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How Blair has stood by Niger claim

London Independent | March 7, 2007
Anne Penketh

The now notorious Niger claim first surfaced in Britain, where the Blair government circulated the September 2002 dossier warning of the threat from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

The fallout from the flawed intelligence has claimed a slew of victims in Washington, including the scalp of the Central Intelligence Agency chief George Tenet.

Yesterday, almost four years after the Iraq invasion, the nuclear dossier led to the toppling of a central White House figure, when Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of perjury.

However, despite the CIA's reservations over the central claim that Saddam was allegedly attempting to buy yellowcake from Africa for his nuclear weapons programme, and the White House having formally backed away from the report, the British Government still clings to its original position.

In the September 2002 document which laid out the case for war, the Government declared that as a result of intelligence, it judged that Iraq had "sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that could require it."

The report, which was picked up by President George Bush in his January 2003 State of the Union speech three months before the invasion, was used as a key piece of evidence to justify the war. But the alleged incriminating documents forwarded to the UN nuclear agency were found to be a crude fake.

In Britain, the claim was investigated as part of Lord Butler of Brockwell's 2004 review of the use of intelligence in the approach to the war. He accepted that the Government had its own, separate, intelligence for making the claim about Niger which he said was "not undermined" by the fact of the forgery.

Lord Butler also revealed the accusations against Iraq concerned not only Niger, but the war-ravaged, mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo.

He concluded: "On the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government's dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well-founded."

The Government has refused all requests from opposition MPs since that time to reveal the intelligence on which the assessment was based. And with Tony Blair poised to leave office, it is unlikely to be made public until his successor decides whether to hold an independent inquiry into the mistakes made in Iraq.



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