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Defense minister quits amid intelligence furor

COPENHAGEN -- Denmark's defense minister resigned yesterday as lawmakers questioned military intelligence reports the government used to justify its support for the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Svend Aage Jensby said he was stepping down because of a "smear campaign" by critics who say the government lied about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Denmark has nearly 500 troops in Basra and nearby Qurnah, 250 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who had just returned from a trip to the United States, said he would appoint 41-year-old lawmaker and former army officer Soeren Gade as the new defense minister today.

"I deeply regret Svend Aage Jensby's decision," Fogh Rasmussen said.

The failure to find weapons of mass destruction, and the continuing violence, has shaken the resolve of some governments that backed the United States.

Yesterday, a Bulgarian parliamentary committee decided to keep that country's 485-member contingent of troops in Iraq despite attacks this week on its base near Karbala.

Jensby, a 59-year-old former police chief, said he was proud of his record. He had recently pushed for reforms allowing the military to participate in more international assignments and better fight terrorism.

"The government has achieved outstanding results and I don't want to burden the government and my family with the smear campaign that has been targeted at my person," Jensby said in a statement.

Danish lawmakers have questioned the military's allegations about Hussein's weapons of mass destruction after a former military intelligence analyst was fired for leaking portions of two confidential reports to a newspaper in February. The analyst claimed Fogh Rasmussen lied to lawmakers in 2002 when he sought support for the war to oust Hussein.

On Monday, Rear Admiral Joern Olesen, chief of Denmark's Defense Intelligence Service, said the agency had always believed that Iraq "probably had biological and chemical weapons," adding that the documents were based on information gathered by the United Nations and NATO.

But a Danish intelligence report dated March 7, 2003, concluded that there was no "certain information" that Iraq had working weapons of mass destruction.

Jensby came under more pressure after the Justice Ministry said he broke state secrecy laws by discussing an intelligence committee meeting in a television interview. No charges have been filed.

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