Probe into Iraq expert's death puts focus on Blair
( 2003-08-11 09:23) (Agencies)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be on holiday on Monday when an inquiry begins into an arms expert's suspected suicide that puts his leadership over Iraq under scrutiny and could affect his re-election chances.
Kelly, a former UN weapons inspector who worked for the Defense Ministry, was identified as the source of a BBC report that the government "sexed up" an intelligence dossier which said Saddam Hussein posed a major threat with weapons of mass destruction.
Blair, on holiday with his family at a British pop star's villa in Barbados, is among government ministers and officials who have been summoned to appear before Hutton's inquiry, which is likely to last for months.
The government's handling of the affair before and after Kelly's death has triggered a sharp drop in public support for Blair, who first came to power in 1997 and won a second general election in 2001.
A YouGov survey published by the Mail on Sunday newspaper showed 41 percent of Britons blamed the government for Kelly's death and 68 percent believed the government was dishonest.
Opposition politicians say the findings of the inquiry could become a key factor for Blair and his Labour Party in the next general election, due by mid-2006.
The Kelly affair has kept attention on the failure by Blair and President Bush so far to produce any evidence of the weapons of mass destruction that they gave as their main reason for going to war to topple Saddam.
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The 59-year-old expert on bio-warfare was found dead just days after he was called in front of a parliamentary committee investigating whether the threat posed by Saddam had been exaggerated.
Blair's official spokesman Tom Kelly was forced to apologize unreservedly last week for comparing David Kelly -- described by his former U.N. chief Richard Butler as a man "welded to the truth" -- to the fictional fantasist Walter Mitty.
"The attempt by Tom Kelly to cheapen the record of Dr Kelly off the record, even before his funeral had taken place, was appalling," Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said at the weekend. "Surely it is Blair who must apologize."
Among Hutton's early witnesses will be BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan, who reported in May that a pre-war intelligence dossier on Iraq was spiced up at the last minute after pressure from Blair's officials.
Gilligan filed his report one week after meeting Kelly at a London hotel. His BBC bosses, who initially said Gilligan's story came from a senior intelligence source, confirmed last month that Kelly was the source of the report.
Gilligan will be questioned on why Kelly told the committee he did not recognize his words in the BBC report.
Hutton has said he wants to find out how Kelly's name was made public after he told his superiors that he had met Gilligan to discuss Iraq.
His first witness will be another former UN weapons inspector, Terence Taylor, who will be asked to describe Kelly's expertise in chemical and biological warfare.
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