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Britain to Hold Inquiry into Iraq Intelligence

Britain will hold an inquiry to investigate the intelligence used to build the case for war in Iraq. A similar inquiry will be held in the U.S. after the failure to find Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

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British Prime Minister Tony Blair says his government has nothing to hide.

The British government has confirmed plans to hold an independent inquiry into the intelligence which formed the basis of the U.K.'s decision to go to war in Iraq. Prime Minister Tony Blair made the announcement on Tuesday while being questioned on the government's Iraq intelligence by a parliamentary committee.

"I think it is right…that we have a look at the intelligence that we received and whether it was accurate or not," he said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw later told parliament that the inquiry -- which will hear from witnesses in private -- is expected to report its conclusions by the summer.

But the nature and scope of the inquiry -- to be headed by former chief civil servant Lord Butler -- has already caused dissent, with the opposition Liberal Democrats refusing to take part. They said the investigation should also include the political decisions taken in the run-up to the war, instead of focusing solely on the problems with the accuracy of intelligence from Iraq.

Blair's U-turn

The British government had previously rejected calls for an inquiry. However, the results of a separate inquiry by senior judge Lord Hutton into the events surrounding the death of British weapons expert Dr. David Kelly have now cleared the government of accusations that it "sexed up" its intelligence dossier on Iraq. Blair's spokesman said that Lord Hutton's conclusions allow for a rational discussion of what the government did or didn't know about Iraq's weapons program.

The British decision follows the announcement of a similar inquiry in the United States. On Monday, U.S. President George W. Bush said that he would name an independent, bipartisan committee to look into faulty intelligence in Iraq, as well as intelligence gaps in other countries, including Iran and North Korea. A timetable for the investigation has not yet been set.

Pressure has mounted on both governments to set up inquiries after former chief U.S. arms inspector David Kay resigned last month, telling U.S. Congress there was a possibility that Iraq did not possess any stockpiles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

"This is one of the reasons why I think we need a further inquiry," Blair told the parliamentary committee.

Unwavering conviction

The threat posed by Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction was the main argument set out by both the U.S. and British governments in the run-up to the war in Iraq. But months after the war's end, with no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in sight, both governments have begun to emphasize the evil nature of Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime as a prime justification for his removal.

Blair's critics say the failure to find weapons of mass destruction has dealt a huge blow to his credibility. But Blair has not wavered in his conviction that going to war was the appropriate course of action.

"Had we failed to act on the intelligence we received, I think it would have been a gross dereliction of duty," he said on Tuesday, adding: "I don't think we've got anything whatsoever to hide."

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