President looks to establishment for intelligence inquiry

President George Bush appointed a panel yesterday to investigate the so-called intelligence failures over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The seemingly bi-partisan panel will not report its findings until well after this year's presidential election.

Amid growing pressure to explain why the administration's pre-war claims about Saddam Hussein's arsenal have proved to be wrong, Mr Bush named seven members of the nine person panel that will hold an inquiry. They included the Republican Senator John McCain, Charles Robb, a former governor of Virginia and the son-in-law of the former president Lyndon Johnson, and the retired judge Laurence Silberman.

The appointment of Senator McCain, often an outspoken critic of Mr Bush,is in contrast to Tony Blair's appointment of the former cabinet secretary Lord Butler of Brockwell to the UK's WMD review committee.

Critics have already dismissed Lord Butler's inquiry as likely to be a whitewash. Eleven backbenchers, including Peter Kilfoyle, a former defence minister, have signed a Commons motion declaring that the former civil servant's service under three prime ministers "undermines his credibility as a fair and impartial chairman".

Lord Butler exonerated Jonathan Aitken after an inquiry into his visit to the Paris Ritz hotel owned by Mohamed Al Fayed. Mr Aitken was jailed for perjury following a court case over the affair. Lord Butler also defended Whitehall deceit during the Scott inquiry into arms to Iraq.

Mr Bush has been under considerable pressure to explain why the pre-invasion claims he made about Saddam's WMD have been proved false and the White House has tried to shift responsibility to the intelligence community. The director of the CIA, George Tenet, said the agency's analysts had never said Saddam was "an imminent threat".

Democrats sense Mr Bush's growing vulnerability on the issue of WMD. In an effort to regain the momentum, Mr Bush has opted for a somewhat risky strategy of appearing tomorrow on a Sunday morning political talk show, Meet the Press. The show's host, Tim Russert, is known for being less dogged than usual when interviewing cabinet officials.

Meanwhile, the President told Charles Duelfer, the newly appointed head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), yesterday that he "wants him to find the truth ... it is important that we know all the facts".

With no weapons having been found and with Mr Duelfer's predecessor, David Kay, publicly starting he believes no such weapons existed, the focus of the ISG will be to explain what Saddam did with any weapons that existed during the 1990s.

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