In two separate addresses, both of which were broadcast in the US and around the world, President Bush made the claim which was based on British intelligence. 

On the White House website, in a document entitled “The Global Message” published on 26 September last year, the claim is made without attribution.

A brewing scandal in the UK over the veracity of the claim was  boosted earlier this week by the apparent suicide of English scientist David Kelly, accused of telling the BBC that UK government officials had “sexed up” information on Iraq’s weapon's capabilities to bolster support for war.

Claims discredited

Other claims made by both President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair’s UK government about the nature of the Iraqi threat have since been discredited.

CIA chief George Tenet last week said assertions that Iraq was attempting to buy fissionable materials from Niger, West Africa, should never have been included in the President’s State of the Union address in January.

Their inclusion was a “mistake”, he said.

The dispute centres on “whether administration officials made a conscious and very troubling decision to create a false impression about the gravity and imminence of the threat that Iraq posed to America,” Senator Carl M Levin said in the Democratic Radio address this week.

Further claims by President Bush that al-Qaeda terrorists were being harboured by the Iraqi regime were also disputed by the intelligence community, yet were made nonetheless, the Post said.

Only 10-days ago, US National Security advisor Condoleeza Rice assured the world that the CIA had cleared Bush’s State of the Union address. She told reporters that if Tenet had doubts about the strength of intelligence used in the speech, “he did not make them known” to the White House.

Pressure on both leaders is mounting. Claire Short, a UK legislator and former ally of Tony Blair, is calling for the Prime Minister's resignation.