Tony Blair told the Commons last week that "it is absolutely right that people can question whether the intelligence received was right and why we have not yet found WMD". Coming at the height of his perceived triumph on the Hutton report, with Labour MPs waving their order papers in support, the Prime Minister's remarks received less attention than they merited.
His subtle shift on the central issue of the existence of Iraqi WMD was the first indication that Downing Street was open to the idea that its intelligence was at least questionable.
During the Hutton inquiry, it emerged that before his evidence session with MPs, David Kelly was briefed by the MoD on so-called "tricky areas" such as his view of the Iraqi threat.
The independent inquiry into the whole WMD affair will have to consider at least the following tricky areas of its own.
1. THE LEGALITY OF WAR
Tony Blair's key political decision to raise the spectre of Iraq's alleged WMD was driven largely by the legal advice he received from the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith QC.
Lord Goldsmith made clear in his legal opinion on the eve of war that military action against Saddam could only comply with international law if the Iraqis were in breach of its UN resolutions on its banned armaments. If WMD did not exist, the legal basis for war is significantly weakened.
2. 'UNACCOUNTED FOR' STOCKS
The UK and US claimed Iraq possessed weapons because it had failed to prove that it had destroyed stocks banned at the end of the 1990-91 Gulf war. But Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector, said that simply because stocks were "unaccounted for", it did not automatically follow they existed.
Mr Blair, in his foreword to the September 2002 dossier, said: "Intelligence reports make clear that he [Saddam] sees ... the belief overseas that he would use these weapons as vital to his ... goal of regional domination." Mr Blair couldn't accept what now seems clear - that Saddam was bluffing.
3. IMMINENT THREAT
Tony Blair insisted WMD was a "current and serious threat" and said he had received an increasing amount of intelligence across his desk throughout 2002. The most powerful case for the imminence of the threat was the claim in the Government's dossier that Saddam could deploy chemical and biological weapons within a mere 45 minutes of an order to do so.
But the Hutton inquiry has shown that the 45-minute claim was single sourced and referred to battlefield weapons, not long-range missiles. Even Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair's chief of staff, said there was no case for an "imminent threat", yet Mr Blair ignored him.
George Bush claimed links between Saddam and al-Qa'ida and convinced 60 per cent of the American public that attacking Iraq was about preventing another 11 September-style attack on the US. Mr Blair and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said there was a "potential link". There has never been any evidence of a link.
The Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee found that Mr Blair had been explicitly warned by intelligence chiefs on 10 February last year that the threat of terror groups getting their hands on WMD would be "heightened by military action against Iraq".
5. DIRTY NUCLEAR BOMB
The original draft of the UK dossier was cautious about the nuclear issue. The Defence Intelligence Staff warned: "Iraq could not produce sufficient weapons grade material for a single weapon for least four or five years and this only once sanctions have been removed."
But Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's communications director, said that he and the Prime Minister preferred an earlier intelligence assessment suggesting that a dirty radiological device could be produced within one to two years. The dossier was accordingly made stronger.
6. ALUMINIUM TUBES
Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, and Mr Straw said intelligence showed Iraq was attempting to import aluminium tubes that could be used to refine Uranium for a nuclear device. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), dismissed the claim.
7. URANIUM FROM AFRICA
Mr Bush quoted the dossier's claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger. The IAEA found the documents on which the claim was made were fakes. The intelligence was not British; it was from a "third country". Britain still stands by the claim.
8. CHEMICAL WEAPONS PRODUCTION/DUAL USE
The dossier said Iraq "continued" to produce chemical weapons, but this was based on a late piece of intelligence from MI6 that has never been made public. A memo submitted to the Hutton inquiry, which was leaked to the The Independent this week, showed that the DIS had warned on 12 September that "we have no idea how many chemical weapons or the quantity of agent that Iraq has". "Mr A", a weapons expert, told Lord Hutton he agreed with Iraqi comments that the inclusion of the phosgene plant in the dossier was "a pretty stupid mistake for the British to make."
9. MOBILE BIO-LABS
Gen Powell made a key part of his UN address the claim that mobile laboratories were in Iraq making biological agents for weaponisation. When asked by No 10 to provide amounts of biological agent, the DIS said "this is an impossible question".
10. THERE WAS NO COMPELLING FRESH EVIDENCE ON WMD
Mr Blair and other ministers have stated that the reason they became alarmed about WMD was because of the increasing number and seriousness of intelligence reports on the issue.. Perhaps the most damaging evidence to undermine came from Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, last summer. He told a Senate subcommittee: "The coalition did not act in Iraq because we had dramatic new evidence of Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass murder. We acted because we saw the existing evidence in a new light through the prism of our experience on 11 September 2001." It seems America's desire to avenge 9-11 was the real reason after all.Reuse content