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Where does the paper trail lead?

Tomorrow the Foreign Affairs Committee gives its verdict on the dossiers that led us to war. Glen Rangwala analyses what we have learnt so far

06 July 2003

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee is due to present its report on the dossiers produced by the Government about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction - the supposed threat of which was the main justification for going to war. Dr Rangwala examines the crucial developments of the past week.

How significant was the letter, released to the media, which purports to detail the changes Alastair Campbell, Downing Street's director of communications, sought from the Joint Intelligence Committee in the dossier, and their response?

We still do not have a clear idea about the full extent of the communications between the parties, because the draft documents on the first dossier were not shown to the committee. We know that Campbell has had a number of communications with Sir John Scarlett, the chairman of the JIC, but we do not know what transpired in them. We do not know the full extent of any possible input by Mr Campbell. So the letter that was published was not, by itself, of huge significance.

How has the committee, and the Government, treated the matter of the two dossiers - the first one published in September last year, the next one in February this year - during the hearing?

The September dossier was signed off by the JIC; the February dossier was not. We also know, of course, that parts of the February dossier were plagiarised. By concentrating on the BBC allegation about the "45-minute threat", which was in the first dossier, Campbell has, quite successfully, sought to divert attention from the second dossier.

The Government has maintained that it presented the second dossier in a different way from the first. But it was passed on to Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, and the timing of it, in the run-up to the war, was crucial.

What is the significance of Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, asking the intelligence services to insert details about Iraq's pre-1991 war weapons capabilities?

This became important as it was the only supposed weapons threat that Tony Blair and Jack Straw could use to justify war, and they continued to do so right up to the war, claiming Iraq had not accounted for the pre-1991 weapons. The intelligence services had not included them in their reports because, presumably, they did not feel they were real threats. Weapons experts say it is highly unlikely that, 12 years on, with the poor maintenance of Iraqi weaponry, they would have continued to pose a serious problem. So Jack Straw's intervention in this was a quite deliberate step to raise the perception of danger.

How much can we expect to learn from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry, and one to follow from the Intelligence and Security Committee?

The current inquiry is likely to censure Campbell and the Government about the plagiarised material in the second dossier. But Campbell and Straw have apologised about that anyway, and the Government can say that apart from that transgression everything else is fine.

All the indications are that the Government will be cleared of "sexing up" the first dossier. But we must remember that the MPs have not seen much of the documentation about how this was put together.

The Intelligence and Security Committee will have access to more documentation, but I do not think they too will unearth anything much, as they have a reputation for being cautious and not rocking the boat too much.

What is the most realistic way of discovering whether or not Saddam Hussein really did have, or planned to acquire, weapons of mass destruction?

Surely the only way is to let the United Nations inspection teams go back to Iraq and continue their work. They have the experience and expertise to do so. The Americans may say that it is not secure for them to do so because of the current state of violence in the country. But after all, the Iraq Survey Teams, organised by the US and Britain to try to discover WMD, are operating in Iraq, and similar protection can be offered to UN teams. It also seems unlikely that anti-American Iraqi factions on the ground will attack UN personnel.

Glen Rangwala, a lecturer in political theory and Middle East studies at Cambridge, first revealed that Downing Street had plagiarised much of the second dossier from 'Jane's Intelligence Review' and an article by an Oxford PhD student, Ibrahim al-Marashi. He also discovered an electronic trail which showed that the last four people to process the document worked for Alastair Campbell - the main reason for his appearance before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Dr Rangwala had given written evidence to the committee. He had been studying Iraq's 'non-conventional weapons' since the mid-1990s, and he has visited Iran to observe the effect of chemical weapons. He was talking to Kim Sengupta


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