British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he “fully accepts” the report’s conclusions and acknowledged it was “increasingly clear” deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein did not have stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons ready to deploy.
In a statement to the House of Commons Blair continued to back the war, saying, “I cannot honestly say I believe getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all. Iraq, the region, the wider world is a better and safer place without Saddam.”
The report issued by former top civil servant Lord Butler echoed the findings of a June 9 U.S. Senate report that criticized U.S. intelligence agencies for “group think” assumptions that led to incorrect assessments of Saddam’s weapons programs.
The British report said a key dossier prepared by Blair’s government on the threat Saddam posed “went to (although not beyond) the outer limits of the intelligence available.”
“Language in the dossier may have left with readers the impression that there was fuller and firmer intelligence behind the judgments than was the case,” the report said.
The report criticized Blair’s characterization of the dossier, saying “the prime minister’s description, in his statement to the House of Commons on the day of the publication of the dossier, as ‘extensive, detailed and authoritative’ may have reinforced this impression.”
In the September 2002 dossier, Blair said that Iraq could deploy some weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order to do so.
No such weapons have been found more than a year after Saddam was overthrown.
The report said the 45 minutes claim was unclear and should not have been included “in the form which it appeared”
Butler said there was a suspicion the 45-minute detail had been included because it was “eye-catching.” However, Butler’s committee said that in general intelligence material had been correctly reported.
“We should record in particular that we have found no evidence of deliberate distortion or of culpable negligence,” the report said.
Butler told a news conference, “We do regard it as a failing, a serious failing, in the dossier that there were not the warnings which were in the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments about the thinness of the evidence.
“But we have no evidence that the government did not itself believe the judgments which it was placing before the public.”
The report did back Britain’s claim that Iraq sought to purchase uranium from Niger. Butler concluded the claim was not based on forged documents as the International Atomic Energy Agency had said.
Butler also noted that British intelligence had not suggested there was evidence of cooperation between Saddam and al-Qaida.
“The (Joint Intelligence Committee) made clear that, although there were contacts between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaida, there was no evidence of cooperation,” it said.
Bulter’s five-member committee interviewed Blair, senior Cabinet figures and key intelligence officials during its investigation.