Reservations about document's weapons claims went to heart of kitchen cabinet

The damaging e-mail by Jonathan Powell, disclosing his concerns about the draft dossier on Iraq's weapons, suggests the doubts over the Government's central claims about Saddam Hussein's arsenal went to the very heart of Tony's Blair inner circle.

Mr Powell's message, arguably the most explosive piece of evidence revealed to Lord Hutton's inquiry so far, hints at the air of disappointment inside Downing Street. It was sent to John Scarlett, who as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) was in charge of drawing up the document, on 17 September last year, a week before the final version was unveiled by Mr Blair.

At the time, there was growing speculation that the Prime Minister was about to join President George Bush in an attack on Iraq. Mr Blair, who had recently met the US President at Camp David, was anxious to stress that military action was not imminent, while steadily building the case for the Iraq issue to be addressed.

Mr Powell hinted that the dossier as drafted might not win over hostile MPs. His e-mail could be read as an admission that the man at the hub of Mr Blair's circle believed the case against Saddam was pretty wobbly all along. Mr Powell conceded that "the document does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam". That is an uncanny echo of the resignation statement by Robin Cook on the eve of the war.

The Powell e-mail is also bound to fuel suspicion that the dossier may have been "sexed up" after it was sent. If true, that would prove further corroboration for the main thrust of the claim by the BBC's Andrew Gilligan which ignited the war of words with Downing Street. Another version of the dossier was produced two days later, although the details of that draft have not been disclosed by the Hutton inquiry. The final version was given to MPs on 24 September, allowing more time for it to be "hardened", as Martin Howard, deputy chief of defence intelligence, conceded last week.

So it would be no surprise if the language was toughened up in the wake of Mr Powell's memo. In another e-mail disclosed yesterday, dated 5 September, Alastair Campbell told Mr Powell there would need to be a "substantial rewrite" of the dossier. Significantly, this was to reflect Mr Blair's wishes, or, as Mr Campbell put it: "Structure as per TB's discussion." There is also a hint that Mr Blair was pressing the intelligence services to allow more of their material to be used in the document.

We also know from documents posted on the Hutton inquiry website that the title of the document was "sexed up" in the final days before publication. The 19 September version was entitled Iraq's programme for weapons of mass destruction. Yet the final version was called simply Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. This change is rich in irony because Mr Blair has subtly but significantly toned down his claims that WMD would be found in Iraq to say that "evidence" of weapons "programmes" would be uncovered. So the wheel has come full circle.

The other important thing about the Powell e-mail was that Mr Blair appeared to ignore his chief of staff's advice when he unveiled the dossier a week later. Mr Powell, a former diplomat, urged a cautious approach, saying: "We will need to make it clear in launching the document that we do not claim that we have evidence that he [Saddam] is an imminent threat."

Yet on 24 September, the Prime Minister did no such thing. In his foreword to the dossier, Mr Blair wrote: "I wanted to share with the British public the reasons why I believe this to be a current and serious threat to the UK national interest." He had become "increasingly alarmed" by evidence from inside Iraq that Saddam was continuing to develop WMD. "The picture presented to me by the JIC in recent months has become more not less worrying," he added. "I am in no doubt that the threat is current and serious, that he has made progress on WMD, and that he has to be stopped."

The recently acquired intelligence that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes --which first appeared in a draft on 10 or 11 September - was added to the mix by Mr Blair, capturing newspaper headlines and suggesting that the Iraqi threat was imminent.

Ministers insist they never used the word "imminent". Yet their campaign was designed to be as dramatic as possible in an attempt to answer the "why now?" question posed by Mr Cook and many Labour MPs. It is a question that many critics of the war believe was never answered.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine