Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's Director of Communications, may be publicly ordered by a Commons committee to apologise to the Iraqi student whose thesis was plagiarised in a government dossier.
Members of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee say that the story of Downing Street's notorious "dodgy dossier" - which they originally regarded as a gaffe - has taken a more serious aspect since they began questioning witnesses.
The committee's Labour chairman, Donald Anderson, has written to Mr Campbell for the second time to invite him to explain the dossier issued by Downing Street in January. It was singled out for praise by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, but much of it then turned out to have been lifted from a work by Ibrahim al-Marashi, a former PhD student.
Mr Campbell is expected to refuse to give evidence, in which case committee members say their report will be what one called a "hatchet job", holding him personally to blame for misleading information in the run-up to the war.
The committee decided to send for Mr Campbell after reading the submission by Dr Glen Rangwala, a Cambridge expert who writes for the Independent on Sunday on the WMD issue (see facing page). He produced evidence that the "dodgy dossier" was compiled by four people, three of whom work for Mr Campbell. Dr Marashi later told the committee that he was shocked by the way his thesis had been misused by Downing Street, which he said could have had serious consequences for his relatives still in Iraq.
Eric Illsley, a Labour member of the committee, said yesterday: "When we heard al- Marashi's evidence it took a more serious tone, because this silly plagiarism put lives in danger. Given the evidence so far, that Campbell's staff put this document together, made a complete botch of it, and then put it out as serious research, I think the report is going to point the finger at him."
Meanwhile, Labour MPs who opposed the war on Iraq have accused the Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, of obfuscation for suggesting there were hundreds of possible WMD sites left to investigate. In a Commons written answer he said that on 7 June a total of 140 investigations had been initiated from a list of 500 suspected sites. There were also investigations at a further 74 sites identified after the conflict began.
However, experts claim this is a smokescreen, arguing that the sites genuinely thought to be connected to a WMD programme had already been secured and inspected, but nothing had been found.
Labour MP Graham Allen said: "If the allies had really believed in these weapons, these sites would have been their top priority in the war and every single one of them would now be guarded. Instead many have been looted. Any weapon materials inside could now be killing Iraqi civilians - or in the hands of al-Qa'ida."
And Labour MP for Medway, Bob Marshall-Andrews said: "This is absurd. It simply exposes the cynicism of the whole thing. The claim was cynical and the supposed search is a cynical manoeuvre. If they were there we'd have been crawling over all 500 sites immediately. It is just gesture politics."
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