Straw admits asking for 'strong' Iraq dossier

London - British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Tuesday acknowledged that he requested part of a controversial official dossier on Iraqi weapons be "strengthened".

However, Straw refused to concede the government wanted to beef up intelligence to strengthen the case for war.

Straw, publicly acknowledging for the first time his role in the dossier, requested that part of the document be strengthened to highlight the "centrality of weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein's role" as Iraq's president, according to an email released to a judicial inquiry into the apparent suicide of British arms expert David Kelly.

Asked whether he had requested, through his private secretary Mark Sedwill, that a "killer paragraph" be inserted into the government's September 2002 dossier, Straw told BBC radio:

"This is an accurate reference to an email that was sent on my behalf by a private secretary, and what I wanted was to raise the prominence of Saddam Hussein's defiance of the United Nations over 12 years. I still do."

Straw did not say if the dossier released last September was actually strengthened as a result of his request.

Nor did he mention if the reference to the "killer paragraph" had anything to do with a controversial claim made in the dossier that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons in just 45 minutes.

Government scientist Kelly was the source of a hotly denied BBC report on May 29 that Downing Street had "sexed up" its dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to rally support for Britain going to war against Saddam.

A highly respected ministry of defence expert on Iraqi biological weapons, Kelly was found dead on July 18 near his home in the English countryside.

Doubts over the use of intelligence on Iraq and Kelly's suicide have left Prime Minister Tony Blair dropping in opinion polls and facing the worst political crisis since he came to office in 1997.

It has also emerged that Straw may face questions at the inquiry for the first time into Kelly's death, after it was revealed that a Foreign Office aide had wanted the arms expert to be named as the source of the contested BBC report.

Documents released by senior judge Lord Brian Hutton's inquiry, and highlighted by The Independent newspaper yesterday, include internal government memos relating to the issue of whether Kelly's name should be made public.

One of those copied was Blair's top aide and communications chief Alastair Campbell, who last month resigned his post.

Meanwhile, there is widespread speculation that Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon could also quit, depending on the outcome of the inquiry. - Sapa-AFP

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