LONDON—Prime Minister Tony Blair used "seriously flawed" intelligence to sell his nation on the need for a preemptive war on Iraq, but he didn't intentionally mislead, according to an official inquiry into prewar intelligence released Wednesday.
Five months in the making, the report on British intelligence was widely seen as a threat to Blair's slipping grip on office. But initial reaction indicated that the report may not be sufficiently damaging to threaten Blair's grip on power.
"We should record in particular that we have found no evidence of deliberate distortions or of culpable negligence," the report stated.
The report by Lord Butler, who led the inquiry, was in most aspects similar to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report on American prewar intelligence. But while the Senate report largely blamed the CIA, the British critique was more forgiving, citing "collective mistakes" and saying that no one person should be blamed.
Blair, who's been under intense political pressure and has watched his party take a beating in European elections last month, smiled and laughed while speaking about the report to the House of Commons.
"No one lied; no one made up the intelligence," Blair said. "Everyone did their best."
Blair added that the report should end questions about his integrity.
"For any mistake made in good faith, I take full responsibility," he said.
Blair added he still believed removing Saddam Hussein from power made Iraq and the world safer, but he agreed with the report's assessment that Iraq didn't have large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
The report, however, is unlikely to end the controversy over the war. Protesters in London on Wednesday chanted "Blair lied; thousands died." The London Evening Standard ran the headline "Whitewash II" over a story on the findings, a reference to a report released earlier this year involving Iraq-related intelligence that many felt was overly kind to Blair.
Tory leader Michael Howard, Blair's political rival, questioned how shaky intelligence reports became solid in a much-discussed September dossier 2002 that was prepared by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and eventually used by Blair to make the case for war.
"Were he to have to lead us into another war, the question now is, would the people trust him?" Howard said about Blair.
But Gary Samore, the director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said the Butler report maintained that the British government genuinely believed the case it put before the people.
"Lord Butler makes it clear that there should have been more caution in presenting the information, but I'm not sure it would have made much of a difference in the outcome anyway," Samore said. "This report isn't a whitewash."
The report said the intelligence dossier was overly reliant on two sources who accounted for two-thirds of the data in the assessment. "Iraq was a very difficult target," the report said, and few sources of information were available. In a news conference, Butler said that because information was so hard to come by, "worst-case scenarios become baselines for future assessments."
Butler, a fixture in British government since the days of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, said the September dossier "may have left readers with the impression that intelligence was broader and firmer than it was."
The report said the inquiry commission was "struck by the relative thinness of the intelligence base supporting the greater firmness of the JIC's judgments on Iraqi production and possession of chemical and biological weapons, especially the inferential nature of much of it."
The report said one of the problems was the use of intelligence information for public consumption. Intelligence information is often incomplete and based largely on inference, but people who don't regularly see such reports would give the information more weight than it deserved. The intelligence that the dossier was based on included caveats that were removed in the public document.
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Tony Blair
McClatchy Newspapers 2007