Basis for Iraq war flawed, says Blix

By Jimmy Burns

Financial Times

Published: July 11 2004

Hans Blix has told the Butler inquiry the intelligence used by Britain and the US to underpin their justification for war on Iraq was inaccurate and overstated the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

He has also told the inquiry, which reports next Wednesday, that the government did not exercise sufficient critical judgment in analy sing and presenting the intelligence it was given.

Mr Blix, who was the most senior United Nations weapons inspector during the run-up to war, said he had given evidence to the inquiry on June 10. While it reflected the broad thrust of his critique of US and British policy, in his book Disarming Iraq published this year, the fact that he had gone before the inquiry is significant.

One area Butler is thought to have been examining is the extent to which British intelligence, through the machinery of the joint intelligence committee and the government, reconsidered their assessments of the threat of WMD.

Mr Blix told the inquiry the work of the UN inspectors was not taken seriously enough nor considered adequately by the government when making its case for war.

"My belief is that intelligence failed and it was presented in a way that did not have sufficient caveats and which politicians were prepared to believe," he said. "There was a lack of critical thinking on WMD, and governme nt shares the responsibility with intelligence."

Speaking from his holiday home in Sweden, Mr Blix gave details of his last-minute plea to Tony Blair days before the invasion to give the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission more time.

"I told Mr Blair that while I could not completely exclude the possibility of the existence of WMD, I was not impressed by the evidence so far. Blair told me that all the intelligence agencies around the world agreed with the British and the US that there were. He was genuinely convinced," Mr Blix said.

Secret intelligence, he said, was shared with UN inspectors in the period up to the 1998 withdrawal and following the resumption of the inspection from late 2002.

However, in the run-up to the war, inspections of sites identified by intelligence had failed to produce credible evidence of WMD.

"We got an insight into how poor the intelligence was. We were being given what they were telling was the best they had and it was wrong," Mr B lix said.

"The government could have gone to parliament and said that we are uncertain that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. It would have not got the support to go to war."

Mr Blix said the inquiry should hold the intelligence agencies and the government responsible for embarking on an unpopular and bloody war on the basis of a misjudgment.

"I think it was wrong to go to war on the basis that a regime change was necessary because it was the best way to the eradicate weapons of mass destruction he allegedly had," Mr Blix said.

While London and Washington continued in the months following the war to insist WMD could still be found, Mr Blix said it must have been clear from May 2003 to both that the search would not throw up anything that posed a real nuclear, biological or chemical threat.