Iraq uranium deal: Italian officials to be questioned

An aide to Premier Silvio Berlusconi and an intelligence director are to appear before a parliamentary commission Thursday to respond to allegations that Italy knowingly gave the U.S. and Britain forged documents suggesting Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium in Africa.

Cabinet Undersecretary Gianni Letta and Nicolo Pollari, the director of Italy's SISMI intelligence agency, will be questioned by members of a parliamentary commission overseeing secret services, said Micaela Panella, a spokeswoman for the commission.

Pollari requested the hearing after the allegations emerged in a newspaper last week. The Rome daily La Repubblica reported that the government gave the United States and Britain documents known to be forged that detailed a purported Iraqi deal to buy 500 tons of uranium concentrate from Niger. The uranium ore, known as yellowcake, can be used to produce nuclear weapons, the AP reports.

Berlusconi's government has denied any wrongdoing and the premier has personally defended Pollari in the face of calls for his resignation.

The United States and Britain used the claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from the west African country to bolster the case for war. The intelligence supporting the claim was later deemed unreliable.

Thursday's hearing in Rome will not be open to the public, but members of the commission are expected to talk to reporters after the meeting. A.M.

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