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`Dossier on Iraq was not sexed up'

By Hasan Suroor

LONDON SEPT. 11. After weeks of damaging headlines, the Blair Government scored a significant hit against its critics today when a high-power parliamentary committee cleared it of the allegation of "sexing up" the controversial dossier on Iraq's weapons capability, published last September.

The Labour-dominated Intelligence and Security Committee, which inquired into the allegation first aired by the BBC after a briefing from the late weapons expert David Kelly, said in a report that there was no political interference and the dossier was based entirely on the assessment of the influential Joint Intelligence Committee. It said the document was not "sexed up by Alastair Campbell (Prime Minister's communications chief) or anyone else." The Committee chairperson, Ann Taylor, a Labour MP, said at a press conference later that its members had seen JIC assessments on which the dossier was based. It also examined all the drafts of the dossier and was satisfied that the changes made in the final document were not prompted by political reasons. In what critics dismissed as a "white-wash job," the committee also played down the most contentious part of the dossier — the claim that Iraq could deploy its weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

The report did not object to the inclusion of the widely disputed claim but merely said that the way the claim was presented was "unhelpful to an understanding of the issue."

"The fact that it (the claim) was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological weapons and their movement on the battlefield, not to any other form of chemical or biological attack should have been highlighted in the dossier," it said.

The "sexing up" allegation, particularly the inclusion of the "45-minute'' claim, was at the heart of the Government's row with the BBC culminating in the death of Kelly after he was named as the source of its report accusing Downing Street of exaggerating the threat from Iraq.

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said the Government `welcomed' the report saying it had made absolutely clear that the independence of the intelligence community had not been compromised in any way. He denied that the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon's position was threatened as a result of some critical comments about him in the report. But the Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, called for Mr. Hoon's resignation and said alternatively he should be sacked as his position had become untenable in view of the committee's view that his initial evidence had been "potentially misleading" in that he had not revealed details of the concern in the intelligence community over the dossier.

The report said: "We regard the initial failure by the MoD to disclose that some staff had put their concerns in writing to their line managers as unhelpful and potentially misleading.

This is not excused by the genuine belief within the DIS (Defence Intelligence Staff) that the concerns had been expressed as part of the normal lively debate that often surrounds draft JIC assessments within the DIS."

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