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[casi] No 10 knew: Iraq no threat,13747,1021534,00.html

No 10 knew: Iraq no threat

Richard Norton-Taylor and Nicholas Watt
Tuesday August 19, 2003

The Guardian

One of the prime minister's closest advisers issued a
private warning that it would be wrong for Tony Blair to
claim Iraq's banned weapons programme showed Saddam Hussein
presented an "imminent threat" to the west or even his Arab

In a message that goes to the heart of the government's case
for war, the Downing Street chief of staff, Jonathan Powell,
raised serious doubts about the nature of September's
Downing Street dossier on Iraq's banned weapons.

"We will need to make it clear in launching the document
that we do not claim that we have evidence that he is an
imminent threat," Mr Powell wrote on September 17, a week
before the document was finally published.

His remarks urging caution contrasted with the chilling
language used by Mr Blair in a passionate speech in the
Commons as he launched the dossier a week later.

He described Iraq's prog-ramme for weapons of mass
destruction as "active, detailed, and growing ... It is up
and running now".

Mr Powell's private concerns came in the form of an email
which was copied to Alastair Campbell, Downing Street's
director of communications, and Sir David Manning, Mr
Blair's foreign policy adviser.

The fact the three closest men to the prime minister knew of
this information strongly suggests Mr Blair would have been

Downing Street also faced severe embarrassment yesterday
when the Hutton inquiry was told the prime minister's
official spokesman in an email had described the
government's battles with the BBC as a "game of chicken".

The email revealed how senior Downing Street officials - and
on occasion Mr Blair himself - became intimately involved in
the events which led to the death of the government
scientist David Kelly.

Within minutes of taking the stand, Mr Powell was asked
about his email to John Scarlett, chairman of the joint
intelligence committee, in which he said he believed the
arms dossier "does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let
alone an imminent threat from Saddam" and added: "In other
words, it shows he has the means but it does not demonstrate
he has the motive to attack his neighbours, let alone the

The Hutton inquiry heard last week that the final version
contained claims that a senior defence intelligence official
agreed were "noticeably" hardened up.

They included a claim in the dossier's foreword, signed by
Mr Blair, that Iraqi chemical and biological weapons would
be "ready" within 45 minutes of an order to deploy them. Mr
Blair also described Iraq as posing a "serious and current

Documents disclosed by the inquiry yesterday reveal the
close interest Mr Blair and Mr Campbell showed in the
dossier as it was being prepared.

On September 5, Mr Campbell's office emailed Mr Powell: "Re
dossier, substantial rewrite. Structure as per TB [Tony
Blair] discussion." The email refers to the need for "real
intelligence material". Mr Powell responds by asking, "will
'TB' have something he can read" on the plane on his way to
meet George Bush.

The Hutton inquiry yesterday revealed that top officials in
the Ministry of Defence and Downing Street - and Mr Blair
himself - made it clear they wanted Dr Kelly to give
evidence both in private to the parliamentary intelligence
and security committee (ISC) and in public to the Commons
foreign affairs committee (FAC) despite the intense personal
pressure he was under.

The government was worried about what Dr Kelly would tell
MPs. In an email to one of the prime minister's private
secretaries, Mr Powell wrote: "We tried the prime minister
out on Kelly before FAC and ISC next Tuesday. He thought he
probably had to do both but need to be properly prepared

Three days earlier, on July 7, Mr Blair asked his closest
advisers what they "knew of Dr Kelly's views on weapons of
mass destruction in Iraq, what would he say if he appeared
before the ISC or the FAC".

Sir Kevin Tebbit, the top civil servant at the Ministry of
Defence, warned that Dr Kelly might say some "uncomfortable"

The inquiry heard that the Downing Street press office was
kept closely in touch with the MoD's strategy which led to
Dr Kelly's name being made public. On the day he was named,
July 10, one of those officials, Tom Kelly, wrote his
devastating email to Mr Powell.

"This is now a game of chicken with the Beeb - the only way
they will shift is they see the screw tightening," he wrote.

He was referring to plans to make the scientist appear
before the committees in the hope of forcing the BBC to
confirm that Dr Kelly was its source.

Sir David, now the British ambassador to the United States,
acknowledged that feelings had been running high in Downing

"There were certainly moments of personal anger. I think it
was the case that it was seen as a pretty direct attack on
the integrity of the prime minister and officials at No 10,"
he told the inquiry.

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