Brown vows no repeat of WMD error but stays silent on troops pull-out

GORDON Brown yesterday set out plans to prevent intelligence failures like those that preceded the invasion of Iraq, but stayed silent on his plans to withdraw British forces from the country.

On a surprise visit to Baghdad, the prime minister-in-waiting further fleshed out his ideas about reforming Britain's intelligence machinery, in an effort to restore public confidence lost over Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Those WMDs were notoriously described in a Downing Street dossier in 2002. Based on intelligence reports from MI6, it was effectively re-written by Tony Blair's staff before publication.

Tacitly admitting the damage that process has done to trust in both the government and the intelligence services, Mr Brown yesterday said that the process should never be repeated.

To that end, one of his first acts after entering 10 Downing Street later this month will be to ask Sir Gus O'Donnell, the head of the civil service, to set up new rules putting the publication of intelligence material beyond the reach of ministers.

"I would like to see all security and intelligence analysis independent of the political process and I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to do that," Mr Brown said.

"I think we can do more to reassure people both about the information and the use of the information. I think it's important to learn all the lessons, just as Tony Blair has said he acted in good faith but mistakes were made."

Despite his words on the way the government made the argument for war in Iraq, Mr Brown insisted that he stood by the fundamental decision to invade.

"We made the decision. I take responsibility for that decision," he said.

Labour MPs close to Mr Brown say he is set to accelerate the British pull-out from southern Iraq, predictions that have caused alarm in Washington and Baghdad.

Nouri al Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, yesterday urged Mr Brown not to announce a hasty withdrawal.

Mr Brown later insisted that his trip to Iraq was only about "fact-finding" and that he would say nothing about a possible withdrawal.

"This is not the right time to talk about numbers. I don't want to get into talking about timetables or numbers," he said.

However, he did reject Conservative calls for an immediate inquiry into the conduct of the war, saying such a probe should wait until Britain has left Iraq.

• TWO leading politicians yesterday launched a legal bid to have Tony Blair charged with war crimes. Jim Sillars, the former SNP MP, and his wife, Margo MacDonald, the independent Lothians MSP, want to have the Prime Minister stand trial for his handling of the Iraq war.

• SOLDIERS from one Scottish infantry battalion have been told they could be in Iraq well into 2008, The Scotsman has learned.

Despite speculation about an imminent British withdrawal, the Royal Regiment of Scotland will prepare for a six-month deployment beginning at the end of the year.

The 550 men of 1st Battalion,based at Dreghorn barracks in Edinburgh, have recently returned from Belize. They are now training for deployment to Iraq in November.

"Of course there's a lot of political talk, but as far as we're concerned it's still on until we're told otherwise," said a military source.


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