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Iraq weapons experts said to kill himself
( 2003-07-20 11:33) (Agencies)

David Kelly was a respected family man who rode horses and played cribbage on the pub team near his quiet, Oxfordshire village, a world away from his high-stakes work as a top Iraq weapons expert.

That larger world led the 59-year-old scientist into stressful, unpleasant circumstances, caught in the middle of a no-holds-barred battle between the media and the government over the honesty of Prime Minister Tony Blair's case for war.

Two days after he testified before Parliament, Kelly committed suicide, slitting his left wrist, authorities said Saturday. His death has shaken Britain's government and raised questions about whether Blair has "blood on his hands."

In Southmoor - a hamlet little more than a bend in the road, with a Methodist church, hairdresser, newsstand, convenience store and pub - family and friends remembered Kelly for his integrity. Some complained a decent man had been exploited by ruthless politicians trying to duck a scandal.

"Events over recent weeks have made David's life intolerable, and all of those involved should reflect long and hard on this fact," the Kelly family said in a statement Saturday. "A loving private and dignified man has been taken from us all."

Steven Ward, landlord of the Hinds Head pub, said, "He's been made a fall guy."

"David's too straight. David wouldn't lie about anything," Ward said. "This is Blair and his cronies trying to find someone to get them out."

Kelly, a Defense Ministry expert and former U.N. weapons inspector, had spoken off the record with a British Broadcasting Corp. reporter about intelligence on Iraqi weapons. He was investigated as the possible source of BBC claims that Blair's communications chief, Alastair Campbell, had hyped weapons intelligence to help justify going to war.

The BBC reporter said Campbell insisted that a dossier on Iraq, published by the government in September, include a claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes - even though intelligence experts doubted it.

Blair's government and the BBC lashed out at each other for weeks with claim and counterclaim, demands for an apology and refusals. Neither side seemed prepared to give an inch in a fight over credibility.

Through it all, Kelly denied being the source, and it remains unclear if he was. His wife, Janice, reportedly said he was "very angry" at being dragged into a public controversy.

Thursday afternoon, Kelly - a soft-spoken, bearded man with eyeglasses and gray hair - left his house in Southmoor, a village 20 miles southeast of Oxford.

He told his wife he was taking a walk. A local farmer said Kelly smiled as he passed.

At the time, Blair was flying across the Atlantic to Washington where, as America's closest ally in the Iraq war, the prime minister addressed both houses of Congress to tumultuous applause.

Thursday night, Janice Kelly notified police that her husband had not returned. His body was found Friday morning at the edge of a forest not far from his home. His left wrist was slashed, Southmoor police said. A knife and packet of painkillers lay nearby.

By then, Blair's plane was approaching Tokyo, the first stop on a six-day Asian tour. Clearly stricken, the prime minister announced an independent inquiry into Kelly's death.

News of the suicide has overshadowed Blair's trip, increasing pressure on the prime minister over the failure of the United States or Britain to find weapons of mass destruction - the heart of his case for military action.

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