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Straw Admits 'Embarrassment' Over Dossier, Denies Terming Iraqi Threat as 'Imminent'


The Guardian, Jun. 24, 2003

Downing Street's second dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction caused an 'embarrassment' for the government, the foreign secretary Jack Straw admitted today. The document, produced in Jan., contained 12-year-old material which had been lifted from a student's thesis. Mr. Straw, giving evidence to the foreign affairs select committee, said it was a 'very substantial error that the sources of the document were not properly attributed.' He told M.P.s: 'Of course it has been an embarrassment for the government and lessons have been learned.' Mr. Straw insisted that the accuracy of the dossier was not in doubt but added that 'the procedure for putting it together was completely unsatisfactory.'

The foreign secretary defended No. 10's first dossier of Sep. last year, which is alleged to have been 'sexed up' in order to force the case for war. Intelligence sources told the B.B.C. they were unhappy with the prominence given to a claim that Saddam Hussein could launch a biological, or chemical weapons strike in 45 minutes. But Mr. Straw insisted that the government followed the right procedures in compiling that first dossier. He said: 'It was checked and double checked by senior officials and was not signed off until the chairman of the J.I.C. (joint intelligence committee) was satisfied with it. 'The veracity and integrity of the document was very firmly a matter for the chairman of the joint intelligence committee.' But he insisted that the claim of a 45-minute capability, made in the dossier and highlighted by the prime minister in its introduction, was 'scarcely mentioned' . . . subsequently, and had since 'taken on a life of its own.'

He conceded that two specific changes of wording made to the Ph.D. thesis on which some of the dossier was based 'should not have been made.' They were the substitution of 'terrorist' for 'opposition groups' in Iraq, and the change of 'monitoring' to 'spying' on opposition groups to Saddam Hussein.

Going on the offensive, Mr. Straw continued: 'Some of our critics have tried to put into our mouths words and criteria we have never used. We did not use the words 'imminent' or 'immediate' . . . We did not use that because plainly the evidence did not justify that. We did say there was a 'current and serious' threat and I stand by that completely.' . . . By Mar. 4, the foreign secretary had told the foreign affairs committee that the government believed Iraq had the capability to produce mustard gas, tabun, sarin, cyclosarin and V.X., and the biological agents anthrax, botulinum toxin, aflatoxin and ricin.

In a break from traditional foreign office parlance, Mr. Straw called the whole affair 'complete horlicks' and offered an apology to Ibrahim al-Marashi, the Californian Ph.D. student whose thesis was plagiarised for the second dossier.

Last week former foreign secretary Robin Cook told the committee that he did not believe Iraq had W.M.D. that could meaningfully threaten Europe or the U.S. Clare Short, appearing at the same time, expressed her belief that the prime minster had entered into a secret pact with the U.S. president, George Bush, in Sep. 2002 to join in an invasion of Iraq.