A top policy adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has given evidence in London on the shaping of Britain's decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003.
Alistair Campbell, a close ally of Blair, is the first major political figure to appear before the independent public enquiry into how Britain became involved in the war.
He told the panel today that in April 2002, at a press conference at U.S. President George Bush's ranch at Crawford, Texas, Blair alluded to the ultimate possibility of military action against Iraq, accompanied by regime change in Baghdad.
But Campbell said he did not believe this was the first indication of a fundamental change of policy from seeking to resolve the crisis through diplomatic means. Other officials who previously gave evidence have said they saw this statement as a turning point in British policy.
Less than six months later. In September 2002, intelligence information was made public by the British government in the form of a dossier which stated that "beyond doubt" Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that such weapons could be launched toward Britain within 45 minutes.
This dossier formed one of the basic public justifications for the British government to join U.S. forces in invading Iraq. Campbell said Blair put him in charge of preparing the draft dossier for public issue.
Change Of Tone
In the meantime, the tone of communications from Blair to U.S. President Bush had changed to give some more prominence to the possibility of a military solution.
"The prime minister wrote quite a lot of notes to the president [Bush], and I would say that the [tone] of them was that, as I said earlier, 'We share the analysis, we share the concern, we are absolutely with you in making sure that Saddam Hussein is faced up to his obligations, and Iraq is disarmed. If that can't be done diplomatically, it has to be done militarily. Britain will be there.'" Campbell said. "That would definitely be the [tone] of his communications to the president."
Campbell has previously denied that he "sexed up" the draft of the dossier made public in September of 2002.
Campbell today repeated that denial, saying that at no time did he ask the author of the report, Sir John Scarlett, the head of the British secret intelligence service MI6, to "beef up" any judgments in the report.
"At no point did anybody from the prime minister down say to anybody within the intelligence services, 'Look, you have to, sort of, tailor it to fit this argument, that argument,'" Campbell said. "It just never happened."
Campbell was questioned about the views of various officials who at the time indicated that they believed the actual intelligence information in Scarlett's original draft of the dossier was very thin.
Members of the panel pointed out that the British intelligence community had repeatedly said in 2002 and previous years that it believed the information coming out of Iraq on weapons of mass destruction was only "patchy" and not definitive.
The last time an intelligence official said this was only a month before the dossier appeared, in which the foreword described the intelligence on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was accurate "beyond doubt."
Campbell today stood by this description in the foreword, but did not explain how the intelligence community's estimate differed so much from the phrase used in the dossier.
Campbell told the inquiry that he had written that foreword to the dossier in Blair's name, after Blair explained what he wanted the foreword to say. Blair wanted the dossier as a whole to engage the public properly in the Iraq issue.
The foreword is now seen as setting the hard line context in which the intelligence report was to be viewed.
Campbell said that the dossier was not presenting the case for going to war. That is the way the media later interpreted the dossier. But Campbell said that it was instead the case for why the prime minister was becoming more concerned about events relating to Iraq.
Campbell said the dossier did not misrepresent the available intelligence "at all." That's despite the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq.
The inquiry is continuing, with Blair expected to testify within the next few weeks.