LONDON — The United Nations inspector who led a doomed hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq told Britain’s inquiry into the 2003 invasion Tuesday that the U.S. and U.K. relied on flawed intelligence and showed dubious judgment in the buildup to war.
Hans Blix, the 82-year-old former chief U.N. weapons inspector, said Washington was “high on military” action in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, and refused to heed concerns over the paltry threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
At a London hearing, Blix said those who were “100 per cent certain there were weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq turned out to have “less than zero per cent knowledge” of where the purported hidden caches would be found.
Though Blix previously has made similar criticisms of the case for war, his testimony built on evidence already offered to the British panel of a U.S. administration inevitably marching to conflict.
“When we reported that we did not find any weapons of mass destruction they should have realized, I think, both in London and in Washington, that their sources were poor,” Blix said. “Their sources were looking for weapons, not necessarily weapons of mass destruction. They should have been more critical of that.”
Blix told the panel, set up by the British government to examine the case for the war and errors in planning for post-conflict reconstruction, that he had warned British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a February 2003 meeting — as well as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during separate talks — that Saddam Hussein might have no weapons of mass destruction.
He said he told Rice and Blair his “belief, faith in intelligence had been weakened.”
An earlier British investigation criticized U.K. spy agency officials for relying on seriously flawed or unreliable sources in drafting prewar dossiers on Iraq’s threat.
Last week, Eliza Manningham-Buller, ex-director of Britain’s domestic spy agency MI5, told the inquiry that the prewar intelligence picture was “fragmentary,” raising similar concerns to Blix.
“The picture was not complete. The picture on intelligence never is,” she told the panel.
Blix said he believed Blair — who testified to the inquiry in January — was genuine in his belief that Iraq has was concealing weapons, but ultimately mistaken.
“I certainly felt that he was absolutely sincere in his belief,” Blix said. “What I questioned was the good judgment, particularly with Bush, but also in Blair’s judgment.”
Blair told the five-member panel in January it was right to invade even if there was just a “possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction.”
The former Swedish minister — who acknowledged he, too, long suspected Iraq was concealing weapons, most likely stocks of anthrax — repeated his claim that inspectors had too little time to assess the extent of Saddam’s threat.
He has said previously that, immediately before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, his inspectors checked around three dozen sites said by British and U.S. intelligence to contain such weapons, but discovered no evidence.
Blix told the panel he challenged Blair over his team’s failure to uncover Iraq’s weapons.
“I made the remarks, which I’ve cited many times, that wouldn’t it be paradoxical for you to invade Iraq with 250,000 men and find very little,” Blix said. “I gave a warning that things had changed and there might not be so much.”
In hindsight, it was clear Iraq posed no danger to the international community. “They were practically prostrate,” Blix said.
He told the inquiry the U.S. was untroubled — unlike others, including Britain — by the need to seek concrete authorization from the U.N. Security Council to launch a military offensive.
“The U.S. in 2002 threw it overboard, I think they were high on military at the time. They said: ’We can do it,”’ Blix said.
“I think there was at least implied from the U.S. that, if the Security Council doesn’t agree with us and go along with our view, then it sentences itself to irrelevance. That is, I think, a very presumptuous attitude,” he told the panel.
As March 2003 approached, the buildup to invasion was “unstoppable or almost unstoppable — the President could have stopped it, but almost unstoppable.” The U.S.-led invasion began on March 20, 2003.
Blix jokingly referred to claims U.S. and British intelligence tapped phones and bugged offices at the U.N. in the run-up to war. “Some people thought we were bugged in New York,” he told the panel. “My only complaint about that is they could have listened more carefully to what we had to say.”
Britain’s inquiry won’t apportion blame or establish criminal or civil liability over mistakes made, but will report with recommendations for future conflicts by the end of the year.