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TURMOIL IN IRAQ

British Sought to Silence Scientist

Top officials thought expert's doubts on Iraqi arms would be awkward for Blair, papers show.

August 21, 2003|From Reuters

LONDON — Government documents released Wednesday indicate that top British officials tried to stop a scientist from airing doubts about an Iraqi weapons dossier on which Prime Minister Tony Blair based the case for war.

The documents emerged in an inquiry into the suicide of weapons expert David Kelly, who became involved in a dispute between Blair's government and the BBC over whether intelligence was altered for political ends. Kelly was identified as the source for a BBC report accusing Blair's inner circle of exaggerating evidence about Iraq's weapons capability.

An official note, written July 14, the day before Kelly was due to testify to lawmakers, said the respected scientist was to be briefed later that day by the deputy chief of defense intelligence about his appearances in front of the foreign affairs committee and intelligence and security committee on July 15 and 16.

The deputy chief of defense intelligence "is to brief Dr. Kelly this afternoon for his appearance tomorrow before the [foreign affairs committee] and [the intelligence and security committee] and will strongly recommend that Kelly is not drawn on his assessment of the dossier," read the note, which was shown to the inquiry.

Separate documents revealed that the top civil servant at Britain's Defense Ministry had said at a meeting in Blair's office one week earlier that some of Kelly's views would be awkward for the government.

"If he was summoned to give evidence, some of it might be uncomfortable on specifics such as the likelihood of there being weapons systems ready for use within 45 minutes," the defense civil servant said at the meeting.

Blair's claim that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons on such short notice was part of his dossier aimed at winning support for a war most Britons opposed. But four months after Saddam Hussein's overthrow, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq.

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