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Blair office launches fresh assault on BBC

London, July 3 (Reuters): The British government today launched a fresh assault on the country’s public broadcaster, the BBC, over a claim government officials doctored a dossier on Iraq’s weapons to strengthen their case for war.

Breaking a temporary truce in the weapons row, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office said a letter from a top Blair aide that was leaked to a newspaper proved that the BBC’s charges were false. The Guardian newspaper today published a letter sent by Alastair Campbell, Blair’s communications supremo, to a parliamentary committee that is probing an allegation aired on the BBC that Campbell “sexed up” Iraqi intelligence.

In the letter — which Blair’s office said bore the approval of the intelligence services — Campbell said he suggested 11 changes to a September dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, six of which were adopted. Blair’s spokesman said the letter proved Campbell had not sought to exaggerate intelligence of Iraq’s banned weapons — the primary Anglo-American motive for attacking Iraq.

The letter “completely contradicts the BBC’s claim,” the spokesman said.

The BBC, citing an anonymous intelligence source, accused Campbell of inserting into the dossier a claim that Iraq could deploy weapons in 45 minutes. Blair’s office says the charge is an attack on the government’s integrity and wants an apology.

The BBC declined to comment on the letter today, saying it would await the committee’s verdict. The row comes at a bad time for Blair. The failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has undermined his government’s credibility and dented his popularity.

A recent poll showed that 34 per cent of the public is less likely to trust Blair on other issues due to the weapons row. The Foreign Affairs Committee is due to publish its report on the weapons row on Monday but opposition legislators are claiming the report will be politically biased.

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