Iraqi colonel: I am WMD claim source

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The Independent Online

An Iraqi colonel said yesterday that he was the source of the Government's "dodgy dossier" claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

Lieutenant-Colonel al-Dabbagh, who said he was the head of an Iraqi air defence unit in the desert, outed himself. But he explained that the weapons he was talking about were battlefield weapons to be fired from rocket-propelled grenades, and were not for use in missiles.

"They arrived in boxes marked 'Made in Iraq' and looked like something you fired with a rocket-propelled grenade," Col al-Dabbagh told The Sunday Telegraph.

"They were either chemical or biological weapons; I don't know which, because only the Fedayeen and the Special Republican Guard were allowed to use them. All I know is we were told that when we used these weapons we had to wear gas masks."

When shown the information about the 45-minute claim in the Iraq WMD dossier issued by the Government in September 2002, he said: "I am the one responsible for providing this. Forget 45 minutes, we could have fired these within half an hour."

The 45-minute claim led to the death of scientist Dr David Kelly, after BBC journalist -Andrew Gilligan reported a source telling him the dossier was "sexed up" by Downing Street and that the 45-minute claim was included against MI6's wishes.

Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, told the Hutton inquiry into Dr Kelly's death on 22 September that he knew the claim in the dossier referred to battlefield weapons only.

Andrew Caldecott QC, for the BBC, then asked: "A number of newspapers had banner headlines suggesting this [the 45-minute claim] related to strategic missiles. Why was no corrective statement issued for the benefit of the public?" Mr Hoon replied: "I don't know."

Col al-Dabbagh, who was described as an advisor to the Iraqi Governing Council, said he was not prepared to release his first name for safety reasons. But he said he was willing to give evidence to the Hutton inquiry. British intelligence previously said it relied on a single senior officer from the Iraqi military for the WMD claim.

A Downing Street spokesman would not confirm or deny last night whether Col al-Dabbagh was the source of the 45-minute claim.

However, Col al-Dabbagh doubted Saddam developed missiles that could carry WMD and hit targets such as Israel or Britain's Cyprus military bases.

Col al-Dabbagh said he had no idea what became of the weapons he was describing. He believed the weapons would not be found until Saddam was caught or killed, as people would then feel freer to speak about them.