DCSIMG

Blair set to face Iraq fury in the Commons

MPs were expected to subject Tony Blair to a fierce grilling today over his claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

The issue was expected to dominate Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, following a week of demands for an independent inquiry into whether intelligence on WMD was exaggerated to bolster the case for war.

A poll today suggested that Mr Blair faces a mighty blow to his electoral chances if he cannot persuade the public he told the truth about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of those responding to the YouGov survey for Sky News said the Prime Minister would forfeit their trust on other political issues if no WMD were found in Iraq, while 18 per cent said they could change the way they vote as a direct result.

The influential Commons Foreign Affairs Committee last night announced that it would carry out its own inquiry into the way in which evidence on WMD was presented by the Government.

And Mr Blair was expected to confirm today that a second investigation by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee would look into the issue.

A congressional inquiry was yesterday launched in the United States into the way George Bush’s administration handled the run-up to war. Its hearings will be transmitted on live TV.

But an ISC inquiry would take place behind closed doors, and many MPs believe it cannot settle the matter as it is appointed by the Prime Minister, reports to him and allows its reports to be censored by him before publication.

MPs were also today debating a Liberal Democrat motion demanding an independent inquiry into ministers’ handling of information from MI5, MI6 and the GCHQ eavesdropping centre.

At the centre of the debate are allegations that a Government dossier last September was spiced up on the orders of Downing Street.

A key issue is whether intelligence officers were unhappy over the inclusion of a dramatic warning that Saddam could launch chemical or biological attacks within 45 minutes.

Leader of the House John Reid last night blamed "rogue elements" in the intelligence services for the furore.

He said: "There have been uncorroborated briefings by a potentially rogue element - or rogue elements - in the intelligence services. I find it difficult to grasp why this should be believed against the word of the British Prime Minister and the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee."

Mr Blair’s spokesman said: "We have said throughout that the report is based on intelligence. It hasn’t been ‘got up’ either by politicians or by the intelligence community. It hasn’t been doctored, it hasn’t been invented. All we are saying is that how many weeks we are after the conflict ended, it is not unreasonable for people to exercise a little bit of patience."

Linlithgow MP Tam Dalyell rejected the idea of an Intelligence and Security Committee inquiry, saying: "This is inadequate. It’s reached the stage where it has to be in public."

And he also cast doubt on the value of the Foreign Affairs committee probe, saying chairman Donald Anderson expected it to be completed by July.

Mr Dalyell added: "I think the important thing is the US congressional inquiry. American politicians are not under the same constraints that MPs are."

 
 
 

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