Straw formally withdraws 45-minute WMD claim

The Government today formally withdrew its controversial claim that Iraq had had chemical and biological weapons capable of being deployed within 45 minutes.

In a Commons statement, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw disclosed that a further line of intelligence reporting on Iraqi production of biological weapons agents before the war had also now been withdrawn by MI6 Chief John Scarlett.

Mr Straw's statement means that the Secret Intelligence Service has now had to withdraw three of its main lines of intelligence reporting on Iraq's weapons prior to the war.

In his report on the Iraq intelligence published in July, the former Cabinet Secretary Lord Butler of Brockwell disclosed MI6 had already withdrawn the intelligence from one of its main sources in the country as it was now considered unreliable.

The Butler report also criticised the use of the 45-minute claim in the Government's now notorious dossier on Iraqi weapons published before the war.

It said that it was a "rare" example of the original intelligence material not being correctly reported in the assessments of the Joint Intelligence Committee - Britain's senior intelligence body which drew up the dossier.

The intelligence on the production of biological agents - which was passed to MI6 by the intelligence service of another, undisclosed country - was also criticised in the Butler Report as "seriously flawed".

The report said that it meant that the grounds for the assessment by the JIC before the war that Iraq had recently-produced stocks of biological agent no longer existed.

In the Commons, Mr Straw strongly defended the dossier and the intelligence assessments of the JIC.

"That dossier accurately reflected the views of the JIC at the time that it was signed off by them," he said.

"Far from the dossier being some confection, it was based on the best judgments not just of ourselves but of the wider international community. Everybody assumed Saddam had these weapons."

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