White House Admits Bush
'Overstated' Iraq Uranium Claim

(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 program.
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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