MI6 rushed to back case for Iraq war

By Stephen Fidler and Mark Huband

Financial Times

Published: July 11 2004

The Butler report into intelligence on weapons of mass destruction will paint a picture of Britain's intelligence services rushing to try to justify a political decision to go to war in Iraq.

A central finding of the report, according to people familiar with its contents, will be that intelligence failings stemmed fr om Downing Street's decision first to be ready for war and later to publicly justify it by the threat seen posed by Iraq's WMD.

The report, due to be released on Wednesday, is expected to avoid criticism of government members or intelligence officials and to focus on ensuring appropriate procedures are followed in future. But it concludes that MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, delivered inadequate intelligence, that there were flaws in the way it was assessed and that, in some respects, the way it was publicly presented was misleading.

The inquiry says that while Tony Blair's government was genuinely concerned about the spread of WMD and the risk they could fall into the hands of terrorists, Iraq had not been seen as a primary threat.

As a result, MI6 had concentrated on other threats regarded as more immediate, such as Libya, Iran and the nuclear network led by Abdul-Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist. Here, the report will conclude that procedures worked well.

However, after Do wning Street decided to back the Bush administration's desire for regime change in Baghdad in 2002, the intelligence services had to hurry to expand the material they produced from Iraq. This appears to have driven MI6 to rely on sources inside Iraq that could not be tested for reliability.

The report is expected to say that some of the intelligence provided by MI6 was inadequately sourced. This includes one of the most highly-publicised parts of the September 2002 government dossier on Iraq's WMD - the claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes.

But the five-person panel headed by Lord Butler has also concluded that the claim in the dossier that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger was consistent with the intelligence.

The inquiry has also found the dossier omitted caveats that were contained in the original secret assessments by the Joint Intelligence Committee, which directs and evaluates the work of the intelligence services.