Italy denies role in fake documents on Iraq


ROME - The Italian government denied on Wednesday reports that its secret services passed fake documents to the United States to help bolster claims about Baghdad's pre-war nuclear ambitions.

Italian newspaper La Repubblica has been running daily articles since Monday alleging that Sismi intelligence officials helped pass-off forged documents that accused Iraq of trying to buy 500 tons of "yellowcake" uranium from Niger.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's office said in a statement the government and Sismi had no "direct or indirect role in the fabrication and the transmission of the 'fake dossier on Niger uranium."'

La Repubblica accuses Sismi, which is highly respected in Italy, of giving the false documents to the United States.

It says the agency gave the documents to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the chief of Sismi, Nicolo Pollari, met the then-deputy national security advisor, Stephen Hadley on September 9, 2002.

Pollari will address a parliamentary committee overseeing the intelligence service on November 3 at a closed-door meeting called to discuss the latest newspaper claims.

Accusations of an Italian angle in the Niger document case have surfaced regularly over the past two years and magistrates have investigated claims that an Italian businessman acted as a middleman looking to sell the bogus information.

Italian officials have long rejected accusations Rome had any role in the Niger affair, issuing statements in July 2003 and August 2004 denying that Sismi passed documents to the CIA.

The government accused La Repubblica of running material that was "false and devoid of all foundation."

Berlusconi, a U.S. ally who sent Italian troops to Iraq, is due to meet U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on October 31, but it is not known if they will discuss the Niger affair.

The Italian controversy comes amid an investigation in the United States involving the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, after her husband, Joseph Wilson, accused the administration of twisting pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

Wilson had based the criticism in part on a CIA-sponsored mission he made to Africa in 2002 over intelligence reports that Iraq sought uranium from Niger.

Special U.S. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has made clear that he is looking into Niger-related material as he investigates the leak, amid growing expectations he will charge top White House aides.

After meeting Pollari, Hadley later took the blame for a reference to Iraq seeking uranium in Niger that showed up in Bush's January 2003 State of the Union speech, shortly before the invasion of Iraq.

The Niger documents were declared forgeries by the International Atomic Energy Agency in March 2003.

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