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Battle over 'secret' Iraq dossier

BBC | November 8, 2006

The government is refusing to release a secret draft of its dossier on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction.
The version was written by the Foreign Office's head of press, who said it did not include the infamous "45-minute claim", the New Statesman reported.

A charity worker has been trying to get it published for two years under the Freedom of Information Act.

He has appealed to the Information Commissioner but the Foreign Office says it has "no plans" to publish it.

The final version of the September dossier, part of government efforts to bolster support for the Iraq war, became controversial because of its claim that weapons of mass destruction could be launched at Cyprus within 45 minutes of an order.

Claim withdrawn

It later emerged it referred only to battlefield munitions and the claim was officially withdrawn two years later.

The draft of the dossier by Foreign Office media chief John Williams was mentioned during the Hutton Inquiry.

Mr Williams said in an e-mail on 6 September 2002, he had permission to work on a "media-friendly editorial job" of the dossier.

It is not clear to what extent, if at all, the final version, signed off by Joint Intelligence Committee Chairman John Scarlett and published in the run-up to war, was influenced by Mr Williams's version.

Mr Williams, who has since left the Foreign Office, told the New Statesman magazine he was "absolutely sure" the 45-minute claim was not in his draft.

But Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price, who has been pushing for a Parliamentary inquiry into the war, said: "The entire Iraq debate hangs on one central question - were the facts manipulated to suit a predetermined policy?

"If the first draft of the now-infamous dossier was indeed penned not by a spook but a spin doctor, then all the government's denials in Hutton, Butler and beyond are exposed as just another layer of mendacity."

The Hutton inquiry concluded the BBC had been wrong to claim the government "sexed up" its dossier on Iraq's weapons.

A Downing Street spokesman said "We have nothing to add to all the inquiries into this. It was all covered in the Hutton Inquiry".

A Foreign Office spokesman added that the decision not to disclose the Williams draft after a Freedom of Information request in 2005 had been upheld by an internal review.

He added the Foreign Office "remains satisfied that its application of the FOI Act was correct and has no plans to release the draft pending the outcome of the case before the Information Commissioner."

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas is considering the matter, and could order the dossier's disclosure.

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