Blair 'misused intelligence agencies'

Prime Minister Tony Blair has been accused by a former Foreign Secretary of "gross misuse" of the intelligence services to back his case on Iraq.

No previous Prime Minister would have published a dossier under the name of the Joint Intelligence Committee, as Mr Blair did, said Sir Malcolm Rifkind. He insisted it should never happen again.

Requiring the JIC to lend its support to the presentation of the case for war at a time when the country was deeply divided was like asking the Queen to take sides in a political dispute, he said.

Sir Malcolm, who has been picked by the Tories to fight the safe seat of Kensington and Chelsea in the next election, said it was now clear that Mr Blair had taken Britain to war on a false prospectus.

He branded the Prime Minister's refusal to hold a full inquiry into the decision to join military action "perverse".

In an article for tomorrow's Independent on Sunday, Sir Malcolm wrote: "It is now clear that he took Britain into war on a false prospectus and the Iraq war will, rightly, haunt Blair for the rest of his premiership."

Tory attacks should focus on three points, he argued.

The first must be "the gross misuse of the intelligence agencies to provide a character reference for the Prime Minister". The content of the September 2002 dossier was a secondary issue compared with the unprecedented decision "to use the agencies and the Joint Intelligence Committee to try to enhance the credibility of the Government's case for war," said Sir Malcolm.

"I trust it will never happen again. Neither I nor any previous Labour or Tory minister would have dreamt of publishing material in the name of the Joint Intelligence Committee. That would have been to politicise the JIC on an issue that divided the nation. It would have been like asking the Queen to call for war against Iraq."

Tories must also challenge the Prime Minister on his "extraordinary" claim that he was not aware that the dossier's claim that weapons of mass destruction could be fired in 45 minutes referred only to battlefield munitions.

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