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45 Minutes: Behind the Blair Claim

LONDON – In early September 2002, as the United States and Britain sought to build the case for confronting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that his government would soon publish a dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

Britain’s intelligence services then produced a 50-page report, the highlight of which was a claim that Iraqi troops could launch chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order.

But the dossier had omitted the fact that the claim referred to battlefield munitions – not to long-range missiles. Nor did it disclose that the claim had come second-hand from an uncorroborated source, and that some government experts believed it was questionable. Blair recently conceded he did not know what the claim was referring to when he published it.

Weapons inspectors scouring Iraq have found no weapons of mass destruction. And the 45-minute claim has become the focus of a fierce debate over whether Blair and President Bush used intelligence information to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

Blair’s spokesman said, “People appear to be implying that the government’s case for taking action against Saddam was based on the 45-minute point. That is simply not true. The government’s case has been based on the fact that Saddam had posed a threat and had been in breach of U.N. resolutions.”


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