Blair faces new inquiry as critics prepare for key debate

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Tony Blair is facing another Commons inquiry into the flawed intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction by MPs who claim they were not given the full picture during a previous investigation.

Tony Blair is facing another Commons inquiry into the flawed intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction by MPs who claim they were not given the full picture during a previous investigation.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee will meet tomorrow to discuss whether to reopen its inquiry into the Iraq war after the Butler report revealed last week that MI6 withdrew crucial evidence that bolstered the case for war because it was discredited.

It emerged yesterday that Lord Hutton, who investigated the death of the government scientist David Kelly, would welcome a new Commons inquiry. His own inquiry was not told about the doubts within MI6.

Lord Hutton, whose report absolved the Government and intelligence services of charges of "sexing up" a dossier on Iraq's weapons, cannot revisit his inquiry because there is no constitutional or legal avenue for doing so. But senior sources believe that John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, could be asked why they failed to tell Lord Hutton that MI6 withdrew key intelligence.

Officials connected with the inquiry stress that they have no legal power to ask the Foreign Affairs Committee or the Intelligence and Security Committee, which monitors the intelligence services, to reopen their inquiries. But they say that all relevant documents received by Lord Hutton could be made available.

In a Commons debate on Iraq today, Michael Howard will challenge Mr Blair to say whether he was misled by the intelligence services or whether he misled the nation. The Prime Minister will mount a strong defence of the decision to remove Saddam Hussein, saying that the world is a better place as a result.

The Foreign Affairs Committee carried out its own investigation last summer into the decision to go to war and, like the Hutton inquiry, was not told that the evidence was withdrawn by MI6.

Donald Anderson, the committee's Labour chairman, opposes a further inquiry, sharing Downing Street's view that the pre-war intelligence has now been the subject of four investigations. But he could be outvoted when the MPs meet tomorrow.

Eric Illsley, a Labour member, has asked Commons officials to compare the evidence given to the committee with that provided to the Butler inquiry. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, could then be recalled to explain any discrepancy in a public grilling.

Andrew Mackay, a Tory member of the committee, said: "There is an overwhelming case for reopening the inquiry as there is real new evidence which was not put before us or Hutton in respect of the withdrawal of intelligence which was part of the dossier. Many of us believe it is essential that witnesses are recalled such as the Foreign Secretary so we can cross-examine them in the light of this new information."

Richard Ottaway, a former Tory member of the committee, who was involved in the Kelly inquiry, called for Mr Anderson to reopen the inquiry or resign. "The inquiry we carried out has clearly been denied vital information. The chairman should reopen the inquiry or he should resign."

The Government has limited the scope for a Labour rebellion at the end of today's debate by ensuring it takes place on a technical motion that cannot be amended. Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party at Westminster, said that Mr Blair's majority for military action had now gone.

"Blair is dodging another vote on Iraq. He is not trusted and he is not liked, and realises that in spite of establishment cover-ups, everyone knows that the case for war was a sham," he said.

¿ A poll released yesterday indicates a majority of Britons believes Mr Blair lied over Iraq. Fifty-five per cent of respondents to the ICM poll for The Guardian said Mr Blair had lied, while 37 per cent said he told the truth. Just 38 per cent of those polled said the war was justified, while 56 per cent felt it was not.

TEN QUESTIONS THE PRIME MINISTER HAS TO ANSWER

  • When did Mr Blair learn that some intelligence underpinning the dossier had been withdrawn? Did he learn of any doubts about that intelligence before the war?
  • What changes did Downing Street ask Lord Butler to make to his inquiry report? Did Mr Blair's office try to tone down criticism of the Prime Minister?
  • Why did Government witnesses not tell Lord Hutton that crucial intelligence on Saddam's chemical weapons production had been withdrawn?
  • Why was the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee not told the intelligence had been withdrawn?
  • Did Mr Blair challenge the fact that important caveats in intelligence reports were removed from the Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction?
  • Did Mr Blair ask intelligence officers what sort of weapons the "45-minutes" claim related to?
  • When Lord Goldsmith said he needed "hard facts" to make the legal case for war, on what basis did Mr Blair reassure the Attorney General that the intelligence on Iraq warranted military action? Why will Mr Blair not publish the Attorney General's full advice?
  • Why was the Cabinet denied detailed papers on Iraq and given only oral briefings in the run-up to war?
  • Does Mr Blair accept that his statement to MPs on 24 September 2002 reinforced the impression that there was fuller intelligence behind the Government's dossier than actually existed? Will he now apologise?
  • Would Mr Blair have voted for the motion which authorised war in March last year if he knew then what he knows now?

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