19 September 2003

Blix accuses UK and US of spin over Iraq

Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector, today accused the British and American governments of spinning intelligence ahead of the Iraq war.

Making reference to the UK's September dossier, over which two intelligence officials have told the Hutton inquiry they expressed concerns, Mr Blix said that information about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction was 'over-interpreted', with 'spin' being allowed to infect the presentation of Iraq's military capabilities.

'The UK paper, the document in September last year, with the famous words about 45 minutes, when you read the text exactly, I get the impression it wants to convey - to lead - the reader to conclusions that are a little further-reaching than the text really means,' he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

'What stands accused is the culture of spin, of hyping. Advertisers will advertise a refrigerator in terms that we don't quite believe in. But we expect governments to be more serious and to have more credibility.'

Mr Blix yesterday told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he believed Iraq had destroyed 'all, almost' of the weapons of mass destruction it had in its possession at the end of the 1991 Gulf war. He said that Saddam possibly kept up the appearance of having the weapons to deter a military attack.

'I mean, you can put up a sign on a door saying 'beware of the dog' without having a dog,' he said from his home in Sweden.

He today told the BBC that the believed the US and UK were convinced Saddam was developing WMDs - and said he considered it 'understandable against the background of the man that they did so' - but said there was no conclusive proof of their existence.

'In the middle ages when people were convinced there were witches, when they looked for them, they certainly found them. We were more judicious, we wanted to have the evidence,' he said.

He added that it was ironic that the US and UK had not been prepared to give the UN inspection teams the time they needed to complete their work, but those same governments were now insisting that their own inspectors be given sufficient time to complete their own investigations.

He said he did not believe WMDs would be found.

'We have had a number of months, the US and UK have been there, they have had all the possibilities in the world to interview people who are not intimidated and to go anywhere. They have not found anything.

'So I think more and more we are coming to the conclusion that there aren't any. And I think that the Americans and British are also leaning in that direction.'

The mid-September interim report by the Iraq Survey Group seems not to be happening. If the ISG had found anything I suspect its report might be a slightly greater urgency than we have seen.

The Bush administration is suddenly in fast reverse over the Iraq/al-Qa'ida link, which the British never accepted anyway.

US Vice-President Cheney has said he 'misspoke' when he said Iraq had 'reconstituted nuclear weapons'. Strangely, one would have expected an immediate correction to the record once Cheney realised he had 'misspoken'. After all, he would not have wanted anyone believing his 'misspeaking' would he?

The documents published by the Hutton inquiry show that the 45-minute claim was sexed up. The former Iraqi army may not have been a splendid fighting machine. Its ability to deploy battlefield weapons within 45 minutes is not really a high index of military threat. Again, if the dossier spoke only of battlefield weapons why was that not corrected when the misinterpretation became known.

The 15 February JIC report showed that a war was likely to exacerbate, not prevent, the acquisition of WMDs (if they existed) by terrorist groups. No coalition government expected that report to ever see the light of day so they simply ignored it.

The conclusion is inescapable. In not one of the growing pile of misspeaking and misinterpretations did any government, not in the US, the UK or Australia, ever make a mistake that argued against war. In not one case did they ever correct the record when they misspoke or misinterpreted. The war was a done deal from at least the posting of the September dossier. What intelligence was released was selective. Bush, Blair and Howard decided to appeal to the worst in all of us, fear and hatred, to justify a war they wanted to fight for other reasons. They lied to frighten us into war.

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