- (AFP) -- In a new blow to the US case for war with Iraq,
the White House formally admitted that President George W. Bush overstated
Saddam Hussein's alleged efforts to obtain uranium for nuclear arms.
- Opposition Democrats were quick to pounce on what one
called an example of the president's use of "unproven, untested and
untrue reports" portraying Iraq as an imminent threat to the United
States before the March 20 invasion.
- Specifically at issue was a line in Bush's State of the
Union speech in January 2003, when he alleged: "The British government
has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities
of uranium from Africa."
- White House national security spokesman Michael Anton
said the statement should not have been included in the president's address
to the nation because it rested on flawed intelligence.
- The charge stemmed from forged documents alleging that
Iraq sought uranium "yellowcake" from Niger, and from separate
information that Saddam sought the radioactive material from other African
nations, he said.
- "We now know that documents alleging a transaction
between Iraq and Niger had been forged," Anton told AFP, stressing
that the White House did not learn the documents were fraudulent before
including the charge in Bush's speech.
- "The other reporting that suggested that Iraq had
tried to obtain uranium from Africa is not detailed or specific enough
for us to be certain that such attempts were in fact made," he said.
- "Because of this lack of specificity, this reporting
alone did not rise to the level of inclusion in a presidential speech,"
the spokesman said.
- But, Anton stressed, the allegations that Iraq sought
uranium "was not an element underpinning the judgment" of most
US intelligence agencies that Saddam had revived his stalled nuclear weapons
- Democrats, many of whom voted to back Bush on the war,
have grown bolder in their criticisms of the case for military action in
recent weeks, even as public support has ebbed in part due to mounting
US casualties in Iraq.
- Moreover, US-led forces in Iraq have yet to unearth conclusive
evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or close ties between
Saddam and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, two major justifications
for the war.
- "The president's aides finally admit the truth:
there was no credible evidence Iraq was actively pursuing the purchase
of nuclear material," Senator Bob Graham, a presidential hopeful,
said in a statement.
- "With this admission from the White House that the
president misled us, George Bush's credibility is increasingly in doubt,"
said Graham, who voted against a war resolution. "Mr. President, what
else dont we know?"
- Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe
said Bush "knowingly misled" the US public, saying either Bush
or his top aides allowed the erroneous information into the speech.
- "This was not a mistake. It was no oversight and
it was no error," he said in a statement.
- The White House's backpedalling followed the publication
of a British parliamentary commission report that raised serious questions
about the reliability of British intelligence cited by Bush.
- A former US ambassador who investigated the Niger allegation
for the Central Intelligence Agency said Sunday that the Bush administration
had "twisted" data on Iraq to suit its case for war.
- In a New York Times article, Joseph Wilson said he had
researched the matter in 2002 and had informed the administration that
the claims were false.
- Top Republican lawmakers accused Democrats of exploiting
a relatively minor issue.
- "It's very easy to pick one little flaw here, one
little flaw there. The overall reason we went into Iraq is ... morally
sound," said Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay.
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