45 minute claim not found in early draft of Iraq dossier

The Foreign Office has complied with a ruling from the Information Commissioner (pdf) to release the secret first draft (pdf) of the notorious dossier Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The assessment of the British Government, which was published by the government back in 2002. Unsurprisingly, no mention of the infamous claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes is found in this first draft:

The notorious claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes was not contained in an early draft of the controversial dossier, but the draft version did warn that the country had acquired weaponry intended to “terrorise, intimidate and destabilise”, it was revealed today.

The draft written by John Williams, who at the time was head of press at the Foreign Office, and released today under the Freedom of Information Act, also said that Iraq “was actively assembling an arsenal of terror weapons with which to intimidate its neighbours and the wider international community”.

Williams wrote that Iraq was “developing as a priority longer-range missile systems capable of targeting Nato (Greece and Turkey?)” and “covertly attempting to acquire technology and material for use in nuclear weapons”.

But later in the document it was noted that Iraq would “find it difficult to produce fissile material [for nuclear weapons] while sanctions remain in place”.

Williams also qualified concerns about the regime’s chemical weapons capability by adding he could not be sure “whether these [weapons] have been destroyed”.

The former Daily Mirror journalist referred to a number of atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein, who he said “maintained power by torture, rape and execution”.

He referred to the late dictator’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the 1998 chemical weapons attack on the village of Halabja, which killed some 5,000 Kurds.

The 45-minute claim became a key plank of the government’s case for going to war and Tony Blair was subsequently accused of “sexing up” the dossier with the help of spin doctors.

John Williams, the author of the draft, has tried to defend his role in an article written for the Guardian. But quite what a spin doctor was doing drafting (let alone ‘sexing’) up a document which should have been dispassionate analysis of intelligence and risk experts is never addressed by Williams.

Meanwhile, Con Coughlin, the Telegraph’s executive foreign correspondent, has a post on the paper’s political blog arguing that the release of the draft by the FO is a waste of time:

I fail to see what is to be gained by this obsessive raking over the origins of the dodgy dossier.

For a start, the release was important if only to see how well the Freedom of Information Act works, and how well the government responds to rulings from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Secondly, and most importantly, the real reason Coughlin would like us to forget about the run up to the Iraq war is because he was one of the war’s chief cheerleaders. Even as late as 2006, he was defending the war. His other bloopers include declaring Saddam dead, trying to link Saddam Hussein to 9/11, even going so far as to find someone in Iraq who would verify the 45 minute claim.

Nowadays though, Coughlin has a new hobby: linking Iran to al-Qa’ida

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