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Campbell denies ‘sexed-up’ charge

London, Aug. 19 (Reuters): Prime Minister Tony Blair’s top aide today rejected allegations he had hyped the case for war in Iraq, saying he even urged intelligence chiefs to cut the rhetoric from a dossier on Baghdad’s weapons.

Facing interrogation at a potentially explosive inquiry, Alastair Campbell said he never sought to exaggerate the threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to justify an unpopular war but instead wanted the dossier’s colourful language toned down.

The pugnacious media handler went so far as to say he had “no input, output (or) influence” on the dossier at any stage, despite accusations by a BBC reporter that the hype was all his.

“I said: ‘The drier the better, cut the rhetoric’,” Campbell said. “There were areas where the language was too colourful. I also said the more intelligence-based it was, the better.”

Blair used the dossier to justify his case for defying public opinion to join the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Widespread suspicion among voters that the danger from Iraq’s banned weapons was exaggerated has hit Blair’s popularity and provoked the most serious crisis of his six-year rule.

Campbell — a master of political spin whose influence on Blair extends far beyond message management — is at the centre of a vicious row with the BBC over a report that he “sexed up” the weapons intelligence to win over war sceptics.

Weapons scientist David Kelly, who was found dead with a slashed wrist in woods near his home in July, was identified as the source for the report just days before his death.

The inquiry into events leading to Kelly’s death is a key test for Blair, who is due to testify after his holiday.

Arriving at the royal courts of justice in central London, Campbell, 46 — an abrasive and confident operator — faced jeering from around 30 demonstrators waving banners protesting against the Iraq war.

Campbell repeated his emphatic denial that he inflated evidence about Iraq’s weapons by giving undue prominence to a claim that Saddam could launch weapons at 45 minutes’ notice.

Asked whether he had any influence on whether the 45-minute claim was in the dossier or not, he said: “None whatever”.

He said the words in the published dossier were the same as the ones in the draft version he saw on September 10.

But sceptical Britons may not be convinced — and any mud that sticks to Campbell in the inquiry will reflect badly on his boss given the pair’s close relationship.

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