Blair's Communications Chief to Resign

Prime Minister Tony Blair's powerful communications chief, Alastair Campbell, announced Friday that he will resign in the next few weeks.

Blair's closest aide and Britain's most powerful spin doctor, Campbell has been at the center of media allegations that the prime minister's office exaggerated intelligence about Iraqi weapons to win support for war.

Campbell has denied the allegations and intelligence chiefs have backed up his version of events. In a resignation statement issued by Blair's office, Campbell said he was quitting for family reasons and added that he intended to step down from his position in "a few weeks."

He said a replacement "will be announced shortly."

Campbell said his partner Fiona Millar, who works for Blair's wife Cherie, would also be resigning. BEGIN POSITION 3 END POSITION 3

A former tabloid journalist who has worked for Blair since 1994, Campbell is often referred to as "the real deputy prime minister" and depicted by satirists as a shadowy and Machiavellian power behind the government.

In a statement, Blair said "the picture of Alastair Campbell painted by parts of the media has always been a caricature."

He praised Campbell as "an immensely able, fearless, loyal servant of the cause he believes in who was dedicated not only to that cause but to his country."

Campbell appeared last week before a judicial inquiry looking into the death of government weapons adviser David Kelly, who apparently committed suicide after being identified as the source of a British Broadcasting Corp. report on the government's Iraq policy.

The report alleged that Blair's office inserted a claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes into a September dossier against the wishes of intelligence officials.

In his statement, Campbell said he had made the decision to resign last April. He did not link his departure to the inquiry into Kelly's death.

"My family, friends and close colleagues know that I have been thinking for some time about leaving my position as director of communications and strategy," the letter said.

"I had intended to leave last summer but as the Iraq issue developed, the Prime Minister asked me to stay on to oversee government communications on Iraq, and I was happy to do so."

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.