Iraq inquiry: Campbell hits back over dossier evidence

Alistair Campbell Mr Campbell was Tony Blair's communications chief

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Alastair Campbell has hit back after a former intelligence official challenged his evidence to the Iraq inquiry.

Maj Gen Michael Laurie disputed his claim that a September 2002 dossier was not meant to "make the case for war".

He told the inquiry those producing the dossier "saw it exactly as that and that was the direction we were given".

But Mr Campbell, who was Tony Blair's communications chief, said those "directly involved" in producing the dossier had backed him.

The Iraq inquiry, chaired by Sir John Chilcot, is examining events between 2001 and 2009, including the decision to go to war in Iraq, post-invasion planning, what lessons were learnt and whether troops were properly equipped.

It has finished its public sessions and is now considering evidence from interviews with key figures, declassified documents, witness statements and other material.

45-minute claim

Maj Gen Laurie, a member of the Defence Intelligence Staff in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion, wrote his letter in January 2010 but it was only published earlier this month, alongside other written evidence to the inquiry.

In it he directly disputed evidence given by Mr Campbell, who said the September 2002 dossier was designed to set out UK concerns, not make the case for war.

Start Quote

Neither I, nor - so far as I am aware - anyone else in Downing Street was made aware of his views at the time, or at any time in the subsequent nine years ”

End Quote Alastair Campbell Former No 10 communications chief

As No 10 director of communications between 1997 and 2003, Mr Campbell played a key role in the dossier - which contained the controversial claim that weapons of mass destruction could be deployed in 45 minutes of an order to use them.

He has now written to inquiry chairman Sir John to respond to Gen Laurie's claims.

In his letter, Mr Campbell said he had never met Gen Laurie and "was not aware of any involvement he might have had in the September 2002 dossier on Iraq's WMD".

He added: "Neither I, nor - so far as I am aware - anyone else in Downing Street was made aware of his views at the time, or at any time in the subsequent nine years, until he felt moved to write to you and his letter was published."

He said witnesses "who were directly involved in the drafting of the dossier have made clear to several inquiries that at no time did I put anyone in the intelligence community under pressure, or say to them or anyone else that the then prime minister's purpose in publishing the dossier was to make the case for war".

'Direction and pressure'

Maj Gen Laurie - who was responsible for delivering intelligence material on Iraq to assessment teams within the Ministry of Defence - had written: "Alastair Campbell said to the inquiry that the purpose of the dossier was not to "make a case for war.

"I had no doubt at this time this was exactly its purpose and these very words were used."

He said a similar document produced six months earlier had been rejected as it had "not made a strong enough case".

Mr Laurie - who is now chief executive of the charity Crimestoppers - also suggested the Joint Intelligence Committee ultimately responsible for producing and signing off the dossier had come under "direction and pressure" - something Mr Campbell disputes.

The September 2002 dossier included a foreword by Mr Blair in which he wrote that he believed the intelligence had established "beyond doubt" that Iraq continued to produce chemical weapons.

Mr Campbell, who drafted the first version of the foreword - ultimately approved by Mr Blair - said no-one in intelligence challenged this statement.

However, on the 45-minute claim - which was retracted after the war - he has said the dossier "obviously" could have been clearer about it referring to battlefield munitions.

Questions about Mr Campbell's role in the dossier were at the centre of a post-war row with the BBC and the subsequent Hutton inquiry.

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