Iraq WMD dossier claim denied

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Alastair Campbell's claim that the controversial Iraq dossier was not about putting the "case for war" has been strongly denied by a former top military intelligence officer.

Mr Campbell, Tony Blair's former communications director, last year dismissed suggestions he sought to "beef up" the September 2002 dossier on Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

"It was not the case for war, it was the case why the Prime Minister had become more concerned," he told the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War.

But Major General Michael Laurie, the Ministry of Defence's director general intelligence collection from 2002 to 2003, said this was the opposite of the instructions given to the officials who drafted the dossier.

He said in a statement released by the Chilcot Inquiry today: "Alistair Campbell said to the inquiry that the purpose of the dossier was not 'to make a case for war'.

"I had no doubt at that time this was exactly its purpose and these very words were used.

"The previous paper, drafted in February and March, known to us then also as the dossier, was rejected because it did not make a strong enough case.

"From then until September we were under pressure to find intelligence that could reinforce the case."

Maj Gen Laurie said his then-boss, Chief of Defence Intelligence Air Marshall Sir Joe French, was "under pressure" to find more proof of Saddam's weapons programmes.

"We could find no evidence of planes, missiles or equipment that related to WMD, generally concluding that they must have been dismantled, buried or taken abroad," he said in his statement dated January 2010.

"There has probably never been a greater detailed scrutiny of every piece of ground in any country.

"During the drafting of the final dossier, every fact was managed to make it as strong as possible, the final statements reaching beyond the conclusions intelligence assessments would normally draw from such facts."

Maj Gen Laurie said it was "clear" to him that direction and pressure were being applied to the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), whose chairman, Sir John Scarlett, was the author of the dossier.

He went on: "We knew at the time that the purpose of the dossier was precisely to make a case for war, rather than setting out the available intelligence, and that to make the best out of sparse and inconclusive intelligence the wording was developed with care.

"The question that needs to be asked is, if there had been no remit to draft the 'dossier', would the JIC in their normal process have produced papers that would have come to the same assessment as the dossier?"

Maj Gen Laurie's comments will revive debate about claims that the dossier was "sexed up" by Downing Street officials to justify the March 2003 invasion of Iraq that overthrew Saddam.

Mr Campbell told the inquiry in his evidence in January 2010 that he was there to give "presentational advice" and never tried to override any of Sir John's judgments.

Another statement released by the Chilcot Inquiry today qualifies Mr Blair's testimony in January this year that the situation in Iraq appeared to be improving in the months after the invasion.

The former prime minister said senior British diplomat Sir Hilary Synnott was "on balance optimistic, not pessimistic" when he stood down as head of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority in southern Iraq in January 2004.

But Sir Hilary stressed that he was talking only about the south of the country and noted that this assessment was based on his recommended strategy of maintaining a multinational development team in the region.

In the event this team was disbanded and the "vast majority" of its projects failed.

Sir Hilary said in his statement: "I would not suggest that an alternative approach such as I had proposed would have prevented the subsequent build-up of violence.

"But it is possible that the attitudes of the people in the south would have been more positive as they experienced the benefits of the projects as they came on stream.

"It was with such considerations in mind - the need for continued civilian attention and effort - that I was able to offer Mr Blair a measure of optimism in January 2004.

"Had I known that the civilian capital, experience and impetus built up over the previous year would be allowed to fall away, thereby increasing the burden on the armed forces, I would no doubt have offered a different judgment."

Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot's panel hopes to publish its final report this year but he said it would not be released before Parliament's summer recess in July.