Washington, Aug.7 : The Government of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is said to have passed on intelligence to Washington that suggested that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, but this information was conveniently buried by the White House, a new book claims.
Ron Suskind claims in his book -- In The Way of the World, that Blair sent Michael Shipster, a top British spy to the Middle East in 2003 - three months before the invasion - to dig up enough intelligence to avoid a war.
Shipster, Susskind claims, held secret meetings in Jordan with Tahir Jalil Habbush, the head of Iraqi Intelligence, and that these meetings were held have been confirmed by Nigel Inkster, former assistant director of MI6.
Suskind also interviewed Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of British Intelligence, who also confirmed the Shipster meetings and report. When Dearlove was asked why Blair had not acted on the intelligence, he said the mission was an eleventh-hour "attempt to try, as it were, I'd say, to diffuse the whole situation".
He added: "The problem was the Cheney crowd was in too much of a hurry, really. Bush never resisted them quite strongly enough."
President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney, however, dismissed the claim or possible evidence that would stop military action, Susskind adds.
According to The Telegraph, the Pulitzer prize-winning author also claims that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a backdated, handwritten letter purportedly from the head of Iraqi Intelligence to Saddam. The letter, which came to light nine months after the invasion, was meant to demonstrate a link between the Baathist regime and al-Qaeda.
The forgery, adamantly denied by the White House, was passed to a British journalist in Baghdad and written about as if genuine by The Sunday Telegraph on December 14, 2003.
The article received significant attention in the US and provided the White House with a new rationale for the invasion, Suskind claimed. The White House has termed the allegation absurd. Suskind wrote that Sir Richard flew to Washington in February 2003 to present the Habbush report to George Tenet, then the Director of the CIA. The report stated that according to Mr Habbush, Saddam had ended his nuclear programme in 1991 - the same year that he destroyed his chemical weapons programme - and ended his biological weapons programme in 1996. These assertions turned out to be true.
Tenet briefed Bush and Condoleezza Rice, at the time his National Security Adviser.
Suskind wrote: "The White House then buried the Habbush report. They instructed the British that they were no longer interested in keeping the channel open."
Rob Richer, a former CIA officer in the Near East division, told Suskind: "The Brits wanted to avoid war - which was what was driving them. Bush wanted to go to war in Iraq from the very first days he was in office."
Habbush was put on the White House's list of most-wanted Iraqis, but according to Suskind he was paid by the CIA in October 2003 to write the forged letter to Saddam, dated July 1, 2001, saying that the putative September 11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had trained for his mission in Iraq. This was the letter publicised in The Sunday Telegraph.