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Blair's Spokesman Denies Altering Dossier on Iraq

August 20, 2003|From Associated Press

LONDON — British Prime Minister Tony Blair's communications director denied Tuesday that he altered a government dossier on Iraqi weapons to boost the case for war, saying he advised colleagues "the drier the better, cut the rhetoric."

Alastair Campbell told an inquiry into the suicide of a government weapons inspector that he had no input in the dossier's disputed claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes.

"I had no input, output, influence upon it whatever," Campbell said.

He is the highest-profile witness to testify before the inquiry into the death of weapons advisor David Kelly.

Kelly, 59, who had worked in Iraq, was identified as the source of a May 29 BBC report that accused Campbell of "sexing up" the September dossier to strengthen the case for war.

Campbell has acknowledged that he chaired meetings at which officials revised the dossier, but he vehemently denied insisting on including the 45-minute claim.

He told the inquiry that he did not know the origin of the claim, which was included in a draft of the dossier about two weeks before it was published.

Campbell said Blair wanted to publish the dossier as a way of informing people about the threat posed by Iraq while calming fears that a military attack was imminent.

"This dossier is sometimes described as the prime minister making a case for war," Campbell said.

"What it was actually doing was setting out in as factual a way as possible the reasons why the government was concerned about Saddam's [weapons of mass destruction] program."

The inquiry saw evidence Monday that a senior aide to Blair warned against claiming that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the West.

"The dossier is good and convincing for those who are prepared to be convinced," Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, wrote in an e-mail Sept. 17, a week before the dossier was published.

But he added that "the document does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat" from Saddam Hussein.

"In other words, it shows he has the means but it does not demonstrate he has the motive to attack his neighbors, let alone the West," Powell wrote.

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