on Iraq turned out to have been plagiarised from academic papers.
The dossier, published this week on a government website, said Iraq had mounted a massive campaign to deceive and intimidate UN inspectors hunting for banned weapons.
The latest in a series of British documents focusing on the alleged threat from Saddam and rallying support for a possible US-led war, it was praised by US secretary of state Colin Powell in the UN Security Council on Wednesday. It claimed to draw upon “a number of sources, including intelligence material”. But today, red-faced officials admitted whole swathes were lifted word for word — grammatical slips and all — from a student thesis. Outraged politicians jumped on the revelation to accuse Blair of misleading the public and said it cast doubt on the credibility of his whole case against Saddam.
“This is the sort of thing that Saddam Hussein himself issues,” fumed Opposition Liberal Democrat Jenny Tonge.
One of Blair’s former junior defence ministers, Peter Kilfoyle, said he was shocked that the government was trying to win over Britons on such “thin evidence”.
“It just adds to the general impression that what we have been treated to is a farrago of half-truths, assertions and over-the-top ‘spin’,” he told BBC radio.
Glen Rangwala, an Iraq specialist at Cambridge University who analysed the Downing Street dossier, told Reuters 11 of its 19 pages were “taken wholesale from academic papers.”
“If the nature of the intelligence is actually just web research, then it rather casts doubt about the plausibility of the government’s earlier claims,” said Rangwala, a critic of US and British policy on Iraq.
Sections in the dossier on Saddam’s security apparatus drew heavily on an article written last year by Ibrahim al-Marashi, an American postgraduate student of Iraqi descent who works at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.
“I was a bit disenchanted because they never cited my article,” Marashi told BBC radio.
“... any academic, when you publish anything, the only thing you ask for in return is that they include a citation of your work. There are laws and regulations about plagiarism that you would think the UK government would abide by,” he said.
Experts who pored over the document said it also lifted material from articles published in 1997 and 2002 in Jane’s Intelligence Review.
British ministers have privately admitted that gathering information on Iraq is extremely difficult and intelligence on Baghdad is “thin”.
Rangwala said the document was sloppy and appeared to have been pulled together in a hurry.
“That shows there is anxiety in the British government about public distrust of the information that they have been circulating — and their lack of a substantive case that the inspections route is not a viable alternative to war,” he said.
Britain, which is pouring tens of thousands of troops into the Gulf to support US preparations for possible military conflict with Iraq, also came under fire over its last dossier on Iraq — a paper published in December on rights violations.
The human rights group Amnesty International accused Britain of raising Iraqi rights abuses which it had studiously ignored in the 1980s when Saddam, backed by the West, fought an eight-year war with Iran.