Revealed: last-minute changes to Iraq dossier

Jo Dillon,Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 17 August 2003 00:00

The Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons capability was hardened up in the days before its publication in a number of key respects that did not tally with the views of some of its most senior experts, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Scrutiny of documents released by the Hutton inquiry into the death of the weapons expert Dr David Kelly reveals that not only were key claims about the nature and extent of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction strengthened in the two weeks before the dossier's publication in September 2002 but that a crucial change was made to the title.

Right up until the publication of the final draft, and as late as 19 September, the document was entitled "Iraq's programme for weapons of mass destruction". But on 24 September, when the Government published the finished version, it left out the words "programme for".

According to Dr Glen Rangwala, the Cambridge academic who exposed the Government's February dossier as having been plagiarised from a student thesis on the internet, that change is important because the inclusion of the word "programme" does not assume that such weapons existed.

Dr Rangwala argues that some in the intelligence community believed that the most one could assert was that there were suspect weapons programmes in Iraq, rather than that there were existing weapons and more were being produced.

Other changes to the dossier go way beyond the disputed claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. In their final form, however, all support the Government's insistence before the war that Iraq's weapons presented a clear and immediate threat.

The evidence also shows that a draft of the dossier dated 10 September was strengthened to bolster claims that Iraq had an ongoing programme of weapons production.

In the same draft is an acknowledgement that "Iraq has chemical and biological weapons available, either from pre-Gulf war stocks or more recent production". In the final document, this has been changed to: "Iraq has chemical and biological agents and weapons available, both from pre-Gulf war stocks and more recent production."

The revelations give further support to Dr Kelly's concerns, which formed the basis of BBC Radio 4's defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan's claim that the dossier had been "sexed up".

The inquiry has also prompted a new dispute over the evidence given to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in June by Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's communications chief.

Mr Campbell insisted that he first saw the 45-minutes claim in the first draft of the dossier to be presented to the Government. He said it was discussed at a meeting of the Iraq communications group he chaired on 10 September.

But Hutton inquiry evidence suggests that the meeting was held five days earlier.

Richard Ottaway, a Tory member of the Foreign Affairs Committee which originally quizzed Mr Campbell on the issue, said: "He [Mr Campbell] gave the impression that the first he knew about the 45 minutes was when he saw the first draft. What has come out is that he was being economical with the truth. Worse, he was being plain misleading."

Mr Ottaway wants the matter to be investigated by the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee.

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