White House Backs Off Claim on Iraqi Buy
By Walter Pincus
__ Weapons of Mass Destruction __
Bush, Rice Blame CIA for Iraq Error
(Post, July 12, 2003 )|
CIA Asked Britain To Drop Iraq Claim
(Post, July 11, 2003 )|
White House Backs Off Claim on Iraqi Buy
(Post, July 8, 2003 )|
Secretary Expects Arms to Be Found
(Post, June 25, 2003 )|
Lawmakers Begin Iraq Intelligence Hearings
(Post, June 19, 2003 )|
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 8, 2003; Page A01
administration acknowledged for the first time yesterday that President
Bush should not have alleged in his State of the Union address in
January that Iraq had sought to buy uranium in Africa to reconstitute
its nuclear weapons program.
The statement was prompted by
publication of a British parliamentary commission report, which raised
serious questions about the reliability of British intelligence that
was cited by Bush as part of his effort to convince Congress and the
American people that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass
destruction program were a threat to U.S. security.
British panel said it was unclear why the British government asserted
as a "bald claim" that there was intelligence that Iraq had sought to
buy significant amounts of uranium in Africa. It noted that the CIA had
already debunked this intelligence, and questioned why an official
British government intelligence dossier published four months before
Bush's speech included the allegation as part of an effort to make the
case for going to war against Iraq.
The findings by the
House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee undercut one of the Bush
administration's main defenses for including the allegation in the
president's speech -- namely that despite the CIA's questions about the
assertion, British intelligence was still maintaining that Iraq had
indeed sought to buy uranium in Africa.
Asked about the
British report, the administration released a statement that, after
weeks of questions about the president's uranium-purchase assertion,
effectively conceded that intelligence underlying the president's
statement was wrong.
"Knowing all that we know now, the
reference to Iraq's attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not
have been included in the State of the Union speech," a senior Bush
administration official said last night in a statement authorized by
the White House.
The administration's statement capped
months of turmoil over the uranium episode during which senior
officials have been forced to defend the president's remarks in the
face of growing reports that they were based on faulty intelligence.
part of his case against Iraq, Bush said in his State of the Union
speech on Jan. 28 that "the British government has learned that Saddam
Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
International Atomic Energy Agency told the U.N. Security Council in
March that the uranium story -- which centered on documents alleging
Iraqi efforts to buy the material from Niger -- was based on forged
documents. Although the administration did not dispute the IAEA's
conclusion, it launched the war against Iraq later that month.
subsequently emerged that the CIA the previous year had dispatched a
respected former senior diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson, to Niger to
investigate the allegation and that Wilson had reported back that
officials in Niger denied the story. The administration never made
Wilson's mission public, and questions have been raised over the past
month over how the CIA characterized his conclusion in its classified
intelligence reports inside the administration.
by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee followed weeks of
hearings by the panel into two intelligence dossiers on Iraq's weapons
programs -- one published in September and the other in January -- that
the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair used to justify supporting
the administration in going to war against Iraq.
about the British government's handling of intelligence have mirrored
many of the issues being raised in the United States. But they have
created a far greater political uproar in London.
response has been notably different than that of Congress. The House
and Senate intelligence panels have moved cautiously, with Democrats
and Republicans divided over the necessity of full-blown public
hearings into the administration's use of pre-war intelligence. The
House of Commons moved quickly to investigate the matter, with the
Blair government battling accusations that it misled Parliament and
members of the Labor Party in persuading them to support an unpopular
The commission's report issued yesterday found that
Blair and his other key ministers "did not mislead" Parliament in
describing the threat from Iraq's alleged chemical, biological and
nuclear weapons programs. But the panel did find that the Blair
government mishandled intelligence material on Iraq's weapons of mass
The panel said it is too soon to
determine whether the government's assertions about Iraq's chemical and
biological weapons programs will be borne out, but added that the
government's actions "were justified by the information available at
In a major political issue within Britain, the
panel found that Alastair Campbell, Blair's communications chief, "did
not exert or seek to exert improper influence" in drafting the
September intelligence report or a key statement in the document that
"the Iraqi military are able to deploy chemical or biological weapons
within 45 minutes if ordered to do so."
The panel did find
that this statement "did not warrant the prominence given to it" in the
first pages of the dossier because it was based on "intelligence from a
single, uncorroborated source." The panel asked the Blair government to
explain why it was given such a prominent position in the report.
senior administration official said yesterday that a classified version
of a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons programs,
completed last September, contains references to intelligence reports
that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from three African countries,
not just Niger. The other two countries are Namibia and Gabon,
according to intelligence sources. The sources said the reports about
other countries have not been confirmed and that some government
analysts do not consider the information reliable.
intelligence official said that there were reports of "possible
attempts" by Iraqis or their agents to buy uranium, but that "they were
all somewhat sketchy."
One Bush administration official
said British and U.S. intelligence agencies got their Niger documents
from the intelligence service of one country that he refused to name,
but that others have identified as Italy.
"We both had one
source reporting through some liaison service which said, 'Look what we
found,' " this official said. "There were other [intelligence]
reporting streams, but it may be that all streams are traced to the
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