An official British inquiry Wednesday lambasted the state of pre-war intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction but cleared Prime Minister Tony Blair of responsibility for the failings.
Blair survives another day
Britain joined the US-led war against Saddam Hussein based on unreliable evidence, according to the long-awaited report from a panel headed by former top civil servant Lord Robin Butler.
But a key government dossier, published in September 2002, on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) showed "no evidence of deliberate distortion or of culpable negligence," the inquiry concluded.
The 196-page report, seen as crucial to the future of Blair's premiership, contained some serious rebuffs, notably concluding that Iraq almost certainly did not possess significant stocks of WMD before the conflict.
British soldiers escort a group of Iraqi men before checking their identities in Basra, March 2003
Blair's decision to strongly support the war hinged almost entirely on his claim that Saddam's stockpiles of illegal weapons posed an immediate threat to the West. As widely predicted by British newspapers, Butler's report did not contain any direct allegations that Blair or his government deliberately exaggerated the case for war.
Flak for intelligence and Blair's style of governance
The harshest criticism was directed at the intelligence efforts, largely mirroring a Senate report on US spying published last week, which exonerated the regime of President George W. Bush.
Much of Britain's intelligence was based on human sources, the report said.
"Validation of human intelligence sources after war has thrown doubt on a high proportion of those sources and of their reports; and hence on the quality of the intelligence assessments received by ministers and officials in the period from summer 2002 to the outbreak of hostilities," it concluded.
Additionally, Blair's style of government was criticized, with the report saying that its "informality and circumscribed character" shut much of his cabinet out of the decision-making process.
"We do not suggest that there is or should be an ideal or unchangeable system of collective government, still less that procedures are in aggregate any less effective now than in earlier times," the report said. "However, we are concerned that the informality and circumscribed character of the government's procedures which we saw in the context of policy-making towards Iraq risks reducing the scope for informed collective political judgment."
Perhaps the most damning indictment for the premier was the conclusion on Iraq's WMD, which Blair insisted did exist long after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, although none have been found by coalition troops.
While Iraq might have been developing missiles with a longer range than allowed under United Nations sanctions, it "did not have significant -- if any -- stocks of chemical or biological weapons in a state fit for deployment, or developed plans for using them," the report said.
However, it added: "We believe it would be a rash person who asserted at this stage that evidence of Iraqi possession of stocks of biological or chemical agents, or even of banned missiles, does not exist or will never be found," the inquiry found.
In one small victory for Blair, while the report had some criticisms of Sir John Scarlett, who co-ordinated intelligence efforts before the war, it recommended that he stay on in his new job as head of the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6.
There would likely be calls for Scarlett to step down, the report said, but added: "We greatly hope that he will not do so."