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USA: Row Over Weapons Allegations Threatens to Turn the Iraq Conflict Into Liability for Bush

by Rupert CornwellIndependent UK
July 10th, 2003

The row over Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction has been slow to reach America, but it is starting to become as much of a headache for President George Bush as it is for Tony Blair.

The catalyst was the White House's acknowledgement, slipped out late on Monday as the President was leaving for Africa, that Mr Bush should not have included the discredited intelligence claims about uranium from Niger in his State of the Union address.

That admission came after confirmation that the CIA itself had reported to the White House in March 2002 that the documents purporting to chronicle Iraq's deal with Niger were almost certainly fakes.

The long-cowed Democrats are finally pitching in. "The whole world knew this was a fraud," Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said of the documents. He demanded a full investigation into how the allegations found their way into the State of the Union speech on 28 January 2003.

The Bush administration's response yesterday was to brush the matter off, or change the subject. Questioned in South Africa on the fiasco, Mr Bush said merely that he was sure the US had "done the right thing" in toppling Saddam. Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said the mistake was just "one single sentence" in the January address.

But the Democratic candidates vying for Mr Bush's job are also savaging his administration, ensuring that the controversy over Iraq and its unsubstantiated weapons programs will stay on the boil.

The issue has helped to propel Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and outspoken critic of the war, to the front of the Democratic pack.

The demands for an investigation will give new impetus to inquiries by at least three committees on Capitol Hill. The House and Senate intelligence committees are preparing hearings, while the Senate's Armed Services Committee is asking pointed questions.

In addition the House Appropriations Committee, which has just approved a $369bn Pentagon budget for 2004, is also considering its own inquiry into whether Donald Rumsfeld's staff distorted pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

Two thirds of Americans still believe it was right to invade. But rising troop casualties and a continuing failure to find illegal weapons could combine to turn Iraq into a liability for the President.





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