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Blair's Office 'Substantially' Altered Iraq Dossier

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Blair's Office 'Substantially' Altered Iraq Dossier

By Andrew Gully


LONDON (AFP) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair's office authorised a "substantial rewrite" of the government's controversial dossier on Iraq, an inquiry into the apparent suicide of weapons expert David Kelly heard Monday.

Kelly's death is the subject of a parliamentary inquiry, amid allegations -- reportedly based on the weapons scientist's evidence -- that the Blair administration exaggerated the case for war on Iraq.

An email from Blair's director of communications Alastair Campbell to chief-of-staff Jonathan Powell, dated September 5, disclosed that the dossier was being substantially rewritten ahead of its publication on September 24.

Campbell, 46, is the man accused by BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan of personally beefing up Downing Street's controversial dossier on Iraq, aimed at justifying the case for military action ahead of the March war.

Gilligan alleged in a British newspaper article on June 1 that Campbell, who is set to testify before the probe Tuesday, was responsible for inserting a sensational claim into the dossier, a week before its publication, that stated Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons in just 45 minutes.

Documents released to the inquiry Monday showed that the dossier should be altered "as per TB's discussion" -- an apparent reference to Tony Blair.

It said: "Re dossier, substantial rewrite with JS and Julian M in charge, which JS will take to US next Friday, and be in shape Monday thereafter. "Structure as per TB's discussion. Agreement that there has to be real intelligence material in their presentation."

JS apparently referred to John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, while Julian Miller was the the Cabinet Office's chief-of-the-assessment-staff. The US stood for the United States.

Meanwhile a separate email from Powell, also presented to the inquiry Monday, outlined his misgivings over the dossier on the potential threat of Iraqi weapons.

The government row with the BBC over whether or not the government "sexed up" the dossier and Kelly's subsequent and mysterious death have left Blair, who is dwindling badly in opinion polls, facing his gravest crisis since coming to power in 1997.

Kelly apparently committed suicide in July days after being grilled by two parliamentary committees and after he was named by the defence ministry as the likely source of Gilligan's reports.

"The dossier is good and convincing for those who are prepared to be convinced," Powell said in an email addressed to Scarlett.

"The document does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam," said the e-mail -- dated September 17 last year -- exactly a week before the dossier was published.

"It shows he (Saddam) has the means but it does not demonstrate he has the motive to attack his neighbours let alone the West," Powell said in the e-mail.

Now in its second week, the inquiry into Kelly's death has turned to focus on the role of Blair's office, with the careers of several officials including Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon hanging in the balance.

The government has faced criticism for identifying Kelly, a top expert on biological weapons, with concern that failing to protect the scientist from the ensuing media and political storm may have contributed to his death.

It remains to be seen who will take the political flak for the crisis, but many commentators have named Hoon as the likely government scapegoat.

The inquiry heard last week that Hoon himself had overruled the advice of his top civil servant and decided to burden Kelly with the added pressure of testifying publicly in front of a parliamentary committee.

Blair was also implicated when it emerged that he had personally ordered Kelly's defence ministry bosses to grill him for a second time over his contacts with Gilligan.

Hoon and Blair, both currently on holiday, are expected to be summoned to appear at some point before the inquiry, due to last several more weeks.

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