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MI6 'told ministers Iraq was no threat'

Robin Cook and Clare Short have said MI6 told them Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction did not pose an immediate threat.

The former Cabinet ministers, who both resigned over the conflict, said they had been briefed by MI6 in the days before the war.

Ms Short, giving evidence to the opening session of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the use of intelligence in the war, said she had been told by MI6 that while the work of weapons scientists was being kept hidden by the Iraqis, "the risk of use was less".

Mr Cook said his resignation speech - when he said Iraq probably had no weapons of mass destruction in terms of a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic target - had reflected almost word for word a briefing he received from MI6.

He said he had no regular access to intelligence material after he left the Foreign Office in 2001 to become Leader of the Commons, but he - along with other Cabinet ministers - was briefed individually before the war.

Ms Short said that, as International Development Secretary, she did have access to intelligence and had seen all the material on Iraq - but only after she had "made a fuss".

She said No 10 had tried to prevent her seeing the material and she was given access only after she took up the issue with Tony Blair.

She said MI6 believed that Iraqi scientists were still working on chemical and biological weapons programmes - but the public was led to believe that Saddam had weapons ready to use.

"I think that is where the falsity lies," she said. "The exaggeration of immediacy means you cannot do things properly and action has to be immediate."

She added: "I still don't think he (Saddam) was an immediate threat."

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