Iraq inquiry leak leaves Hoon at the precipice

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Indy Politics

Geoff Hoon's chance of avoiding the sack all but disappeared yesterday with an allegation that he had given MPs "misleading" evidence on the Government's intelligence on Iraq.

The Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee is expected to criticise the Defence Secretary today for his testimony on dissent among intelligence officials about the dossier last September. In their long-awaited report, the MPs will describe Mr Hoon's evidence as "unhelpful" and "misleading", a leak suggested yesterday.

But Tony Blair will also face embarrassment when the committee concludes that two key claims on the Iraqi threat should not have been included in the dossier.

The Independent understands that the ISC will conclude that the claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons at 45-minute standby and that he had sought uranium from Africa should never have been used.

The 45-minute claim, which formed the centrepiece of BBC allegations over the "sexing up" of the dossier, was based on raw intelligence, but the assessment of it was "confused", the MPs found. The claim on uranium from Niger should also not have been used because the CIA had already warned Britain it was not credible.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, used the report to launch a bitter attack on Mr Blair at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday. Mr Duncan Smith demanded that Mr Hoon be sacked for misleading Parliament, but insisted that responsibility for the affair should rest right at the top.

"Isn't this leaked report another nail in the coffin of this Government? You can get rid of [Alastair] Campbell. You can even get rid of the Defence Secretary. But the lying and the spinning won't stop until we get rid of you!" he said.

Mr Blair replied: "In relation to either that report or the Hutton inquiry, rather than deciding what it says before it is published, let's wait and see and not make up our minds beforehand." He also praised Mr Hoon for his performance during the war in Iraq.

Government sources made clear that any decision on Mr Hoon would have to wait until after Lord Hutton completed his report, expected in late October.

The Hutton inquiry has heard testimony that members of Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) within the Ministry of Defence expressed concern over the Iraq dossier's misuse of intelligence.

The London Evening Standard, which received the leaked report, suggested that Mr Hoon had flatly denied that any such concerns had been expressed.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman stressed that the media should treat the leak "with caution" and said a leak inquiry was being discussed with the committee.

Whitehall sources said that Mr Hoon had volunteered the fact that dissent had existed in the DIS and that the "misleading" quote did not refer to the Defence Secretary specifically. When he first appeared in mid-July he gave few details. After the Hutton inquiry heard of concerns in the DIS, he was recalled to give a clearer picture.

The Intelligence and Security Committee will clear Mr Campbell of "sexing up" the dossier, and state that the document was produced within established guidelines.