Iraq intelligence 'seriously flawed' says Butler

By Gavin Cordon, Whitehall Editor, PA News

The Independent

14 July 2004

Intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in the run–up to war was "seriously flawed" and "open to doubt" Lord Butler's inquiry declared today.

The ex–Cabinet Secretary's 200–page report said Prime Minister Tony Blair's September 2002 dossier should not have included its controversial claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy WMD within 45 minutes.

And it said Mr Blair's statement to the Commons on the dossier may have "reinforced the impression" that there was "fuller and firmer" intelligence behind the assessments in the dossier than was actually the case.

But the report said chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee John Scarlett should not step down from his new post as chief of MI6, despite finding that JIC included some information in the dossier should not have been included.

The report says of Mr Scarlett: "We have a high regard for his abilities and his record."

The failings were not his "personal responsibility" but collective ones.

The inquiry said that when the Government began considering military action against Iraq in March 2002, the intelligence was "insufficiently robust" to justify claims that Iraq was in breach of United Nations resolutions requiring it to disarm.

And it said that since the conflict, key claims based on reports from agents in Iraq, including claims that the Iraqis had recently produced biological agents, had had to be withdrawn because they were unreliable.

The report also said the Government's controversial dossier went to the "outer limits" of the available intelligence.

Lord Butler later told reporters it was a "serious failing" that the dossier did not contain warnings and caveats about intelligence known to the JIC.

Lord Butler also said "more weight was placed on the intelligence than it could bear" and criticised the Government for publicly stating the JIC had "ownership" of the dossier, lending it more credibility than it might otherwise have had.

But he stressed there was "no deliberate attempt on the part of the Government to mislead".

The Butler report also criticised the "informality" of decision–making in No 10, with oral presentations relied on which made it impossible for Cabinet ministers to have advance notice of issues to be discussed.