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WASHINGTON – Weaponsgate is nothing more than a “witchhunt” by Democrats desperate to discredit a popular president. Or so Bush dittoheads argue.

To be sure, Democrats are trying to milk the scandal. But Democrats didn’t say this:

“We now know that documents alleging a transaction between Iraq and Niger had been forged. The other reporting that suggested Iraq had tried to obtain uranium from Africa is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that such attempts in fact were made. Because of this lack of specificity, this reporting alone did not rise to the level of inclusion in a presidential speech.”

That was a White House confession, delivered July 8 by National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton.

The carefully scripted statement made it sound as if the White House had just that day learned that the president’s Jan. 28 State of the Union charge against Iraq was based, at least in part, on faked evidence. In fact, it had known since March 7, when the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency reported the forgeries to the United Nations Security Council.

So why the sudden bout of honesty?

Because the previous day, July 7, a British parliamentary committee had released the findings of its investigation into the merits of Bush war partner Tony Blair’s own Iraq dossier, which critics charge was also “sexed up” to justify starting the war.

In its report, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee concluded as unfounded Blair’s assertion last September “that Iraq sought the supply of significant amounts of uranium from Africa.”

Uh-oh. The lame claim mirrored Bush’s own prewar charge: “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” which cited British intelligence.

And so the White House sprung into damage-control mode, releasing a mea kinda culpa.

Also, the British committee recommended that Blair’s foreign secretary, Jack Straw, provide it “with the date on which the British intelligence community were first informed by the CIA that forged documentation in relation to Iraqi purchases of uranium from Niger existed.”

Uh-oh again. The CIA knew enough to warn the Brits, but not the White House? Hmmm.

Blair now insists his uranium allegation was built on more than the phony Niger documents, and that this “other intelligence” was never shared with the U.S. Yeah, huffs Bush, unwittingly, that’s right!

Who’s the source of this “other” evidence? He’s not telling. France and Italy have been mentioned in the press, but both deny it.

Perhaps Blair, who is in town visiting, will reveal his source at today’s joint press conference.

The House of Commons panel, however, remains skeptical – along with the IAEA – about his claims of “other” evidence.

“We conclude that it is very odd indeed that the government asserts that it was not relying on the evidence which has since been shown to have been forged,” its report said, “but that eight months later it is still reviewing the other evidence.”

The committee demanded that Blair “explain on what evidence it relied for its judgment in September 2002 that Iraq had recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Yes, do tell, mate. We’d all like to know.


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Previous columns:

Anatomy of a lie

A very curious war indeed

Believing Boy Scout Bush

The folly of ‘liberating’ Muslims

Saddam bin Laden

The Iraq echo chamber

While Nero fiddled in Baghdad …

The royal families

Yellow is for politics

My Picnic with Bill

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