Australia's 'Butler report' clears government

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The Independent Online

A report into Australian intelligence failings in the lead-up to the Iraq war has cleared the government of interfering with intelligence assessments to boost its case for joining the US-led invasion, Prime Minister John Howard said today.

The report by former Australian diplomat and spy master Philip Flood found "there was no evidence of politicisation of the assessments on Iraq, either overt of perceived," said Mr Howard.

That ruling is a major boost for Mr Howard ahead of elections expected in September or October.

He sent 2,000 troops to back the US and British military in the invasion and still has nearly 900 military personnel in the region.

The report - similar to the recent Butler report in Britain - was to be made public later today.

According to a statement released by Mr Howard, Mr Flood found a need for greater transparency and accountability in the Australian intelligence community.

He recommended the prime minister's major adviser on intelligence analysis, the Office of National Assessments, have its annual budget almost doubled to 25 million Australian dollars (£9.7 million) a year.

Mr Howard said he would implement all Mr Flood's recommendations except one, that ANO change its name.

"Mr Flood found that the Australian intelligence community is performing well and is a potent capability for the government," Mr Howard said in a statement.

Mr Howard ordered the Flood inquiry in March on the recommendation of a parliamentary committee that looked at Australian intelligence agencies leading up to the Iraq war.

The parliamentary report concluded there were unlikely to have been large stocks of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war.

It also found the government had not misrepresented Australian intelligence to bolster the case for war.

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