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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

45-minute Iraq claim returns to haunt Blair government

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

London, Feb 5, IRNA -- The British government`s claim that Saddam 
Hussein`s regime could use weapons of mass destruction within 45 
minutes was `not a hug issue` before the Iraq war, Defense Secretary 
Geoff Hoon insisted Thursday. 
Hoon said that it only became a matter of `public controversy` 
following the BBC`s report last May that suggested that the government
exaggerated Iraq`s arms threat to justify the war. 
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted in parliament for
the first time that he had been unaware that the 45-minute claim 
referred to only battlefield weapons when MPs were asked to vote for 
war last March. 
Former foreign secretary Robin Cook said he was `surprised` by 
Blair`s claim not to know the nature of the weapons covered as he was 
aware as leader of the House of Commons. 
Speaking ahead of being questioned Thursday by the all-party 
Defense Committee, Hoon said that he was also aware of the limitations
of the claim before the vote and could not say why he had not told the
prime minister. 
But he told BBC radio that he did not know that it only referred 
to battlefield weapons when the 45-minute claim was included four 
times in the government`s controversial dossier on Iraq`s arms before 
it was published in September 2002. 
The Conservative`s shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said 
the prime minister`s admission `raises serious questions about what 
the Government knew when Britain went to war in Iraq`. 
"He (Blair) should now come clean and either apologize and correct
his comments in the House of Commons today or explain why he did not 
know what two members of his Cabinet knew at that time," Ancram told 
the BBC. 
The limitations of the 45-minute claim was only disclosed during 
the Hutton inquiry into the death of Iraq arms inspector David Kelly, 
which exonerated the government of any wrong-doing when it was 
published last week. 

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