A report on the quality of British intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq will be released on Wednesday. It could raise further uncomfortable questions for beleaguered British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The report is to probe intelligence that led to Iraq's invasion
The five- person committee headed by Lord Butler was set up by the British government to review the quality of intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. The group is meant to be independent and therefore is not expected to hold back with criticism for the sake of political allegiances.
The so-called “Butler Report” comes just a few days after a US Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry concluded that most of the CIA's claims on Saddam Hussein's alleged arsenal were overstated or unsupported.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair
The key issue for British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, will be whether the report finds that his government put any pressure on intelligence services to overestimate the risk posed by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The stakes for Blair are high. The Butler report will deal in depth with British intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war.
Blair based his case for war on the confident assertion that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and was a "serious and current threat."
But the Iraq Survey Group, the team that has been scouring Iraq for those weapons, has yet to find anything. Last week, Blair acknowledged that WMD may never be found.
Iraq better off today
On Tuesday Tony Blair refused to comment about the Butler Report before it was made public and instead focused on the improvements in Iraq, again putting this
progress forward as his new justification for the war.
"I think it is very hard to look at Iraq today, see the country with, yes all the problems from terrorism, but with an internationally backed government that will eventually lead to a properly elected democratic government, a country that can be a stable partner in the international community, a country that can make use of the enormous wealth that it has," Blair said.
"I think that it is very difficult to look at Iraq today, look at Iraq under Saddam, and say that we’d be better off, the world would be safer, we’d be more secure, if Saddam was still in charge of Iraq."
Did Blair put pressure intelligence?
Lord Butler’s committee did its work behind closed doors and has made few statements about how it has been progressing. Media speculation about what the findings of the Butler Report might be has been intense.
Tony Blair got an advance copy of the report on Tuesday and so will be ready to respond to the findings. The findings could reflect badly on Blair.
In particular the report might say his government pressured intelligence services in some way to overestimate the risk posed by Iraq or misrepresented that risk. Many people in Britain will be waiting to hear what the Butler report has to say about a September 2002 British government dossier that claimed Saddam Hussein's forces could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes. The report comes a day before two by-elections in the UK. The elections are in safe Labor Party strongholds, but opposition to the war, particularly among Muslim communities, could cost Tony Blair’s party votes.