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Blair's closest aide faces interrogation on Iraq
( 2003-08-19 10:11) (Agencies)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's right-hand man will be quizzed on Tuesday about the case for war to oust Saddam Hussein at a potentially explosive inquiry into the suicide of weapons expert David Kelly.

Alastair Campbell, Blair's media chief, launched a furious attack on the BBC over a report that he "sexed up" a dossier on Iraq to say Saddam could launch weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes' notice.

Just before his death, Kelly was identified as the suspected source for the report. The BBC confirmed the bio-warfare expert was the source after he was found with a slashed wrist.

The inquiry by senior judge Lord Hutton is a critical test for Blair, whose public trust ratings have plunged over the government's handling of the affair and the failure to find any banned weapons in Iraq months after Saddam's overthrow.

Blair's most trusted adviser will reiterate his flat denial of the report that he inflated evidence about Iraq's weapons.

But skeptical Britons may not be convinced.

An ICM poll for the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday showed 52 percent of the public trust neither the government nor the BBC to tell the truth and that only six percent trusted Blair's administration more than the public broadcaster.


Campbell, an abrasive and confident operator, will face the forensic skills of lawyer James Dingemans who leads the questioning at the inquiry.

On Monday, the inquiry revealed uncomfortable evidence for the government.

An e-mail from Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, said the government's September 2002 dossier did "nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam."

Powell's comments were made a week before the dossier was published.

In the final version, Blair said Iraq's biological and chemical weapons posed a "serious and current threat."

Critics who say Blair's team played fast and loose with the facts got further ammunition on Monday from another e-mail.

In it, Campbell told Powell on September 5 that a "substantial rewrite" and restructuring of the dossier was ordered "as per TB (Tony Blair's) discussion."

"There is a feeling that this document was not what they wanted it to be and therefore there was a hyping up of it," Conservative foreign affairs spokesman Michael Ancram said.

After Kelly was forced into the spotlight he received a public grilling at the hands of a parliamentary committee. Days later he was dead.

Blair, currently on holiday in Barbados, is due to return to give evidence to the inquiry.

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