Details of Iraqi WMD intelligence inquiry announced

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has made a Commons Statement detailing a forthcoming inquiry into the intelligence used as a basis for war in Iraq.

The Prime Minister earlier announced that an independent inquiry would take place.

Speaking to a committee of MPs, Tony Blair admitted that there were issues over how intelligence was gathered and used, but he stressed that the government had been cleared by the Hutton Inquiry of “sexing up” its dossier about Iraq’s weapons.

Mr Blair was grilled for two-and-a-half hours by the Commons liaison committee, made up of the chairmen of select committees.

The inquiry will be headed by ex-cabinet secretary Lord Butler, who served under both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, and so is expected to be acceptable to both sides of the Commons.

A six-member committee will look at whether the pre-war intelligence was right or wrong as well as examining intelligence on WMD programmes and the global trade in WMDs. The committee will include two MPs, but the Lib Dems are not taking part. They are believed to be opposing the inquiry because it is not investigating the political judgements taken to go to war.

Mr Blair said he wanted consensus on the inquiry, but argued: “We can’t end up having an inquiry into whether the war was right or wrong. That is something that we have got to decide. We are the politicians.”

The move follows the announcement of a US inquiry into its Iraq intelligence.

Intelligence suggesting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction has not yet been backed by evidence on the ground. This prompted growing calls for an inquiry into the original intelligence presented to Parliament.

The Prime Minister defended the decision to go to war today, saying: “I think we’ve done the right thing, not just because Iraq was a dangerous place under Saddam but also because the rest of the world needs to know that this issue will be tackled with firmness.”

No biological or chemical weapons have been retrieved since the invasion last year, and critics of the war have grown anxious over a shift towards highlighting WMD development programmes rather than the supposed existence of actual live weapons.

The Iraq Survey Group did note evidence of weapons of mass destruction programmes in Iraq when it issued its interim report. However, while this in itself may provide evidence that Saddam Hussein did not comply with UN resolution 1441, it has not satisfied opponents of the war or the opposition parties.

Parliament was asked to vote for war on the basis of intelligence information that suggested far more than development programmes. Some politicians believe that this intelligence must now be looked into to assess whether Parliament was misled.

Pressure for an inquiry had been resisted as ministers argued that the Iraq Survey Group should be allowed to report first. However, Mr Blair said today that an inquiry was needed because it now appeared the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) could take months to produce its final report on the search for banned weapons in Iraq.

Mr Straw is due to respond to the Commons foreign affairs committee’s report on the decision to go to war, which suggested that the “continued failure of the coalition to find weapons of mass destruction” had damaged UK and US credibility in the war against terrorism.