LONDON – An Iraqi officer has identified himself as the source for a British claim about Saddam Hussein’s weapons that sparked a controversy marked by the death of a British government arms expert, a newspaper reported Sunday.
The Sunday Telegraph said Lt. Col. al-Dabbagh identified himself as the source for the British government’s assertion that Iraq could have deployed chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of a decision to do so. The paper gave the officer’s surname only, citing fears for his safety if he was fully identified.
Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office declined to comment on the newspaper report, which was featured in early editions published late Saturday.
“We’re not prepared to comment but we urge all those involved to provide the Iraq Survey Group with whatever information they believe they have,” a spokeswoman for Blair’s office said on customary condition of anonymity. The ISG is the coalition body searching for Saddam’s alleged chemical or biological weapons.
The 45-minute claim was in a government dossier published in September 2002. A British Broadcasting Corp. report later accused the government of “sexing up” the dossier to make a more convincing case for military action. Government weapons adviser David Kelly apparently committed suicide in July after being identified as the source for the BBC report.
Kelly’s death prompted a judicial inquiry that scrutinized the workings of Blair’s government and its use of intelligence in the buildup to the U.S.-led war. A report from the inquiry is expected early next year.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that al-Dabbagh was the former head of an Iraqi air defense unit in the country’s western desert. It said he had spied for the Iraqi National Accord, a London-based exile group, and provided reports to British intelligence from early 2002 on Saddam’s plans to deploy weapons of mass destruction.
Al-Dabbagh said cases containing chemical or biological warheads were delivered to front-line units, including his own, in late 2002, the paper reported. He said they were designed to be launched by hand-held rocket-propelled grenades, and did not know what exactly the warheads contained.
The government’s September dossier said that “Iraq’s military forces are able to use chemical and biological weapons, with command, control and logistical arrangements in place. The Iraqi military are able to deploy these weapons within 45 minutes of a decision to do so.”
The head of the MI6 spy agency, Sir Richard Dearlove, told the inquiry into Kelly’s death that the 45-minute warning in the dossier came from an “established and reliable source,” quoting a senior Iraqi military officer who was in a position to know the information.
The Sunday Telegraph said al-Dabbagh believed he was the source for that claim.
“I am the one responsible for providing this information,” he was quoted as saying. “It is 100 percent accurate.
“Forget 45 minutes, we could have fired these within half an hour,” al-Dabbagh added. He said the weapons were not used because most of the Iraqi army did not want to fight for Saddam.
The newspaper said al-Dabbagh works as an adviser to the Iraqi Governing Council and said he has received death threats from Saddam loyalists.
It reported that Iyad Allawi, the head of the Iraqi National Accord and a prominent council member, confirmed that he had passed information from al-Dabbagh on Saddam’s weapons to British and American intelligence officials in the spring and summer of 2002.