Inquiry calls over WMD intelligence fiasco

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair and the Bush administration were facing growing demands yesterday for independent inquiries into the intelligence debacle over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

The pressure intensified this week with the admission by David Kay, the outgoing chief weapons inspector, that "we were almost all wrong" in the belief that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons.

Downing Street brushed aside calls for an independent inquiry into the approach to the war in Iraq. But the clamour for answers mounted yesterday when the Conservatives joined anti-war MPs in demanding an investigation.

Mr Blair is likely to face renewed questioning from MPs when he faces members of the Commons Liaison Committee on Tuesday, while the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee was said to be planning to examine the intelligence used in the run-up to war.

Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, appealed to Mr Blair to admit the intelligence was "wildly wrong". He said: "Now that even the White House has admitted they may have got it wrong, it's getting embarrassing to watch our government still trying to deny reality. The game is up."

In the United States, even some influential Republicans in Congress say only a full-scale and non-partisan investigation can provide the answers. For the White House such an investigation might open an election year Pandora's box, and for the moment it appears to be stalling, a tactic that may be helped in the short term by the apparent rejection of a similar exercise in Britain by Mr Blair.

Condoleezza Rice, Mr Bush's National Security Adviser, said this week that, although the President was determined to get to the bottom of the matter, the Iraq Survey Group, which Mr Kay used to head, must finish its work first.

Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "Condoleezza Rice's comments show once again that a full independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the lead-up to the Iraq war and its aftermath is absolutely essential."

"I want to know the facts," Mr Bush told reporters yesterday, refusing to commit to an independent inquiry. But such delay may no longer be possible.

In a blistering criticism of the CIA, Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, described events as "a runaway train". The result was "a world-class intelligence failure".

The case for an outside independent investigation is strengthened by the likelihood of deadlock on the Senate and House intelligence panels which are due to finalise draft reports on the WMD fiasco. Mr Roberts left little doubt that his report would be highly critical.

Even so the Democratic minorities on the two committees are likely to issue dissenting reports, claiming the White House deliberately exaggerated claims about Saddam's weapons.