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UK told before Iraq invasion that case was ‘patchy’

Britain was told just days before invading Iraq that the country’s chemcial weapons might have been unusable, the inquiry into the Iraq war was told yesterday on day two of proceedings.

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The inquiry in London heard from senior civil servant William Ehrman that Britain received intelligence “in the very final days before military action” that some Iraqi weapons may not have been assembled.

Foreign Office officials told the inquiry that Saddam Hussein’s nuclear programme had, they believed, been dismantled and that they had no evidence of any attempt by Iraq to supply biological weapons to ‘terrorists’, as the US was claiming at the time.

“We did, I think on March 10, get a report that chemical weapons might have remained disassembled and Saddam hadn’t yet ordered their assembly…

“There was also a suggestion that Iraq might lack warheads capable of effective dispersal of agents”, Ehrmann said.

Witnesses also downplayed Iraq’s chances of building a nuclear weapon and addressed a government claim that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein could launch a strike with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in 45 minutes.

Ehrmann used adjectives including “patchy”, “sporadic” and “limited” to describe a series of intelligence briefings on WMDs between 2000 and 2002.

The inquiry has been criticized in some quarters for having the involvement of too many establishment figures.

Meanwhile, current PM Gordon Brown – another potential witness – denied a claim the probe risks being a whitewash.

The leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, alleged Brown’s government had written to inquiry members outlining nine reasons why its final report could be censored by the government.

“How on earth are we…going to hear about the full truth of the decisions leading up to the invasion of Iraq if the inquiry is being suffocated on day one by his government’s shameful culture of secrecy?” Clegg demanded.