| Lord Hutton arrives at the royal courts in London. (Reuters)
London, Aug. 11 (Reuters): Two British defence officials expressed concern over the way Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government presented intelligence on Iraq’s military threat in a pre-war dossier, an inquiry was told today.
Martin Howard, deputy chief of intelligence at Britain’s defence ministry, told an inquiry into the death of weapons expert David Kelly that two officials were unhappy with the language in Blair’s September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s weaponry.
“At the time the dossier was produced, there was a very wide variety of views,” Howard told the opening day of Lord Justice Hutton’s inquiry into Kelly’s suicide. “Two individuals expressed concern about some language (in the dossier).”
Government biologist Kelly slashed his wrist last month after being named as the source for a news story that said the government warped intelligence reports to justify war in Iraq.
Hutton’s inquiry into his suicide has become a vital political test for Blair, whose public support has been eroded by the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in the four months since Saddam Hussein was overthrown. Blair is due to return from holiday in the Caribbean to testify and the fate of some of his top officials hangs on the outcome of Hutton’s findings.
Howard said two members of the ministry’s defence intelligence staff were worried by claims that intelligence “showed”, rather than “indicated” or “suggested”, Saddam was determined to possess weapons of mass destruction.
His comments appeared to confirm media reports of concern in some parts of Britain’s intelligence community over the use of the dossier to justify war against Saddam.
But neither Howard nor any of the three other civil servants who gave evidence today supported claims made by a BBC reporter that the dossier was “sexed up” on the instruction of Blair’s powerful communications chief, Alastair Campbell.
Britain’s political elite was rocked when Kelly killed himself after being identified as the source of a BBC report that said the government had exaggerated the threat of Iraq’s banned weapons.
A YouGov survey published yesterday showed 41 per cent blamed the government for Kelly’s death and 68 per cent believed the government was dishonest.
Blair’s official spokesperson was forced to apologise unreservedly last week for comparing Kelly — described by his former UN chief Richard Butler as a man “wedded to the truth” — to the fictional fantasist Walter Mitty. Terence Taylor, a former colleague of Kelly’s on the Unscom weapons inspection missions to Iraq, today gave a robust defence of the scientist’s record.
“He was recognised internationally, he had a very high standing, not only in the UK but in the US and other countries,” Taylor told the opening session of the inquiry.
“And rightly so. His work was quite remarkable.”
Taylor said Kelly’s expertise, tenacity and resolve under pressure had forced Iraq to admit in 1995 to a biological warfare programme that it had previously denied having. Government documents presented to the inquiry described him as the leading British expert on all aspects of West Asian chemical and biological proliferation.
Opposition politicians have said the outcome of the inquiry, which is expected to last for months, could play a key factor in the next general election, expected by 2005.
US hunts loyalists
US troops with Apache helicopters and Abrams tanks scoured a remote region north of Baghdad today to hunt Saddam Hussein loyalists, rounding up a dozen suspects and seizing five weapons caches.
The US army said one soldier was killed and two soldiers were wounded last night in a bomb blast in Baquba, a restive town northeast of Baghdad.
Three other soldiers were wounded, one seriously, in a bomb and rocket-propelled grenade attack today near the town of Shumayt, north of Tikrit.
In Baghdad, US soldiers said three Iraqis died after an American convoy was attacked with a grenade. One bloodstained body lay at the scene with at least three bullet wounds.