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British Parliament clears Blair over Iraq claims

A House of Commons committee cleared the government on Monday of charges that it doctored evidence of Iraqi weapons, but the committee criticized the government's handling of intelligence findings, saying it resulted in Prime Minister Tony Blair unknowingly misinforming Parliament.

The committee on foreign affairs said that while there was no proof of "politically inspired meddling," a government dossier published last September was written in language that was "more assertive than that traditionally used in intelligence documents."

The committee also questioned the prominence given a claim that the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons capable of being launched in 45 minutes.

The panel said that a second dossier, published in February and now referred to as the "dodgy dossier" because it commingled intelligence with a plagiarized scholarly article, was mistakenly presented to lawmakers as pure intelligence by Blair, who had no notion of its true provenance.

Although the committee cleared Blair and his ministers of deliberately misleading Parliament, its 54-page report said that the "jury is still out" on the accuracy of many of the government's assertions about Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

In a statement prompted by the British report, the Bush administration acknowledged for the first time Monday that President Bush should not have claimed in his State of the Union address in January that Iraq had sought to buy uranium in Africa to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program.

Asked about the British report, the administration released a statement that, after weeks of questioning about the president's uranium-purchase claim, effectively conceded that intelligence underlying the president's statement was wrong.

"Knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq's attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech," a senior Bush administration official said Monday night in a statement authorized by the White House.

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