Britain and the United States had no clear intelligence on whether Iraq could use its supposed weapons of mass destruction during the war, the Ministry of Defence admitted yesterday.
The MoD's first official report into the Iraq conflict gave no support to Tony Blair's claim that Saddam Hussein was "ready" to use chemical and biological armament "within 45 minutes".
In fact, the report acknowledges very limited intelligence was available to the Allied forces before the invasion in March." It was therefore a very difficult intelligence target with few sources of information", the document said.
" ... Although we knew much about the broad structure and disposition of Iraqi land and air forces, very little was known about how they planned to oppose the coalition or whether they had the will to fight".
The 48-page report Operations in Iraq 2003: First Reflections stated "it was judged" the Iraqi regime may use ballistic missiles and "possibly" weapons of mass destruction; but only "if it could make the capabilities available for operational use and secure the obedience of subordinate commanders".
The Prime Minister had claimed in a foreword to the Downing Street dossier in September last year, "his [Saddam's] military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them".
In a subsequent Commons debate, Mr Blair continued "he [Saddam] has existing and active military plans for use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes".
The proposition that Saddam Hussein had it within his power to start devastating chemical and biological attacks within 45 minutes was used by the Government to argue for military action rather than allow United Nations weapons inspectors to continue their work.
The report is the first part of a "Lessons Learned" exercise carried out by the MoD, standard practice after a major conflict. The report also blamed lack of intelligence for the near-anarchy which followed the collapse of the Saddam regime.
The Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, Paul Keetch, said: "The truth of the matter has fallen between the spooks and the spinners."