A British parliamentarian claimed in a report published Tuesday that an Iraqi cab driver was the source of an infamous claim made by Prime Minister Tony Blair that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
The member of Parliament, a member of the conservative British Tory Party, claims that he was told by a British intelligence official that the claim actually came from an Iraqi taxi driver, and that it was considered highly unreliable but was tacitly backed by Blair’s government in public statements anyway.
According to the report, the taxi driver worked near Iraq’s border with Jordan. The cab driver is said to have made the comments while transporting two British intelligence officers.
“Under pressure from Downing Street to find anything to back up the WMD case, [British intelligence services] were squeezing their agents in Iraq for anything at all,” MP Adam Holloway wrote in his report, leaked to the British Daily Mail. “One agent did come up with something – the [claim that chemical weapons could be launched on British forces in Cyprus in] ’45 minutes,’ allegedly discussed in a high-level Iraqi political meeting.”
British intelligence officers “were running a senior Iraqi army officer who had a source of his own, a cab driver on the Iraqi-Jordanian border. He apparently overheard two Iraqi army officers two years before who had spoken about weapons with the range to hit targets elsewhere in the Middle East.”
But in a “footnote to their report,” sent to Blair, “it flagged up that part of the report describing some missiles that the Iraqi government allegedly possessed was demonstrably untrue. The missiles verifiably did not exist.
“The footnote said it in black and white,” Holloway continued. “Despite this the report was treated as reliable and went on to become one of the central planks of the dodgy dossier.”
Former British intelligence chief John Scarlett will face an inquiry from an investigatory committee Tuesday, where he will likely be asked questions about Holloway’s report.
The Guardian noted Tuesday that the original intelligence dossier cited by the Blair government didn’t specifically say that Hussein had chemical weapons; officials later acknowledged that it was intended to refer to conventional weapons
“But, when it was published, some British papers interpreted the dossier as meaning that British troops based in Cyprus would be vulnerable to an Iraqi attack,” the paper said. “At the time the government did not do anything to correct this error.”
More than 4,000 American and British soldiers have died since the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Estimates put the number of Iraqi dead since the war began at somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000.